Conditions & Treatment

Acupuncture Might Be the Unexpected Solution to Your Bowel Problems

Kristen Sparrow • September 09, 2020

Did you know that the gut is sometimes called “the backup brain”?

With an astonishing 100 million neurons – more than in the spinal cord, arrayed over an intricately folded surface area more than a hundred times greater than that of your skin. But the enteric nervous system, ENS, the newest mind-body connection to be revealed—and sometimes considered a branch of the autonomic nervous system, controls itself but also sends signals north to the brain that directly affects feelings of sadness or stress,  and even influence learning, memory and decision making. It relies on, and in many cases manufacturers, more than 30 neurotransmitters, including serotonin, that are identical to those in the brain.

How can Acupuncture help?

Because certain acupuncture techniques can calm the autonomic nervous system acupuncture helps to regulate the bowel by helping to alleviate constipation and pain. Constipation case here.

Data Tells the Story

This is the stress response data of a young patient who developed severe gastrointestinal problems after spending time in Africa.  With Acupuncture, you can see how her stress levels decreased with each treatment as did her symptoms.

Stress can make you overeat or eat the wrong things

Previous studies have established that stressed-out mice go for high-fat, energy-dense foods. They prefer peanut butter to regular chow and gain more weight than their low-stress counterparts. The new study showed that the gut actually tells the brain what to look for in the larder when the going gets tough – which is why the mac ‘n’ cheese looks better than an apple at that moment. Eating the wrong types of foods can make bowel problems even worse.

The World Health Organization has recognized the effectiveness of acupuncture in peptic ulcer disease and gastritis. But ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel disease and Crohn’s disease are also often treated with acupuncture.

Medications have side effects

We all know the problems that can be associated with taking medications.  Sometimes the side effects are insidious. For example, did you know that common antacid medications can lead to increased lung problems, especially in the elderly? The antidepressants sometimes used can make you gain weight, sometimes up to 30 pounds within months. And laxatives can make matters worse over the long term.

The Evidence for Acupuncture in Bowel Disease

A recent study from Germany looked at the literature concerning bowel disease (1). They found a significant positive effect on the quality of life in Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel disease. Sham and real acupuncture both had a positive effect, but real acupuncture was significantly more effective. Their conclusion from their study was that acupuncture was a “harmless and obviously powerful treatment.”

For those who are interested in the nitty-gritty of the science behind acupuncture, the autonomic nervous system, and GI problems, I’ve discussed them on my blog at length. A good place to start is with this post that looks at neuromodulation in the gut. There was also a recent study discussed here that showed concluded that acupuncture was better than medication, but that sham acupuncture was helpful too.  A common dilemma in acupuncture research.

What you need to know about Dr. Sparrow before making an appointment

  • Dr. Sparrow has been practicing acupuncture for 18 years and is Board Certified in Anesthesiology and Pediatrics.
  • She has studied acupuncture and stress for years. She published a study on the stress response and its correlation with acupuncture effectiveness in the Journal of Medical Acupuncture.
  • She has a keen interest in her patients, prevention, health matters and the research behind acupuncture’s effectiveness. You can follow her blog here.
  • Please call (415) 775-0117 to set an appointment

Call me  415-775-0117 or email me at and we can discuss how and if I can help you.  I will do my best to fit you in for an appointment.  I know you have better things to do with your time than spend it in a doctor’s office, so I promise you to be punctual, efficient and attentive. How great is that!

1. World J Gastroenterol. 2007 Jul 7;13(25): Acupuncture treatment in gastrointestinal diseases: A systematic review.