Can Acupuncture Help Your Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic form of inflammatory bowel disease that affects around 230,000 people in Canada. Doctors cannot cure the disease, but several treatment options are now available to patients, including complementary therapies such as acupuncture. Find out how acupuncture can help ease the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, and learn more about how you can combine this with other treatment methods.

How ulcerative colitis affects the body

Ulcerative colitis occurs when the body develops ulcers (or open sores) in the large intestine and rectum. Over time, these ulcers can bleed and will often produce mucus and pus. For people with the condition, these ulcers can lead to several unwanted side effects, including chronic diarrhea, abdominal cramps and weight loss.

Doctors aren't completely sure what causes ulcerative colitis. Research suggests that the disease occurs because of a problem with the immune system.

Scientific evidence

Several studies suggest that acupuncture can help people with ulcerative colitis. Indeed, complementary and alternative medicines are increasingly popular with colitis sufferers. Some colitis medications can cause unwanted side effects, and some people respond well to more natural methods like acupuncture.

A 2006 study looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture as a colitis treatment method with a group of 29 trial patients. Researchers used two methods of acupuncture, both of which showed therapeutic benefits in the patients.

The study measured success using the patients' Colitis Activity Index, which doctors often use to measure the severity of symptoms and impact on daily life. Both types of acupuncture resulted in significant improvements in the patients' quality of life.

Acupuncture and inflammation

Chinese practitioners have used acupuncture to treat pain and inflammation for many centuries. Researchers continue to try to understand how acupuncture helps with these symptoms, but scientists know that one way to ease inflammation is to stimulate the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and extends from the brain down to the abdomen. The nerve controls various body commands, and doctors sometimes stimulate the nerve with electricity to help people with epilepsy. Researchers now believe that acupuncture stimulates this nerve, triggering mechanisms that naturally ease inflammation.

Taking up acupuncture

Although research increasingly shows that acupuncture can help people with ulcerative colitis, you should still always consult your doctor before making changes to your current treatment plan. For many people, acupuncture is most effective when patients combine the therapy with other prescription drugs and make other lifestyle changes. You should never suddenly stop taking prescribed medicines without your doctor's consent.

People with ulcerative colitis can benefit from the therapeutic benefits of acupuncture. For more advice, talk to your doctor and an acupuncture specialist in your area. You might also visit an acupuncture school, such as the Acupuncture School in Toronto.