How Acupuncture Can Benefit Your Digestive Health
Are you having ongoing digestive issues that makes everyday life difficult? Using Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine to help regulate your digestion is an all-natural and highly effective way to bring your body into balance. I want all the patients I serve to have a healthy and regular digestive system because it’s critical for your overall health and wellness.
Some of the most common digestive issues I see in Heart Spring Health’s Portland clinic include:
- Abdominal pain
- Acid reflux
Both Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine work by facilitating the flow of energy throughout the body and creating balance in the middle jiao, or abdominal region, where your digestive organs reside. In Chinese Medicine theory, issues with the GI tract are correlated with a dysfunction of the spleen and stomach organs, which often leads to disease-causing factors influencing the whole body.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Mind
Our GI tract or “gut” is often referred to as our second brain. There’s this connection between your central nervous system and GI tract via the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body. Signals from the brain influence the microorganisms in your gut and likewise, messages from the gut can influence your brain.
Studies have shown that acupuncture has a direct positive effect on the vagus nerve, which is why it can simultaneously help to calm the nervous system and aid in digestion. Research has also proven that acupuncture promotes gastric peristalsis (digestive muscular movement) in individuals with low initial gastric motility and suppresses peristalsis in those with active initial motility (1). In other words, whether you are experiencing chronic constipation or diarrhea, acupuncture can help give you relief.
What you can expect from an acupuncture treatment for digestion
If you are thinking of trying acupuncture for digestive complaints, you may be wondering what will happen during a treatment. For all first-time patients I perform an extensive intake that covers all aspects of your physical, mental, and emotional health. This allows me to get a holistic picture of your entire being. I will also feel your pulse and look at your tongue, two important diagnostic steps that help to determine the most appropriate treatment plan. Depending on your specific presentation, needles will be placed throughout the body in various locations. There are several key acupuncture points to help regulate digestion, many of them on and around the abdomen but also distal points on the arms and legs. The needles will typically be retained anywhere between 15-30 minutes while you rest, relax, and let the Qi move through you.
Dampness, Phlegm & Stagnation, Oh My!
If you’ve ever spoken with an acupuncturist about your Chinese Medicine diagnosis, you may have heard terms such as dampness, phlegm, and stagnation among other descriptors you may not hear from the conventional western medicine approach. These are all examples of disease-causing factors in Chinese Medicine that are often associated with digestive issues.
- Damp is complex, but often associated with indigestion, water retention, sticky secretions in the body, and diarrhea.
- Phlegm appears when body fluids are not transported properly and start to accumulate in certain locations.
- Both dampness and phlegm can lead to what Chinese Medicine calls stagnation, a blockage of vital energy flow and proper circulation. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can effectively open up this stagnation to allow the Qi, energy, and circulation of the body to flow harmoniously.
Food As Thy Medicine
Nutrition and diet are also key factors in Chinese Medicine to help aid with your digestive complaints. There are certain foods that make your internal systems “damp” or “phlegmy” which can lead to bloating, low energy, loose stools, or grogginess. These symptoms start in the digestive system and then accumulate, bringing stagnation to the rest of the body. Common foods that can affect the digestive system include:
- Dairy (especially milk, cream, and cheese)
- Greasy and processed foods
- Anything made with refined sugar or sugar substitutes
- Excess amounts of cold and raw foods
Nutrition is never a one size fits all and ultimately, it’s about finding balance in the foods you eat. Since everyone’s body reacts differently to certain foods, it is important to discuss your individual presentation with a licensed professional to find the best nutritional and dietary recommendations for your digestive symptoms.
Start Your Journey with Acupuncture
If you are experiencing acute or chronic digestive issues, including acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in your wellness regimen is a surefire way to speed your road to relief. I work to establish individualized treatment plans that addresses your complaints naturally and gets your body back to functioning and feeling it’s best. I take great care in this practice, assuring a comfortable, painless, and relaxing experience for all.
Justin Long, LAc is an acupuncture practitioner in Portland, Oregon who specializes in natural treatments of pain management, stress, anxiety, insomnia, and digestive disorders. He creates a tailored healing experience using a variety of modalities based in Chinese medicine. Justin received his Master’s in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine and is currently pursuing his doctorate degree from Pacific College of Health & Science. Learn more about Justin.