Medical Research

Moxibustion Improves Heart Rate Variability and Fatigue

Kristen Sparrow • May 04, 2014

longevity23-200x200This study by Agatha Colbert is interesting for a few reasons.
1. She seems to be correlating moxibustion not only with clinical outcomes but with HRV. As much as I write about that here, it is quite rare to correlate HRV with clinical outcomes.
2. She has done quite a bit of work looking at skin conductance as an acupuncture biomarker.  It looks like she may resort to HRV with this study.
3. She is using LF/HF as her choice of HRV parameter.  Litscher used LF/HF as his marker in his latest study, also.  This  is a validation of my use of that particular biomarker.  Many studies have used other markers, HF (as in the recent rat study on gastric motility), SampEn (in Huang’s study on effect of acupuncture on HRV in healthy volunteers), and DFA1, or even LF.  (You should be able to find those studies on the blog, will try to put in references when I have a minute.)
I wrote to her to find out if the subjects who had positive clinical response also had positive HRV response.  I hope to get a copy of the article.
J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2014 Apr;7(2):76-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jams.2013.04.003. Epub  2013 Apr 24.
Direct moxibustion to treat spleen qi and yang deficiency fatigue: a pilot study.
Thorne TL1, Hanes DA2, Wild H3, Colbert A4.

Author information 

  • 1National College of Natural Medicine, Helfgott Institute, Portland, OR, USA. Electronic address:
  • 2National College of Natural Medicine, Helfgott Institute, Portland, OR, USA.
  • 3Rentrek, Portland, OR, USA.
  • 4Helfgott Research Institute, National College of Natural Medicine, Portland, OR, USA.


Limited research suggests that indirect moxibustion may be beneficial for treating fatigue, but no studies to evaluate direct moxibustion have been conducted in the United States. Thus, we explored the usefulness of four outcome measures for evaluating the effectiveness of direct moxibustion for patients with spleen qi and yang deficiency fatigue (SQYDF). Eleven female volunteers, ages 25-60 years, were enrolled. Three to five rice grains in thread-sized moxa cones were burned on 11 acupuncture points once per week for 8 weeks. Eight participants completed the study. The most common adverse events (AEs) were temporary worsening of fatigue, lightheadedness, and headache. Symptomatic improvement was seen on the SF-36 energy/fatigue scale (p = 0.003), SF-36 social function scale (p = 0.008) and Flinders fatigue scale (p = 0.014). The skin conductance at acupoints showed no consistent diagnostic baseline meridian patterns. Heart rate variability data showed an improved low frequency/high frequency (LF/HF) ratio in three of four participants. Direct moxibustion is safe in patients with SQYDF. The Flinders Fatigue Scale (FFS) and the SF-36 are useful outcome measures for evaluating the effects of direct moxibustion, and the heart rate variability (HRV) may be, but the skin conductance did not correlate with SQYDF diagnosis or with symptomatic improvement.