Heal Thy Guts!

By Toby Helmstetter, LAc

Unless you've been living under a rock these days, you've heard about the importance of gut health. Everyone from Harvard to Whole Foods is making sure we know that the state of our gut influences every aspect of our health. From the strength of our immune system, to the integrity of our skin, and even our mental health, if the gut ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. This could be an intense and exhaustive article about the different conditions plaguing our guts these days, but it's not. The point here is to explain that, whether you're dealing with IBS, IBD, Crohn's, colitis, GERD, or SIBO, acupuncture can help.

With restrictive diets all the norm, we see how people are trying to manage their gut health through what they eat. When you go out to eat, or shop for groceries, you'll run into people who are avoiding wheat, dairy, grains, and even specific foods (per certain allergy tests) that can cause any number of symptoms. What's important here is that diet can absolutely help repair the gut. By giving it a break from the foods that cause irritation and inflammation, restricting certain foods based on the condition will give the gut a chance to heal. But the idea is not to be chained to some restrictive diet for the rest of your life. This is where acupuncture and Chinese herbs can play a vital role in restoring gut health by helping to address the root of the problem.

Many modern studies on acupuncture show positive results for certain digestive complaints, and clinically it has been shown to be very effective at treating many aspects of digestive disease. Unlike conventional medicine, acupuncture treatments and herbal prescriptions are specifically designed for each individual case. If two patients present with acid reflux, each may get a different treatment based on their constitutional strength and how their symptoms manifest. The same goes for any other digestive complaint. Individual symptoms of bloating, gas, belching, stomach discomfort, cramping; stools that are loose, urgent and frequent, or hard, difficult and infrequent can all be effectively treated with acupuncture and herbs.

Here are the most common, many of them proven ways that acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help digestive issues

  • Acupuncture reduces systemic inflammation and can be targeted to reduce inflammation in specific areas of the body, including the gut
  • Acupuncture can both increase and decrease digestive peristalsis (the movement of the digestive tract) based on needle placement
  • Acupuncture has been shown to reduce gas, bloating, reflux, nausea, and vomiting in various studies
  • Acupuncture stimulates the release of serotonin, much of which is produced in the gut
  • Acupuncture is a proven method for reducing stress, which is widely accepted as one of the triggers for many common digestive complaints

Though somewhat embarrassing to talk about, discussing the specifics of digestive symptoms with your acupuncturist is extremely helpful in targeting and treating the root of the problem. Herbal formulas and acupuncture treatments are tailored to fit the nature of the disease itself--whether it's autoimmune, infectious, or stress-driven--and the nature of the patient and their presenting symptoms. Depending on the severity and chronicity of the disease, treatment plans vary in length and frequency, but many patients respond well to more frequent treatments initially and herbal prescriptions to help long term. Over time, there can be a significant and sustained reduction in symptoms, which means an increase in quality of life on many levels.

The importance of gut health cannot be ignored. Many of us normalize even the most uncomfortable digestive symptoms, feeling like our gut health is "good enough." Though we experience irregularities in several aspects of the digestive process--a little reflux here...changes in stool regularity there...bloating and gas on a daily basis--we underestimate the impact these occurrences can have on our overall health. If you're struggling with any digestive discomfort, remember to discuss it with your acupuncturist, and take the time to focus on your gut. The rest of your body will thank you for it. 

comments powered by Disqus