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Acupuncture and Digestive Disorders

Have you ever had indigestion?

This may seem like a silly question; of course, everyone has had indigestion at some point in their life, right? But sometimes indigestion lingers and becomes more problematic than just an occasional bout of heartburn, bloating, or gas.

The causes of digestive disorders vary. Sometimes it’s food sensitivities that are to blame; other times, the individual’s diet needs to be overhauled because that person is eating too much fat or too many foods rich in carbohydrates. Sometimes the person has contracted a parasite. Sometimes the person is recovering from some sort of pathogen—a bacteria or virus—that has invaded their system and is affecting their digestion. And sometimes their internal digestive system is run down, and absorption and assimilation are not happening efficiently.

Whatever the cause, acupuncture is an appropriate treatment method for any digestive disorder. In Chinese medicine, digestion is ruled by the Spleen. When the Spleen, and its Yang partner the Stomach, function optimally, digestion happens as it should.

Digestive disorders are divided into specific categories in Chinese medicine. Deficiency conditions exist when the internal organs are not functioning optimally. Conversely, excess conditions exist when other factors (usually heat, cold, or dampness) are out of balance. Too much heat in the digestive tract causes excess hunger and can lead to bleeding gums, among other things. Too much cold causes the entire digestive tract to slow down and also affects energy in general, causing exhaustion. Dampness also slows digestion.

Acupuncture treats all digestive disorders. The acupuncturist is trained to know what combination of acupuncture points to use in order to bring about the specific healing necessary—whether it is to clear heat and dampness from the Spleen and Stomach, or to tonify Spleen qi (energy) and improve digestive function. Chinese herbal formulas are also important in the healing of digestive disorders, as is a review of dietary habits and food intake. Often, the acupuncturist will advise the patient to keep a food log for a week or two, and then the patient and practitioner will review the food log together. The herbal formula, custom-tailored to the patient’s specific needs, begins where the acupuncture treatment ends, and serves to reinforce the acupuncture treatment on a daily basis, thus continuing to heal the digestive disorder.

Although some digestive disorders are acute in nature, the vast majority of them are chronic, and last several weeks or months. Some individuals experience initial symptoms after a major change in their lives—marriage, divorce, childbirth, or other life-changing event—and find that upon reflection their digestive disorder began shortly after some trauma in their life. Others note that the aging process had the greatest effect on their digestive disorder, and that their ability to process food was compromised after age 40. This phenomenon is mostly due to the body’s ability to produce hydrochloric acid and specific digestive enzymes, which begins to decline at middle age. Again, acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy can greatly enhance the ability of the digestive process.