Judy Bowen-Jones

Heartburn, IBS & Gastrointestinal Problems

An increasing number of people suffer from gastric (stomach) and intestinal (bowel) conditions.

These can include:

  • Gastritis – inflammation, irritation or erosion of the stomach lining
  • Heartburn or gastro-oesophageal reflux – damage to the oesophagus due to repeated reflux of gastric contents
  • Inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s disease

In all the above conditions, gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms can be directly attributed to underlying physiological or structural problems. But sufferers of some other gastrointestinal disorders such as Functional Dyspepsia or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) experience persistent and troublesome GI symptoms in the absence of any identifiable cause.

In Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS, intestinal muscles can be under or over active, causing pain, cramps, bloating, flatulence, sudden bouts of diarrhoea and/or constipation. Research suggests that conventional medicines are of limited benefit in treating IBS.

If your symptoms are persistent or severe it is important to consult your GP.

Acupuncture and Gastrointestinal Disorders

Research studies have indicated that acupuncture may be beneficial for treating Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, dyspepsia, gastritis, reflux and pancreatitis. There is consistent evidence that a course of acupuncture improves IBS symptoms and wellbeing.

Acupuncture may help in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders and IBS by:

  • Regulating motility (movement) of the digestive tract
  • Providing pain relief by producing endorphins – the body’s natural pain killers
  • Regulating acid secretion
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Raising the sensory threshold of the gut
  • Increasing the tone of the parasympathetic nervous system (which aids GI tract function and counters the effects of our ‘fight and flight’ responses to stress)
  • Reducing anxiety and depression by altering the brain’s mood chemistry

A WHO review on controlled acupuncture clinical trials (2003) includes biliary colic, epigastralgia (in peptic ulcer and acute and chronic gastritis), nausea & vomiting and morning sickness among conditions for which acupuncture has been proved through controlled trials to be an effective treatment. Acupuncture is also reported as having therapeutic effects in the treatment of abdominal pain (due to acute gastrointestinal spasm) and irritable colon syndrome.

Acupuncture influences the production of communication substances which influence the body’s self regulating and healing mechanisms. Stimulation of certain acupoints on the body has been shown to affect parts of the brain which reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation.


There is significant evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating nausea and vomiting, particularly for post-operative nausea and vomiting and for chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting.

Treating Gastrointestinal Disorders

“There is little doubt that stress plays a significant role in the onset, persistence and severity of IBS and many other GI problems. Chronic GI problems can adversely affect your sleep, your nutritional status and lead to anxiety and depression. In treating your body’s stress response acupuncture can help address underlying problems as well as the symptoms.”

Backer, M & Hammes, M (2010). Acupuncture in the Treatment of Pain, An Integrative Approach. Elsevier

Maciocia, G. 2005. The Practice of Chinese Medicine. Painful Obstruction Syndrome. 561-604. Churchill Livingstone

Research Fact Sheets

For more information see the British Acupuncture Council Research Fact Sheet below.