As we approach the holiday season, one thing is almost as certain as the gatherings and feasts – concerns about our digestion and gut health.
It’s no secret that digestive issues are incredibly common. Studies show that at least 40% of Americans struggle with gut-related health conditions. Unfortunately, conventional medicine has little to offer most people other than medications for temporary symptom relief or invasive surgical procedures. The good news is that there is a better way to address the root causes of digestive issues: acupuncture.
Whether you’re tired of dealing with occasional tummy troubles or you’re wrestling with more persistent gut health conditions, acupuncture could be the holistic solution you’ve been waiting for. Read on to learn more about how acupuncture can help you restore healthy digestion, a balanced gut microbiome, and whole-body health.
Why is Gut Health So Important?
Your gut, often called your second brain, is a key player in your overall health and well-being. At the center of gut health is the microbiome, a diverse community of trillions of microorganisms residing in your digestive tract. These tiny inhabitants influence not only your digestive system but also your immune function, mental health, and more.
Maintaining a balanced microbiome is crucial because it helps with nutrient absorption, energy production, and even regulating your body weight. Moreover, a healthy gut microbiome can aid in preventing various common gut conditions:
- Bloating and Gas
Bloating and gas refer to the uncomfortable feeling of a swollen abdomen, often accompanied by the release of excess gas. This condition can result from gas build-up in the digestive system due to various factors such as eating gas-producing foods, swallowing air, or imbalances in gut bacteria.
Infrequent bowel movements (less than three per week) are the main characteristic of constipation. It also often involves hard, dry stools that are painful to pass. Constipation can be caused by a range of factors, including poor gut health, a lack of dietary fiber, dehydration, medication side effects, or underlying medical conditions.
- Weight Gain
Weight gain has many potential causes, but if you’ve tried everything to lose weight and haven’t made progress, there is likely an issue in the gut. An imbalanced gut microbiome can affect nutrient absorption and metabolism, as well as appetite regulation and food cravings. A healthy gut can promote better digestion and support weight management.
- Acid Reflux (GERD)
Acid reflux is closely related to gut health, specifically the function of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and the role of stomach acid in digestion. A weakened LES can allow stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, causing heartburn and discomfort. Maintaining good gut health can help ensure proper LES function and digestive balance, reducing the likelihood of acid reflux and its associated symptoms.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that can cause a variety of digestive symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. The exact cause of IBS is unclear, but it often involves disturbances in gut motility and sensitivity to certain foods and stress.
- Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s Disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. It can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, and leads to a range of symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue.
- Leaky Gut
Leaky Gut is also known as increased intestinal permeability. It’s a condition where the lining of the intestinal walls becomes too porous and allows substances that should be contained within the gut to leak into the bloodstream. As the body responds to these unexpected particles, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response, which can lead to digestive upset and pain.
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
SIBO is a condition where an excess of bacteria grows in the small intestine. This bacterial overgrowth disrupts digestion by fermenting carbohydrates and creating gas, causing bloating and discomfort. It also interferes with nutrient absorption, potentially leading to deficiencies. Managing SIBO is essential for relieving digestive issues and ensuring the body gets the nutrients it needs for overall health.
Gut Health and Oriental Medicine
In Oriental Medicine, the gut plays a major role in maintaining our overall health and well-being. Beyond digestion, the gut is viewed as the epicenter of the body’s energy and is interconnected to all the various organ systems.
Because a well-working gut is so crucial to energy production and organ function, problems in the gut can set off a chain reaction of health issues.
So, how does Oriental Medicine support gut health? Beyond asking about digestion, Dr. Ko takes a detailed assessment of various factors, including diet, lifestyle, and subtle energetic imbalances.
These imbalances can disrupt the harmonious flow of vital energy, known as Qi, through the body’s meridians. When Qi flow is compromised, it can lead to digestive distress, potentially resulting in conditions such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation.
According to Dr. Ko, tension and poor blood flow in the intestines can also lead to digestive issues. “We use the medicines to relax the intestines and make the intestines soft rather than rigid. For example, we use cāng zhú, Huo Xiang, Xiānɡ Fù Zǐ, Mu xiang, Sha Ren.”
By recognizing these signs and addressing the underlying imbalances in Qi, Oriental Medicine helps restore equilibrium within the gut through science-backed therapies like acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Acupuncture for Digestion and Gut Health: How it Works
Acupuncture is a healing practice that dates back thousands of years. Yet, it is still one of the most commonly used medical practices today – including for digestive issues.
“In Western medicine,” Dr. Ko explains, “they prescribe antibiotic or anti-gastric acid reflux drugs, but these do not provide fundamental treatment and are only temporary.” That’s why acupuncture and Oriental medicine can be such valuable tools – they help treat the root cause of the GI upset and set the stage for healthy digestion in the future.
While modern scientists have yet to fully understand exactly how acupuncture works, it is believed to realign the body’s vital energy, known as Qi, to enhance the function of organs and tissues. In biomedical terms, this means acupuncture stimulates natural healing processes by correcting nerve signals, improving blood circulation, and supporting the immune system.
Let’s take a look at how a gentle and non-invasive therapy like acupuncture can have such a profound effect on digestion and gut health:
- Acupuncture Regulates Digestive Function
If you’ve ever had acupuncture, you may have noticed that your stomach starts gurgling a few minutes into the treatment. This is because acupuncture helps stimulate the vagus nerve, which plays a key role in digestion. This stimulation can enhance the motility of the gastrointestinal tract to reduce issues like constipation and bloating.
- Acupuncture Reduces Inflammation
Acupuncture has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with inflammatory gut conditions like Crohn’s Disease, IBS, or Colitis.
- Acupuncture Balances the Microbiome
Acupuncture can influence the gut microbiota, encouraging a healthy, abundant, and diverse ecosystem of bacteria and other microorganisms in the gut. As a result, digestion and overall gut health are improved.
- Acupuncture Reduces Stress
Stress is a common trigger for digestive problems and can wreak havoc on the digestive system. Acupuncture is known for its stress-reducing effects, helping to calm the nervous system and minimize stress-related gut issues.
- Acupuncture Alleviates Pain
For individuals with gut conditions that cause abdominal pain, acupuncture can provide natural pain relief, making it easier to manage symptoms and maintain a healthy diet.
- Acupuncture Enhances Nutrient Absorption
By improving blood circulation and the body’s energy flow, acupuncture can enhance nutrient absorption in the gut, ensuring you get the most from your meals.
Restore Your Gut Health from the Root with Acupuncture
Acupuncture offers a holistic and science-backed approach to managing digestive issues, whether you’re dealing with occasional discomfort or more complex gut conditions.
Dr. Ko also recommends some simple lifestyle changes in addition to receiving acupuncture treatment: “It is better to have mild foods rather than being too salty or spicy, do not overeat, eat less fatty foods, and whatever you eat, it is best to eat in moderation and not too much. Do an appropriate amount of exercise every day without overdoing it. And, of course, try to relax and live life.”
By promoting better digestion, reducing inflammation, and addressing stress, acupuncture can be a valuable tool as you restore your gut balance and reclaim your overall health.
At 120 Acupuncture Clinic in Studio City, we suggest our patients come for treatment 2-3 times a week for at least 4-5 months. At that time, digestive symptoms are typically gone or very rare. To keep up with progress and prevent issues from returning, we recommend a maintenance treatment once a week or every 10 days.
Ready to find relief? Dr. Ko and the team at 120 Acupuncture Clinic in Studio City, Los Angeles are here to help you get to the root of your gut health conditions and feel your best. Book your appointment today, or call us at 1-818-980-7979 to get started.