The growing practice of integrative medicine, which uses conventional medical practices and Eastern healing approaches, is opening new doors for people with digestive diseases. It’s been shown to help manage everything from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation to more chronic conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
At Beth Israel Medical Center Department of Integrative Medicine, a part of Continuum Hospitals of New York, the ancient Chinese therapy of acupuncture is one of several integrative treatments available to combat common gastrointestinal problems. “Acupuncture treats common GI conditions, and can be an essential part of healing along with dietary changes, probiotics, herbal medicine and conventional medicine,” says Arya Nielsen, PhD, Director of the Acupuncture Fellowship Program.
Needles stimulate channel system
Fine, single-use acupuncture needles are placed at specific points on the body to stimulate Qi (pronounced “chi”), a kind of signaling within the channels (sometimes called meridians) that connects the body’s tissues and major organs, such as the stomach and small and large intestines.
Acupuncture also stimulates the brain, and the release of pain- and stress-relieving endorphins as well as the immune system, which helps reduce the frequency of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis flare-ups, and prevents other digestive diseases from occurring.
What to expect
Much like a routine exam to the doctor’s office, a care provider will review your health and illness history, discuss any current problems, look at your tongue and take your pulse before acupuncture. “During treatment, the acupuncture needles are placed at specific points along the meridians and manipulated to illicit the proper response,” says Dr. Nielsen, who is also a licensed acupuncturist.
“Patients can experience tingling at the point of insertion or along a channel. On average, treatments can last anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. Most people feel relaxed during and after a treatment and have less pain.” A course of treatment may involve one, several or many sessions over time depending on the condition being treated. Patients find their problems either completely resolved or better managed with the help of acupuncture, Dr. Nielsen adds.
Before you try it
See the big picture. “Remember: there’s no quick remedy for complex GI disorders since they present differently depending on the patient,” Nielsen says. “Those differences can be the keys to treating a particular patient’s condition. Acupuncture can also be used as part of a comprehensive approach. Many patients taking necessary medications find they improve with acupuncture. Although you don’t need a doctor’s referral for acupuncture, it’s wise to inform your primary care physician if you do have treatment. And remember – don’t forgo any standard treatments or tests for disease prevention or management.
Do your research. Up to 20,000 licensed acupuncturists work in the United States. You can find one who is licensed or certified right here in your own neighborhood. Schedule a consultation to make sure he or she is the right person for your treatment.