Acupuncture Awareness Week 2017, 6th-12th March

It’s that time of year again and this year is its fifth year. This year’s theme is “Acupuncture for the Treatment of Digestive Disorders” and here is more information on just that!

According to the HSE health status report, diseases of the digestive system ranked among the most common acute illnesses for in patients in Irish hospitals. (HSE, 2008). According to the Central statistics office, of all acute hospital discharges, digestive diseases accounted for 10% of all male discharges and 8.6% of all female discharges in 2012. (CSO, 2013). A research study by Alonge and Codd (2013) has indicated that the burden of care on acute public hospitals is projected to increase greatly in relation to gastrointestinal diseases. (Alonge & Codd, 2013).
How can acupuncture help? Traditional acupuncture treatments are based on an individual diagnosis and work by treating the underlying root cause of any condition as well as the symptoms. Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules and the resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. A 2010 study, using fMRI to monitor the effects of several classical acupoints on the human brain, indicated that acupuncture modulates the limbic network, an important intrinsic regulatory system of the human brain (Hui, Napadow, et al., 2010).

IBS is a disorder in which the bowel overreacts by going into spasm. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating and irregular bowel habits such as alternating diarrhoea and constipation. It affects as many as one in five of the population and can be extremely debilitating. Research has shown that acupuncture may work by modulating the serotonin pathway and a recent metaanalysis has confirmed the effectiveness of acupuncture, with clinically and statistically significant results, in controlling the symptoms of IBS (Chu et al., 2012; Chao & Zhang, 2014).

The term IBD is used mainly to describe two diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The main symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are similar and include: abdominal pain (more common in Crohn’s disease than ulcerative colitis); a change in bowel habits; urgent and/or bloody diarrhoea or constipation; weight loss; and extreme tiredness (HSE, 2017a). It is thought that at least 20,000 people are living with IBD in Ireland (ISCC, 2017). A meta-analysis of 43 controlled clinical studies looked at the efficacy of acupuncture and moxibustion treatment on inflammatory bowel diseases(Ji et al., 2013). The results showed that acupuncture and moxibustion treatment was more effective than using sulfasalazine drugs. One of these studies, on 220 patients, showed that acupuncture was significantly more effective (84.5%) than the control group (68.2%) (Zhou & Jin, 2008).

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a common digestive condition where stomach acid leaks out of the stomach and into the oesophagus. It is estimated that around 1 in 5 people will have at least one episode of GORD a week. Symptoms include: heartburn – burning chest pain or discomfort that occurs after eating; an unpleasant sour taste in the mouth caused by the stomach acid coming back up into the mouth (this is known as regurgitation); and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Research has shown that adding acupuncture to treatment for GORD is more effective than the option of doubling the proton pump inhibitor dose in controlling gastro-oesophageal reflux disease-related symptoms in patients who failed standard-dose proton pump inhibitors (DICKMAN et al., 2007). The most important factor is a muscle called the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) not working properly. An Australian study by Zou et al. (2005) showed that electro-acupuncture had a significant effect in inhibiting lower oesophageal sphincter relaxation (LOS)(Zou et al., 2005).

Acupuncture as practiced by Professional Traditional Acupuncturists is widely used in mainstream hospitals throughout the World, including the Whittington Hospital in London which has a dedicated Pain Clinic run entirely by TCM practitioners. The therapeutic benefits of acupuncture have been embraced internationally due to its proven effectiveness not only in respect of the management of chronic and acute conditions but also in the treatment of their underlying causes. It is now the largest drug-free healthcare therapy in the World whilst being compatible with and therefore capable of being used alongside Western (Orthodox) Medicine. In Ireland acupuncture is becoming increasingly acknowledged within mainstream healthcare as a treatment option for many conditions and is included in many private health insurance plans. This potential of acupuncture to deliver timely, cost effective, safe and clinically effective management of a range of conditions has yet to be fully exploited and referrals to acupuncture clinics are likely to become more commonplace as happens in other countries.

Acupuncture is considered very safe in the hands of well-trained practitioners. Ensure that you receive the highest standard and most effective acupuncture treatment by attending a Registered Acupuncturist who is suitably qualified with a minimum of three years training in this specialised field. In Ireland practitioners should be a registered member of a Professional Association such as the AFPA which oversees excellence in training, safe practice and professional conduct. Find a registered professional acupuncturist on the AFPA website or contact me, Maria.