Does Acupuncture Help IBS?

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Given acupuncture's reputation for easing pain and treating a variety of health problems, one would hope that it would be effective in easing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This overview can help you to make an informed decision regarding the use of acupuncture for IBS.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of treatment used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years.

It involves the placement of needles at specific points along the body. TCM views the body as having a vital energy force known as "qi" which flows through the body along energy lines called meridians. Acupuncture is thought to work by stimulating the flow of "qi" as the needles target spots on the body that connect with meridians. There are an estimated 1000 acupuncture points.

Insertion of the needles generally causes little or minimal pain. Acupuncture is considered to be a relatively safe procedure when performed by an experienced practitioner who uses sterile needles. Electro-acupuncture is an alternative form of acupuncture that involves the use of electrical pulses at the targeted sites.

Acupuncture and IBS

Research on acupuncture in general tends to be problematic as it is difficult to rule out the placebo effect. Some studies attempt to overcome this difficulty through the use of "sham acupuncture" in which needles are inserted at points other than those traditionally used.

Research on acupuncture for IBS suffers from these same methodological difficulties, and thus clear-cut answers remain somewhat elusive. The good news is that research is ongoing in both animal and human studies. The bad news is that results of these studies have been mixed, with some studies showing possible symptom improvement and others showing no benefit.

My Opinion

I wish I could whole-heartedly recommend acupuncture for IBS. Chronic disorders like IBS cry out for safe, alternative treatment options. Unfortunately, as of right now, there is no solid research evidence that acupuncture can reliably relieve IBS symptoms. Conversely, I have heard reports from patients who found that acupuncture was extremely helpful in reducing their symptoms. If you decide that acupuncture is something that you want to try, be sure to use a qualified acupuncturist.


Lim B, Manheimer E, Lao L, Ziea E, Wisniewski J, Liu J, & Berman B "Acupuncture for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006 Issue 4.

Lembo, A., "A Treatment Trial of Acupuncture in IBS Patients" American Journal of Gastroenterology 2009 1489-1497.

Manheimer, E., "Acupuncture for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis" The American Journal of Gastroenterology Advance Online Publication April 10, 2012.

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