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Integration of Traditional and Scientific
Acupuncture in the Treatment of Gastrointestinal Conditions

Allen Schoen United States

Acupuncture (AP) has been used successfully in the treatment of many gastrointestinal conditions including vomiting and diarrhea, chronic diarrhea, and constipation. The NIH 97 Consensus on AP for gastrointestinal conditions found that acupuncture was effective for peptic ulcers, diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel disease. Acupuncture has been found to regulate gastric secretions, gastric motility, hormone, and neuropeptide release and metabolism.(1) Stimulation of Pericardium 6 (PC6) produced significant reduction of perioperative emetic sequelae. Electroacupuncture reduced morphine-induced emesis in ferrets with five minutes of stimulation of PC6 at 1.0 Hz. and 5.0 Hz (n=5/group).(2) Research on PC-6 includes 33 controlled trials published worldwide as of 1996 for use of PC-6 for nausea and vomiting, with 27/29 trials showing statistically significant positive results. From a Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) perspective, PC-6 (Nei-Guan), is considered the gate to the heart and lungs, calms the heart, and regulates Qi. It can be used to treat vomiting, gastritis, megaesophagus, behavioral problems, anxiety, and epilepsy.

ST-36 (Zusanli) has been found to have analgesic and spasmolytic effects on the GI tract, regulates gastric acidity, has a homeostatic effect in endocrine and metabolic disorders, and has been used to treat gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, impactions, and ileus. It has been found to increase plasma gastrin in rabbits and dogs. It is mediated by b-endorphins and somatostatin.(3)

From a TCM perspective, it is considered a master point and tonification point for any deficiency. It has been used for Feline Obstipation Syndrome to increase GI-tract motility and secretions. From a TCM perspective, this is considered an interior cold condition in the intestines due to a Qi deficiency or a blood or Yin deficiency.

Acupuncture is beneficial for the treatment of diarrhea whether it is due to viral/bacterial gastroenteritis (such as parvovirus) or due to inflammatory bowel disease, lymphocytic or plasmacytic colitis in cats, or pancreatitis. From a TCM perspective, diarrhea may be considered due to damp heat invading the spleen, retention of food, cold-damp invading the spleen, or spleen Qi deficiency or a kidney/spleen deficiency.

Acupuncture may also be beneficial for controlling vomiting associated with esophageal achalasia/ megaesophagus. Achalasia is the failure of the esophagogastric sphincter to relax at swallowing. TENS at LI-4 and SI-3/HT-7 signifies decreased lower esophageal sphincter pressure in humans with achalasia. It causes an increased plasma vasoactive intestinal peptide release. This inhibitory neuropeptide may relax lower esophageal sphincters. In one study on five dogs with idiopathic megaesophagus, there was a 70% resolution of regurgitation and increased weight gain using points PC-6, PC-9, HT-9, ST-36, LI-4, LI-11 and ST-40 with dry needles 10 minutes twice a week for four weeks.

From a TCM perspective, vomiting may be considered a shi excess with external pathogenic factors of cold or heat or liver invading the stomach, or stomach Fire, or Cold Phlegm from fluids in the stomach or due to a stomach Yin deficiency.

Acupuncture may be beneficial for the treatment of many GI conditions whether one looks at it from a western physiologic perspective or a TCM perspective. It should be integrated into most traditional approaches to vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.


1.  NIH Consensus Study on Acupuncture, Alt. Tx.: 4:1:22. Jan. 98.

2.  Lixing, L., et al. Alt. and Comp. Med: 1: 3: 257-61; 1995.

3.  Dill, S. and Bierman, N., Acupuncture for Gastrointestinal Disorders, in Schoen, A., 2ed. Veterinary Acupuncture, Ancient Art to Modern Medicine, Mosby, St Louis, MO., 2001. 239-260.

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