Acupuncture for Gastroparesis: Is It Effective?


Gastroparesis is a disorder where the stomach is partially paralyzed and cannot empty properly. This tends to be caused by damage to the nerve that controls this action and can be caused by a number of different things. It can be caused by diabetes, smoking, eating disorders, autonomic neuropathy and a selection of other disorders. It can cause all manner of nasty symptoms including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea but also heartburn, palpitations, abdominal pain and bloating, low appetite and reflux.


Treatments for Gastroparesis include having a low fiber diet, Botox, gastric neuro-stimulators or a selection of medication. However there is some evidence pointing towards an alternative remedy and this is acupuncture. There have been a number of successful experiments carried out where it was found to help. One was recently reported at the American College of Gastroenterology 77th Annual Scientific Meeting. It was found that electrical stimulation at acupuncture points to relieve some of the symptoms such as the nausea and vomiting. Pain and bloating, fullness and satiety.


The symptoms were reduced by between 20 and 40% in all of the patients to complete the study. Although this did not completely eliminate the problems, it did make it easier for them to eat and drink. In another study patients were either given acupuncture or Reglan and their gastric juice volume was measured with the main findings being that 29 of the acupuncture cases has no gastric juices afterwards, and the other 3 had less. In the Reglan group 10 had none, 12 were okay and 9 saw no effects whatsoever. This therefore shows that in these patients the acupuncture was more effective than the drug.

However, it is important to bear in mind that this sort of treatment may not suit everyone. Most of the studies are done on patients with diabetic gastroparesis and so if this is not the condition that you have, then the same results may not be seen. There were also done on small sample sizes and each test group only tried one condition rather than being able to compare how each individual got on with each treatment. However, it is something that could be well worth a try as you could find that it will help you even if you do not have diabetes. Work closely with your GP and make sure that you do not stop taking any medication without consulting them first.

Check that it is safe for you to have the treatment as well. You may find it will be a few sessions before you start to notice any effects and so it could be wise to book up a few to start with and then decide whether you are feeling any better. They may not cure the symptoms, but could help you to start to feel better. Some people find it helps them a lot and some not at all, so you may fall into either of these categories but are more likely to fall somewhere in between. If you are suffering, then it could be something worth trying to see if it provides any help to you.

Monique van de Elzen runs the Acupuncture Grey Lynn Studio. She is a Traditionally trained acupuncturist with over 15 years experience as a medical practitioner. Before becoming an acupuncturist she worked as a physiotherapist and  has a Diploma in Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine from the NZ School of Acupuncture.


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