The Effects of Acupuncture on the Gut Microbiome

Acupuncture and moxibustion have been used for the treatment of digestive symptoms and diseases for thousands of years. The efficacy of these treatments bore out in my private practice, and I’ve witnessed directly the positive outcomes using acupuncture for these conditions.

While I was writing my last post, which explored the role of the microbiome in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) development and progression, a question came to mind about how acupuncture affects the microbiome. I searched the research literature for answers and found that the effect of acupuncture on the microbiome is significant. Acupuncture has been shown to increase anti-inflammatory species of bacteria in the gut, while decreasing inflammatory species.

A healthy microbiome is like a beautiful, diverse garden.

Research Literature on Acupuncture and the Microbiome

Most of what I’m discussing here was found in a review of the literature titled “Research Progress on the Regulation Effect of Acupuncture on the Intestinal Flora,” by Tian-Qi Wang et al.

Studies focused on participants with either a cardiometabolic or gastointestinal diagnosis including simple obesity, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stroke, diabetes, and cirrhosis.

Each study formulated different treatment strategies and frequencies. All were robust in their treatment design based on my subjective experience, meaning that the frequency of treatments was high, sometimes given every day or every other day. The number of treatments ranged from 12 to 30.

I’ll speak in general terms here. The acupuncture treatments showed an increase in many of the positive, anti-inflammatory bacteria species such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Bacteroides. With the increase of these species, it is likely that there was an improvement in digestive function, since it is known that these species help to assimilate nutrients, synthesize vitamins, maintain the intestinal barrier, etc. Classically, we would say that the acupuncture treatment was successful at “tonifying the Spleen qi.”

Additionally, many harmful or potentially problematic (unhealthy in large amounts) bacteria species decreased, including C. difficile, E. coli and Enterobacter and Enterococcus species.

Thoughts on the “Non-Substance” Approach and Further Questions

On the one hand, this shows an effective way of changing the composition of the microbiome without ingesting a substance such as antibiotics or antimicrobial herbs to decrease overgrown populations and probiotics or prebiotics to increase positive species. As usual, more knowledge brings more questions. The question I have at this point is, does acupuncture affect the microbiome more than a substance or drug approach? Does it affect the microbiome more than diet change? The research out there doesn’t address these questions yet.

From a clinical perspective, it’s best to use multiple approaches together as they work synergistically. Would I suggest acupuncture alone for treating the gut? No. It’s important to modify the diet if there is fruitful work in that area. Herbal antibiotics, probiotics, and prebiotics also have their place in a robust treatment.

Gut Health, Dysfunction, and Disease

A healthy gut microbiome is important for many different conditions and symptoms, including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, constipation, diarrhea, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, poor immunity, joint pain, depression, anxiety, malnutrition, and more.

At my clinic I use an integrative approach to address gut health and related systems (hormonal and metabolic). If you’re in the Bay Area, I can treat you with acupuncture. If you’re not located near me, we can treat using functional lab assessments, supplements, and herbs.

Click the link below to sign up for a free discovery call to learn more.