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How to Treat Celiac Disease With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

gluten free celiac disease
Bread and many other foods contain gluten.

Do you have digestive problems like a bloated stomach, diarrhea, and abdominal pain? Unintentional weight loss, fatigue, skin rashes? These can all be signs of Celiac disease. Different from food allergies, Celiac is a serious autoimmune disorder that can lead to malnutrition and other debilitating health problems. TCM herbs and acupuncture treatment offer a good alternative way of managing Celiac disease and gluten intolerance symptoms.

In recent years, you have probably heard a lot of people saying they are switching to a gluten free diet because they have a gluten allergy or gluten intolerance. Sometimes people may just be trying to see if they feel better when they cut out wheat products, or they are going on a low carb diet to help them lose weight. Other people may be experiencing symptoms like diarrhea and nausea and hope that going on an IBS diet will help.

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein that is present in some grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. When a person has Celiac disease, gluten is perceived by the immune system as a dangerous foreign substance, triggering an immune response. Antibodies (white blood cells) are produced as a reaction to gluten entering the body, and the antibodies end up causing inflammation and damage to the inside of the intestinal tract.

This damage to the small intestine is called villous atrophy, and this is what causes inflammation and malabsorption of nutrients, leading to the myriad symptoms of Celiac. Celiac symptoms vary widely, and can include both digestive problems, and other conditions, like anemia, that stem from the lack of proper nourishment to the body.

wheat allergy food allergies
Some people are allergic to wheat; others have gluten intolerance.

There is such a thing as a true wheat allergy, which for some people causes respiratory problems like difficulty breathing and nasal congestion, and other allergy symptoms like swelling and itching around the mouth and throat, hives or other itchy skin rashes, and headaches. Wheat allergies are a response to chemical compounds in wheat, which is found in a wide variety of food products. In some cases, exposure to wheat can cause anaphylaxis, which requires emergency medical attention because it can involve trouble breathing and swallowing, chest tightening, throat swelling, dizziness, and fainting.

Some doctors now recognize gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity as a separate condition from Celiac disease. For some people, gluten causes an immune response and symptoms, but not the same kind of damage to the intestines that Celiac does. If gluten intolerance is suspected, then following a gluten free diet for a period of time and noticing if symptoms clear up is usually the recommended course of action.

Celiac disease tends to run in families, and so is considered to be passed genetically. People can begin to show signs of Celiac at any age. It is estimated that at least 1% of the population has Celiac disease, but that number may be significantly higher, as it is still not a very well understood condition. Many people who have Celiac disease are unaware of it, or have been misdiagnosed with other conditions. Researchers believe that the incidence of Celiac disease is increasing worldwide, probably due to some environmental factors.

Acupuncture and TCM herbs provide a holistic way to treat Celiac disease, relieving the painful symptoms and providing detailed guidance for lifestyle and dietary changes that can help people manage Celiac and gluten intolerance. Nutrition is considered to be one of the primary branches of TCM, along with acupuncture and herbs. A TCM practitioner will be able to give you dietary recommendations far beyond just telling you to eat gluten free foods.

Top 10 Celiac Disease Symptoms

People can experience a variety of gluten intolerance symptoms, including digestive problems, allergy symptoms like skin rash, and other symptoms related to nutritional deficiency, like anemia and weight loss. Signs of gluten intolerance may be different in children, who are more susceptible to malnourishment that can lead to a failure to thrive.

headache stomach pain fatigue celiac
Fatigue, headaches, and stomach pain can all be signs of Celiac disease.

Celiac symptoms include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Weight loss
  3. Diarrhea, pale colored stools, foul-smelling, fatty, greasy stool
  4. Abdominal bloating, bloated stomach, gas, stomach pain, abdominal pain
  5. Nausea, vomiting
  6. Constipation
  7. Headache, headaches, migraines, migraine headaches
  8. Skin rash, mouth ulcers, mouth sores, canker sores
  9. Neuropathy, numbness or tingling in hands and feet, problems with balance, joint pain
  10. Cognitive problems, foggy head, difficulty concentrating

Celiac can lead to anemia, iron deficiency, loss of bone density (osteoporosis), weak bones, soft bones, bone loss (osteopenia), joint pain, or arthritis. People can also have liver problems, including fatty liver.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is a specific type of skin rash that causes itching and blisters to appear, primarily on the knees, elbows, torso, top of the head, and buttocks.

Women may find that celiac disease affects their hormones, menstrual periods, and can have an impact on fertility, even causing recurrent miscarriages

Celiac disease can also contribute to infertility and low sperm count in men.

When a child develops celiac disease, the inability to absorb nutrients from food can cause problems with normal growth, such as short stature, delayed puberty, and damage to tooth enamel. Developmental disorders and behavioral issues can also be related to celiac, like ADD/ADHD and irritability. 

In extreme cases, Celiac can cause seizures.

Celiac Disease Diagnosis and Treatment 

stomach pain abdominal pain
Abdominal pain and bloating can be symptoms of Celiac or gluten intolerance.

Going through the process of being diagnosed with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance is quite complicated and involves multiple tests. From the medical standpoint, it is best that you do not eliminate gluten or change your diet before the testing, so that it can accurately show how gluten is affecting your immune system and your intestines.

First, you will probably have a blood test that looks for certain antibodies that would indicate an autoimmune reaction to gluten. Some people may test negative for antibodies, and yet still have Celiac, though, so this blood testing is not enough to be conclusive. Genetic testing may be done, which looks for specific antigens to rule out Celiac. If testing shows that a person has antibodies, and they also have a specific type of skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis), that is usually enough for a doctor to give an official diagnosis of Celiac disease.

Endoscopy is an imaging test which uses a little camera to see if there is damage to the intestinal lining. They will also take some tissue samples from the lining of the intestine to check for inflammation and damage. The results of these tests may lead to a formal Celiac diagnosis. People will often need to have an endoscopy to find out if they have Celiac disease, and then possibly repeated endoscopies to see if the inflammation is getting better or worse.

Sometimes people will try figuring out what is going on themselves with a food sensitivity test or food intolerance test kit that you can do at home and send in for results. Food allergy testing may give you some information as to whether you have a reaction to a specific allergen (egg allergy, milk allergy, peanut allergy, shellfish allergy) or have a food sensitivity, but they cannot tell you if you really have Celiac disease or gut inflammation.

Going through the diagnostic process for autoimmune diseases like Celiac disease can be exhausting in and of itself. Meanwhile, you aren’t yet getting treatment for your symptoms. The only treatment available in conventional medicine for Celiac disease really is to follow a gluten free diet. Most doctors are not able to do much beyond give you a list of foods you shouldn’t eat, or refer you to a dietitian.

TCM has the ability to provide more comprehensive care for people with Celiac disease, and many other autoimmune conditions. Acupuncturists are highly trained professionals when it comes to offering patients detailed guidance for following an effective Celiac disease diet.

Can Acupuncture Help Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance?

gluten free foods
Your acupuncturist will help you follow a gluten free diet.

TCM has more to offer than just acupuncture treatment and herbal medicine. Nutrition is one of core competencies every TCM practitioner must master. 

Acupuncture treatment can help relieve digestive symptoms like abdominal pain and bloating, and also have a positive impact on the system malfunctioning that leads to autoimmune reactions. With Chinese herbs, we are able to get very potent nutrients into the body that wouldn’t normally come from food. For people with Celiac, or other problems like food allergies or sensitivities, malnutrition due to malabsorption is a real problem. 

A TCM nutrition approach can help restore the body’s health with foods and herbs better than a simple elimination diet for Celiac disease can. An acupuncturist listens carefully to the particular symptoms and sensations you describe. These provide important clues as to which organ systems are involved, and where yin and yang are out of balance. Then TCM provides a framework for tailoring the treatment and food plan for Celiac disease to each individual’s needs.

According to TCM theory, the stomach and spleen are responsible for digesting food. Celiac disease symptoms are, according to a typical TCM diagnosis, related to a spleen deficiency. When Qi in the spleen is weak, the body is not getting the nutrients it needs. Building up the strength of the spleen will often be the focus of the acupuncture portion of the treatment. Herbs and specific nourishing foods will be recommended, which will help anemia and soothe the digestive tract.

Acupuncture Near Me For Celiac Disease, West Los Angeles

Autoimmune diseases like Celiac disease can be especially frustrating because they seem to take over your whole life. Not only physical health, but mental health is compromised. Treatment options are limited. Fortunately, TCM offers a complementary form of medicine that is able to provide multi-faceted care for autoimmune disorders like Celiac, including: Crohn’s disease, Type 1 diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis (MS). Acupuncture treatment can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression as you learn to manage your illness.

If you or someone you know has been suffering from digestive issues, and you suspect it may have something to do with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, be prepared to go through testing, but also give some thought to adding a TCM provider to your health care team. At Art of Wellness, we have over 35 years of providing excellent care through TCM treatments, including expert nutrition services. It is like getting an acupuncturist and dietitian in one.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Treat Morning Sickness With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

morning sickness pregnancy
“Morning sickness” can cause nausea at any time of day.

Nausea or vomiting during the first few months of pregnancy, known as “morning sickness,” is experienced by more than half of all pregnant women. Severe nausea and vomiting, or morning sickness that lasts all day or further into pregnancy–called Hyperemesis Gravidarumis less common, but can cause health problems for both the mother and the developing fetus. Acupuncture and TCM provide a natural and effective alternative for dealing with both mild and severe morning sickness.

“Morning sickness” is somewhat of a misnomer, although nausea during the first several weeks of pregnancy is often experienced early in the day, before eating. Having an empty stomach can exacerbate the queasy feeling of morning sickness. But why is it called morning sickness when it lasts all day? As many women know, morning sickness can strike at any time of day or night, and some women feel nauseous throughout the day.

The majority (at least 70%, maybe more) of all pregnant women experience some nausea during early pregnancy. Morning sickness usually begins occurring when a woman is around 6 weeks pregnant, and goes away by about the 12th week of pregnancy, or the transition into the second trimester. However, some women will continue to feel morning sickness later in pregnancy.

Medical science has not determined exactly what causes morning sickness, although it is generally thought to be related to changes in hormones, particularly an increase in hCG, known as the “pregnancy hormone.” A recent research study found that a specific genetic sequence present in some women may account for increased nausea during pregnancy. Some researchers at Cornell University have posited that morning sickness may be an evolutionary development that prevents harm to babies in utero by keeping the mother’s diet free of potentially toxic substances. They observed that in cultures where the staple diet relies more on starches and less on meat, pregnant women were less likely to experience morning sickness.

For most women, the morning sickness that occurs in the early months of pregnancy is not dangerous to their health or that of the fetus. However, feeling nauseous a lot of time is certainly uncomfortable. Some lifestyle habits can help get the nausea and vomiting under control. Acupuncture treatment and herbs can help even more to provide relief from the daily nausea of morning sickness.

For some women, morning sickness is more than just a nuisance. Not being able to keep any food down and vomiting repeatedly throughout the day for weeks or even months on end can cause serious health issues for mom and baby. Lack of proper nutrition, dehydration, and weight loss can lead to unwanted outcomes later on, including pre-term delivery and low birth weight of the infant. Hyperemesis gravidarum requires treatment. Acupuncture help for morning sickness is a natural alternative to drugs used to treat nausea.

Top 5 Symptoms of Morning Sickness

The symptom of nausea during early pregnancy is often what first lets a woman know she might be pregnant. Feeling queasy, dizzy, sensitive to smells, an aversion to certain foods, and occasionally vomiting are the most common signs of morning sickness. The sensations can be likened to those of motion sickness, or having a hangover. Many women report having a metallic taste in their mouth, and/or more saliva, which can contribute to feeling nauseated.

Severe morning sickness is a more serious problem. Signs of hyperemesis gravidarum include:

  1. Vomiting 3-4 times per day or more
  2. Feeling light-headed or dizzy after vomiting
  3. Dehydration: thirst, dry mouth, not having to urinate normally
  4. Heart beating fast, heart palpitations
  5. Losing weight during pregnancy (more than 10 pounds)

Some women may be at higher risk for hyperemesis gravidarum if they are: having multiples (twins or triplets), if their mother also had severe morning sickness (genetics), or if they generally tend to have a more sensitive stomach, even when not pregnant. Stress, lack of sleep, and hot weather can all trigger more nausea during pregnancy.

Medical Treatment for Morning Sickness

morning sickness pregnancy
Morning sickness can continue later in pregnancy.

Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is challenging to treat effectively, as care must be taken to avoid drugs that could harm the mother or the developing fetus. Often women are not treated for severe morning sickness until they have become so sick and dehydrated from vomiting that they need urgent care. At this point, a woman may need to be hospitalized and treated intravenously for dehydration.

There has been a somewhat standard practice of people recommending and using over-the-counter antihistamines or antiemetics like Pepto-Bismol to help quell nausea. In a 6-year study of women with hyperemesis gravidarum, researchers found that women who had used medications like Benadryl during pregnancy were more likely to experience adverse outcomes. A combination of vitamin B-6 and doxylamine is sometimes recommended. This drug combination is sold as an OTC sleep aid. Phenothiazine is sometimes prescribed for women with morning sickness, but it’s efficacy and safety for this use has not been studied extensively.

These medicines are used because they seem relatively risk-free, but they still carry the risk of side effects, like drowsiness, headaches, dry mouth, etc. In many cases, they are not totally effective. Acupuncture and TCM herbal formulations offer relief from nausea and other pregnancy issues without any negative side effects.

How Can Acupuncture Treat Nausea?

acupressure point for menstrual cramps
Apply gentle pressure to help relieve nausea

According to TCM, Qi (life force energy) moves through the body along meridians, channels that connect the organ systems. The Chong meridian connects the reproductive organs to the brain and the heart. This particular energy channel is related to all concerns having to do with female reproductive health and gynecological conditions, including menstruation and pregnancy. Its relation to the heart means that it is also connected to feelings of anxiety, panic attacks, and palpitations.

Each woman’s experience of morning sickness is different, so a TCM practitioner will look carefully at each individual patient to determine the specific imbalances causing the nausea and address them appropriately with acupuncture and herbs.

In TCM theory, morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum are related to the stomach, spleen, and liver. When a woman becomes pregnant, blood and Qi are strongly directed towards the pelvic area to nourish the womb (uterus) and the developing fetus. This surge of energy will also affect the digestive organs, potentially causing stomach problems. This is more likely to happen to women who have had weak digestion previously, perhaps due to a lack of proper functioning of the spleen. Likewise, the direction of more blood to the reproductive organs can cause a decrease in Yin energy in the Liver, thus increasing Yang energy. Liver fire can also trigger imbalance in the Stomach, leading to nausea and vomiting.

acupressure point PC-6 for nausea morning sickness
Acupressure point PC-6 for nausea and morning sickness.

A specific acupressure/acupuncture point on the wrist is especially helpful for reducing nausea. This acupoint is known as PC6, or Nei Guan, 内关, which translates as “Inner Pass.” You may have seen special bracelets or wristbands recommended to help reduce nausea due to morning sickness (or motion sickness or postoperative nausea related to opioid medications). These products are designed to stimulate this acupressure point for nausea. While applying gentle pressure to this point can certainly be beneficial for women experiencing morning sickness, acupuncture treatment that includes this point and others is even more effective.

A systematic review of published studies related to the use of PC6 stimulation for nausea and vomiting found that this treatment produces clinically effective results, not only for pregnant women, but also for patients in cancer treatment and other people experiencing severe nausea.

A randomized trial conducted in Sweden to study the use of acupuncture treatment in conjunction with standard medical treatment for women with hyperemesis gravidarum found that acupuncture was not only very safe and free of side effects, but that women who received acupuncture were able to get over their severe nausea and vomiting more quickly than women getting only the standard treatment.
A study conducted at a maternity hospital in Australia compared women who received acupuncture for morning sickness to groups receiving placebo treatment or no treatment. The women who received acupuncture reported significantly less nausea and retching.

Top 5 Tips to Help Morning Sickness

grapefruit pomelo nausea morning sickness
Sniffing the skin of a grapefruit or pomelo fruit can help nip nausea in the bud.

Naturally, pregnancy is a time to embrace new lifestyle habits that are beneficial to both mother and baby. Eating a healthy diet during pregnancy can be especially difficult if you are feeling nauseous. Getting enough nutrition and rest during pregnancy is vital. 

  1. Eat plain, “bland,” warm foods. Avoid anything that is spicy, salty, fatty, fried, or cold.
  2. Eat smaller meals/snacks at regular intervals throughout the day, so as to avoid the stomach being empty or too full, and to keep blood sugar levels steady.
  3. Sip water slowly and regularly. Don’t gulp down large amounts of liquid all at once.
  4. Sip ginger tea, made by steeping a few slices of fresh ginger.
  5. Actively prioritize stress reduction. Anxiety can exacerbate the nausea of morning sickness. Take frequent rest breaks. Ask your TCM provider to show you some gentle meditative exercises like Tai Qi or Chi Gong that can help relieve stress and nausea.

Talking with a trusted healthcare professional who understands what you’re going through can be helpful for calming anxieties about your pregnancy. Finding an experienced acupuncturist who can help you through any and all of the symptoms and worries that may come up during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care can help to ease stress and discomfort.

Acupuncture Near Me for Morning Sickness

Acupuncture is an excellent modality not only for helping to relieve nausea due to morning sickness; TCM is a holistic form of medicine that can help women throughout pregnancy. Many discomforts and concerns may come up as a woman anticipates birth. Working with an integrative health provider who has a thorough understanding of gynecology and obstetrics from both Eastern and Western medical points of view can be beneficial to the physical and emotional health of both mother and baby. At Art of Wellness, we have over 30 years of experience helping women attain better reproductive health: from painful periods, to fertility issues, through pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause.

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Treat Bloated Stomach With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac,. Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

bloated stomach pain
Bloated stomach after eating can be painful and embarrassing.

Do you feel constantly gassy or have a bloated stomach after eating? Digestive problems like gastritis or colitis can cause abdominal bloat. Stress and hormonal imbalances can also contribute to inflammation and bloated stomach pain. Acupuncture and TCM herbs can help improve digestion and relieve abdominal bloating.

Abdominal bloating occurs when gas builds up in the gastrointestinal tract, filling the stomach and/or intestines with air. This can cause the belly area to get swollen and distended. Bloating can cause  an inflated belly, sharp pain in the abdomen, belching and flatulence, nausea, or a sudden strong urge to go to the bathroom. Bloating can be related to fluid retention; this is sometimes called “water bloat.”

Problems with digestion that lead to a feeling of heaviness, “like a rock” in your belly after eating, are common. People who have been diagnosed with some type of functional gastro-intestinal disorder (FGID)–like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or dyspepsia (indigestion)–are extremely likely to experience abdominal pain and bloating after eating, while up to 30% of all people report having bloating at least some of the time. Inflammation in the walls of the stomach (gastritis) or intestine (ulcerative colitis) can also cause bloating.

Women often feel bloated before or during their menstrual period, and female reproductive disorders like endometriosis, fibroids (leiomyoma of the uterus), and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) can cause abdominal pain and bloating.

FGIDs can be very hard to manage; it may be difficult to get a clear diagnosis or effective medical treatment. Problems like constipation, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain and bloating are highly subjective, and people are often made to feel like it’s normal to have these issues, or that all they need to do is avoid certain foods. 

Feelings of anxiety and depression are common among people who suffer from moderate to severe bloating on a regular basis. This can become a vicious cycle, as the pain and swelling of the abdomen causes anxiety, and the physiological effects of the emotional stress trigger the bloating to happen again and again. Sometimes people dread eating meals because they are so afraid of the painful and embarrassing bloated stomach.

Digestive upsets are complex to treat because there can be many factors contributing to the discomfort. So many different conditions can cause bloating, it can be hard to get a clear handle on the true cause. This is a case when TCM methods of diagnosis offer many advantages, because a TCM practitioner will be able to study the whole picture presented by a patient and pinpoint what underlying conditions are causing gas and distension. Acupuncture and herbs can help resolve abdominal bloating and other symptoms at their root source.

Top 10 Abdominal Bloating Causes

abdominal bloating
Abdominal bloating and anxiety can go hand in hand.

Why might someone feel bloated and gassy all the time? Many different types of gastrointestinal disorders can contribute to a bloated belly and excess gas, as can hormonal and emotional changes. What causes abdominal bloating can be one issue or a combination of factors:

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  2. Inflammatory bowel disease, Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease
  3. Gastritis, stomach ulcers, inflammation of the stomach
  4. Food intolerance, gluten intolerance, celiac disease
  5. PMS, menstruation
  6. Stress, anxiety, depression
  7. Pregnancy
  8. Constipation 
  9. Liver disease
  10. Abdominal adhesions, or scar tissue from surgeries

Eating behaviors like eating too quickly, swallowing air while eating, or eating fiber-rich foods that cause gas like beans, can lead to bloating. Drinking a lot of carbonated beverages can lead to excess gas in the GI tract. Smoking can also be a factor. Some medications can cause bloating as a side effect, including antibiotics, oral birth control pills, opioid pain medications, medicines to relieve constipation, and even some supplements, like iron pills.

Cancers of the abdominal organs, such as ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, or pancreatic cancer, can also cause bloating in the belly. Gallstones or gallbladder disease, kidney problems, and liver problems can all cause stomach pain and bloating.

Medical Treatment for Abdominal Bloating

Many people do not seek medical help for bloating, trying to manage it on their own with over the counter medications that promise relief from gas pain and acid reflux. Antacids only help with the kind of bloating that is caused by food, though; they don’t help with bloating related to FGIDs, hormones, or emotional stress. When a person does ask their primary care doctor or even a gastroenterologist for help with bloating, they may find that the treatment options are very limited. Doctors will usually reassure patients that gas and bloating, while uncomfortable, are not actually dangerous. Then, they will often advise that patients go on a strict elimination diet, cutting out wheat, dairy, and most vegetables and legumes. Sometimes doctors will prescribe antibiotics to alter the balance of gut bacteria. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to help with bloating. Conventional medical science still has a ways to go to fully understand the underlying causes of digestive problems like bloating.

Because bloating is not viewed as a disorder in and of itself, not much serious research has been done to show what types of treatments work best to get rid of bloating. TCM treatment has been shown in a randomized controlled trial, a peer-reviewed study, and a hospital-based investigation to help in relieving stomach pain due to chronic gastritis.

How Can Acupuncture Help With Bloating?

TCM offers a multidisciplinary approach to the digestive problems, hormone imbalances, and emotional upsets that can cause bloating. An experienced acupuncturist is able to use methods of diagnosis such as studying the appearance of the tongue, feeling the pulse, and asking lots of questions about how and when the symptoms occur to find the specific pattern of imbalance that is causing gastric distress.

Different presentations of digestive conditions that may cause abdominal bloating and pain include:

  1. Spleen/Stomach Deficiency – characterized by symptoms: chronic bloating, poor appetite, feel worse after eating, pallor, and fatigue. This type of bloating can be caused by antibiotics, too much raw or fermented food, eating disorders, a long period of illness, or chronic inflammatory disorders.
  2. Damp-Phlegm – symptoms include: distended stomach, nausea, acid reflux, diarrhea. This type of bloating can be caused by dietary habits that include excess sugar, alcohol, fatty or fried foods, and dairy products. Can also be related to damp environmental conditions. 
  3. Liver Qi stagnation – common symptoms are: stomachaches, stomach gurgling, belching, and constipation. This type of bloating can be caused by stress, feelings of anxiety or anger, and irregular, emotional eating behaviors.

TCM treatment for abdominal bloating will use acupuncture and herbs to bring the stomach and liver back into harmonious function, clearing phlegm and improving digestion. Treatment will be individualized based on the underlying causes of the imbalance; if reproductive hormones are involved, then that factor will be taken into consideration when preparing the herbal formula. If mental health issues are a factor, specific points will be added to help relieve anxiety. Naturally, your acupuncturist will have some clear instructions on how to optimize your nutrition to reduce bloating.

Top 5 Tips for How to Stop Bloating

bloated stomach eating habits
Pay attention while you’re eating, and be sure to chew food thoroughly.

While bloating may be caused by all sorts of different factors, there is no doubt that making some changes to your eating habits will probably have an impact on how bloated you feel. What helps bloating may be different for each person’s constitution or lifestyle, so it will be very helpful to have an in-depth conversation with your acupuncture provider about what bloating diet is best for you.

  1. Chew your food thoroughly. Many people eat fast, and don’t pay much attention to chewing their food well before they swallow. Food is really meant to be broken down and mixed with saliva in the mouth before it moves down the esophagus and into the stomach. Skipping this important step by swallowing half-chewed food means that your stomach has to produce more acid and work much harder to digest the food before it moves deeper into your gastrointestinal tract. Eating too quickly can also easily lead to eating more than you need. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive the message that the stomach is full. Chew slowly, and enjoy every bite; this will improve your digestion.
  2. Avoid icy cold drinks and foods. Cold liquids are shocking and unfriendly to your internal organs, both those of the digestive tract and the female reproductive organs. Constantly drinking ice-cold beverages irritates the smooth muscle tissues of the stomach, intestines, and uterus. Drink more warm liquids, which are soothing to these organs.
  3. Ginger tea – many of our herbal formulations include slices of fresh ginger to help soothe the stomach and GI tract. Ginger helps the body to produce more of the digestive enzymes that work to break down food, and relieves cramping in the belly. All you need to do is keep a knob of fresh ginger on hand, cut two or three slices and steep in hot water as you would a teabag. Sip anytime, but especially before meals, to help relieve gastritis pain and bloating. 
  4. Choose foods in harmony with the season. Raw foods are appropriate in the summer, but in the winter, it’s better to eat cooked foods. Eating more bitter-tasting foods, like dark leafy greens, helps the liver and kidneys.
  5. Use acupressure to help relieve bloating and gassiness. Acupoints are located along the meridians and correspond to various organ systems. Applying gentle, steady, downward pressure to acupoint ST36 (Zu San Li), which is associated with the stomach, can help to relieve bloating, stomach pain, nausea, and feelings of stress. ST36 is located on the outer edge of the shin bone, about 4 finger widths beneath the kneecap.

Acupuncture Near Me for Abdominal Bloating

TCM offers a holistic approach to digestive problems of all kinds. Symptoms like abdominal bloating, stomach pain, and gassiness are usually signs that there is a deeper problem. If you haven’t been able to solve the problem of bloating with conventional medicine or dietary changes, you may be able to get help for digestive difficulties with acupuncture and herbs.

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Manage IBS Diet With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

IBS abdominal pain
Pain in the abdomen that moves around may be a sign of IBS

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal problem that causes uncomfortable changes in the body’s elimination process. One day you’re constipated, then a day or two later, you may have diarrhea. Pains move around the whole abdominal area, and your belly feels full and tight with excess gas. IBS treatment typically involves taking medications and following a special IBS diet, but many people continue suffering with no IBS cure. In this article, we’ll talk about how to get rid of IBS naturally with acupuncture and TCM.

IBS is a common digestive problem that can cause a lot of pain and anxiety around your daily bathroom habits. IBS can cause stress and even depression, compromising your ability to live life without worrying about when you’re going to have to go to the bathroom. Conversely, stress and anxiety function as triggers for bouts of IBS, so the problem becomes cyclical.

This gastrointestinal problem is called Irritable Bowel Syndrome because people who suffer from this disorder seem to have a more sensitive intestinal tract that is highly reactive to IBS triggers. Sometimes this condition is referred to as “spastic colon.” People who have primarily loose stools as a result of this condition are said to have “IBS-D” (diarrhea-predominant IBS), while people who suffer more from sluggish bowels have “IBS-C” (constipation-predominant IBS). 

Many people never seek help from their medical providers for IBS treatment, perhaps because they think their discomfort is normal. The ever-changing nature of IBS means it’s hard to get a handle on what is actually happening. The pain in the gut seems to move around all the time, and bathroom habits can feel totally unpredictable. IBS can also lead to the bleeding and discomfort of hemorrhoids.

IBS Causes

According to conventional medicine, there is no one specific cause for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Having a more highly reactive intestinal tract may be due to many factors, some more clearly mechanical in nature, others more having to do with psychological factors. Inflammation in the gut, gastroenteritis, stressful or traumatic situations, heightened sensitivity to movements and sensations within the abdomen, and miscommunications of the autonomic nervous system between the digestive organs and brain may all play a role in IBS.

We usually think of serotonin as being a hormone in the brain that affects mood and the ability to fall asleep. But serotonin is a neurotransmitter that also plays a key role in the function of the gut, affecting how the intestines move and secrete gastric juices, as well as how we viscerally perceive these functions. Changes or abnormalities in serotonin release or uptake seem to be one of the issues related to IBS.

Top 5 IBS Triggers are:

  1. Stress
  2. Abnormal levels of serotonin in the digestive tract
  3. An infection or abnormal level of bacteria in the digestive tract
  4. Strong reactions to certain foods/Celiac disease
  5. Weak colon muscle action

IBS involves, on some level, problems with both the motor function of the bowel itself and the extent to which a person is physically aware of “stuff going on” in their intestines and colon. Inflammation from infections or hormone changes caused by the menstrual cycle can also directly affect bowel motility. Those same things can cause a person to be hypersensitive to every little movement of the intestines, making them feel like painful cramps.

IBS and Gut Health

The balance of gut bacteria, or “flora” in the intestines, has been more recently shown to play a vital role in overall health. Gut bacteria are instrumental in the proper functioning of the immune system and the assimilation of nutrients from our food. The balance of the gut flora can be disturbed by taking antibiotics or a gastric infection, such as norovirus or other flu-type illnesses. Medical science is still making strides in learning how the health of the gut is very closely connected with the brain. It is becoming clear that gut health is inextricably related to mental health. 

abdominal pain
IBS can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and cramping

We know that stress, both chronic and acute, can cause all kinds of health issues. The mind-body connection is particularly apparent when it comes to IBS triggers. Feelings of anxiety create a ripple effect through the middle of the body, affecting the whole digestive system, causing pain and volatile action. Fear, shame, and even feelings of panic about having to run to the bathroom keep the whole process in a repeating loop. 

IBS treatment often involves antibiotics or probiotics, but this has not been shown to be effective long-term. Many times doctors will prescribe medicines for anxiety (like Valium or Atavan) or depression to help provide IBS relief. However, these pharmacological treatments do not really address the root causes of the syndrome, and they may cause negative side effects, and sometimes create a dependency on the medication.

Top 5 Signs of IBS

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that often appear together for which there is no clear medical explanation. According to conventional medicine, irritable bowel syndrome is evident when a person has frequent abdominal discomfort, which could mean a “stomach ache” or cramping, and bouts of constipation or diarrhea, or sometimes both, in alternation. In other words, IBS is signified by changes in the frequency or consistency of bowel movements, accompanied by marked discomfort before having them. 

Top 5 Symptoms of IBS are:

  1. Abdominal pain
  2. Bloating and excess gas
  3. Constipation and/or diarrhea
  4. Mucus in the stool or other irregularities
  5. Nausea

IBS is more common among women than men. This may be due to fluctuations in hormones that affect the chemical balance and muscle action of the intestines. Women may experience more IBS symptoms in conjunction with their menstrual periods, or as a PMS symptom.

Conventional treatment for IBS typically involves the offering of various medications to deal with these symptoms. Anti-spasmodics may be used to help reduce cramping and contractions in the bowel, and anti-diarrheal medications such as Imodium may slow down the movements of the bowel, but these IBS medications do not help to restore true balance to the digestive system.

How to Treat IBS With Acupuncture

TCM and acupuncture work according to holistic principles, meaning that we are careful to look at the whole picture of what is going on with a person: emotionally, spiritually, physically, nutritionally, and energetically. According to TCM philosophy, the spleen is the organ responsible for processing our food and turning it into energy. IBS treatment with acupuncture is a matter of aligning the communications between the Shen (the mind) and the Spleen. Deficiency of the spleen is the primary TCM diagnosis for most patients with IBS symptoms. It is equally important to address problems of the Shen at the same time. 

The most common TCM differentiations of IBS patterns are:

  • Spleen Deficiency with Liver Qi stagnation: symptoms of this condition include diarrhea, mucus in the stool, abdominal pain, cramping, gassiness, bloating, irritability, and depression with lots of heavy sighing.
  • Spleen Deficiency with Stomach deficiency: shows symptoms like watery stools, feeling of fullness and distension after eating, poor appetite, a pale complexion and fatigue.
  • Spleen Deficiency with Kidney Deficiency: symptoms include diarrhea, especially in the morning, partially digested food in the stool, aches and pain in the abdomen, lower back, and knees, with a sense of coldness.

Moxibustion is a TCM treatment used in addition to acupuncture to treat IBS. One study showed that acupuncture treatment combined with moxibustion to get rid of IBS was extremely effective for reducing both the discomfort and frequency of bowel movements.

Another study that tested both herbal formulations and acupuncture treatment on patients with IBS showed that both methods were effective at reducing symptoms.

Acupuncture treatment will also focus on reducing stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Acupuncture has been shown to help restore the balance of serotonin levels, as well.

IBS Diet According to TCM

Stomach 37 acupressure point
Stomach 37 acupressure point

Chinese herbs, as always, are also integral to the successful treatment of IBS. In the TCM philosophy of healthcare, nutrition is considered to be just as important as acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal formulae, and other forms of therapeutic treatment. Herbs are a way to get nutrients into the body that are not necessarily present in the foods we commonly eat. TCM practitioners are trained extensively in the energetic and nutritional values of food and will spend time working with patients to modify eating habits and focus on a special IBS diet. Apart from reducing common problems like excessive coffee and alcohol intake, your acupuncturist will work with you to discover which foods act as IBS triggers for you and help you to make the most beneficial modifications to your IBS diet plan.

Top 5 Acupressure Points to Help IBS

Acupressure can be a very effective means how to treat IBS naturally yourself. Acupressure uses the same collection of points located along the meridians of the body as acupuncture to help eliminate blockages and encourage blood and Qi to move freely through the body. These points located along the spleen, bladder, stomach and “conception vessel” meridians can help provide IBS relief. The conception vessel meridian runs up the front and center of the torso, from the pubic area to the mouth. Also known as the “Sea of Yin,” this channel is instrumental in directing all the yin energy in the body. As it is very exposed, this energy center can feel vulnerable, and may be where we tighten up, hunch over, and try to hide and protect ourselves. Tension along this channel can be a major energetic factor in the cramping and spasming actions of IBS.

Try these top 5 acupressure point for IBS relief:

  1. CV6 – located two finger-widths beneath the navel, gently rubbing this point with circular motions helps to relieve belly pain, cramping,
    Spleen 4 acupressure point
    Spleen 4 acupressure point

    and constipation.

  2. CV12 – located at the midpoint between the lower end of the sternum and the navel, rubbing this point in a circular motion can help relieve gas pain, bloating and acid reflux.
  3. SP4 – located on the inner edge of the foot, right above where the arch begins, stimulating this spleen point can help relieve gastric spasms and diarrhea.
  4. UB25 – these two points in the lower back, right beneath LV-4, can help relieve abdominal distension, constipation, and lower back pain.
  5. ST37 – also known as the “Upper Great Hollow,” these points are located along the outside edges of the shin bones, a few inches below the knees. Pressing firmly here can help relieve abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.

Acupuncture Near Me for How to Solve IBS 

If the IBS signs described here sound familiar because you or someone you know has been suffering from frequent abdominal discomfort and constipation or diarrhea, or both, it is important to seek help and advice from your healthcare providers. When conventional IBS treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, acupuncture and TCM may help you find IBS relief. Call us at Art of Wellness to get started with an IBS diet plan and course of acupuncture treatment.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Treat Acid Reflux with Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

heartburn
burning pain in the chest is a sign of acid reflux

Acid reflux, also known as heartburn, is the most common symptom of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease in which the contents of the stomach move upwards into the esophagus, irritating the lining of the food pipe and causing burning pain in the chest, among other symptoms.

It is estimated that at least 40% of adults experience heartburn symptoms at some point in their lives, while up to 20% experience heartburn at least weekly, making GERD one of the most commonly diagnosed digestive disorders in the US. If a person is experiencing GERD symptoms frequently, doctors will usually try to treat acid reflux with medications called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and lifestyle changes. However, in many cases, patients will continue to suffer with symptoms beyond chest pain and regurgitation, often in concert with other common digestive complaints like dyspepsia (indigestion), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and ulcers in the stomach, necessitating further investigation and treatment.

TCM and acupuncture offer an alternative course of action to deal with acid reflux and many other digestive disorders. Acupuncture treatment has been shown to be even more effective than medications for heartburn relief. Acupuncture and herbal natural remedies for heartburn provide long-term positive results for GERD symptoms by helping to resolve the digestive disorder at its origin.

Acid Reflux Symptoms

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is characterized mainly by the reverse flow of digestive fluids up into the esophagus. When this occurs regularly over time, it can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause other problems. The sensation of “heartburn” is the most commonly known symptom of acid reflux, but it is possible to have GERD and not experience this burning sensation. GERD can occur with other non-acidic digestive fluids and may not cause the type of pain caused by acidic stomach juices. GERD symptoms include:

  • Burning in chest, worse after eating and when lying down
  • Chest pain, even when you haven’t eaten
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation of food or sour-tasting liquid
  • Excessive salivation
  • Sensation of a having a lump in the throat
  • Excess gas in stomach and bloating
  • Intolerance of certain foods and beverages
  • Bad breath, or a constant sour taste in the mouth
  • Hoarse voice or laryngitis
  • Constant need to clear the throat
  • Chronic dry, sore throat
  • Burning sensation in the mouth
  • Inflammation of the gums and other dental problems

Acid reflux symptoms may appear at the same time as other symptoms like stomach pain, stomachache, and stomach cramps. These may be stomach ulcer symptoms, gastritis symptoms, or signs of dyspepsia, as it is common for two or more of these digestive issues to coexist. 

Heartburn Causes

pregnancy heartburn
many women experience heartburn during pregnancy

While there is no single clear cause of GERD, it is usually related to the functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach. The LES, when it works correctly, allows chewed food matter to pass into the stomach, then closes to prevent matter from the stomach from flowing upwards. When this sphincter is relaxed or weakened, the contents of the stomach can breach this barrier. This can happen due to pregnancy or excess weight in the belly pushing upwards on these organs. Sometimes it may be due to a hiatal hernia, which can cause the upper part of the stomach and LES to push through the diaphragm muscle into the chest area.

Heartburn can be triggered by eating spicy or acidic foods, by smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke, or the use of aspirin or ibuprofen, as well as some blood pressure medications. If abstaining from these triggers does not help, patients may be referred to a gastroenterologist for investigative testing to pinpoint the problem. Endoscopy of the upper GI tract can show whether there is a hiatal hernia, stomach ulcers, or damage to the esophagus. 

Acid Reflux Treatment

Many people take over the counter antacids (like Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, or Mylanta) to try to get heartburn relief. These may help alleviate the burning sensation temporarily, but using antacids frequently can actually exacerbate the problem by creating more stomach acid. Histamine (H2) blockers (like Pepcid and Zantac) can help reduce production of acid, but they don’t work for everybody. PPIs (like Prevacid, Prilosec, and Nexium) work by blocking the production of stomach acids. 

These GERD medications can help with healing stomach ulcers and reducing acid reflux, but there are downsides. These drugs are very expensive, and many people end up using them on a daily basis. PPIs also inhibit the output of certain enzymes, which creates a negative interaction with common heart disease medications. They can also reduce absorption of calcium in the digestive tract, which can lead to weaker bones and increased risk of fractures. PPIs can also affect kidney function and increase the levels of bacteria in the stomach; if this bacteria makes its way up into the chest area due to reflux, it can get into the lungs and cause higher risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

Asthma and GERD are often considered to be related conditions, because acid reflux can irritate tissues that trigger asthma attacks, while asthma attacks can cause a weakness in the LES that triggers reflux. Asthma medications like theophylline can also cause heartburn attacks. People who suffer from both GERD and asthma need to manage both conditions in tandem.

Prescribed medications called prokinetics cause the stomach to empty more quickly, reducing the chances of reflux. However, they can also cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, anxiety and depression, as well as having contraindications with other prescriptions.

All of these medical treatments focus on the stomach acids that cause heartburn. Currently, there is no conventional treatment that helps to restore the normal functioning of the LES. Research has indicated that acupuncture treatment, in addition to helping regulate gastric secretions, may help to strengthen the motor function of the LES.

Acupuncture and Herbs for GERD

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a holistic system of medicine founded on over 3000 years of recorded research and practice. In TCM, all health problems are viewed as imbalances caused by blockages of Qi (life force energy) in the body. Disorders of the organ systems are often linked to emotional disturbances. According to TCM, acid reflux and other digestive problems are influenced by stress and anxiety. Long-term, ongoing feelings of worry, frustration, and anger impact the liver, spleen and stomach, increasing acidity and inflammation in these organ systems. 

An “upset stomach” and feelings of tightness and pain in the chest are caused by Qi rising inappropriately, causing the backflow of acids. Acupuncture treatment for GERD focuses on calming anxiety, and restoring the downward flow of Qi, while toning the stomach and LES to improve their motor function.

TCM uses herbal formulations, developed over many centuries, to support the proper functioning of the internal organs on a deep nutritional level. Herbal remedies for acid reflux in TCM work to increase healthy mucus in the esophagus, soothing and healing damage from stomach acids. 

An acupuncturist is also likely to ask questions about dietary habits, as certain foods are likely to be part of the problem. Working together with a qualified TCM practitioner to plan meaningful lifestyle changes, specific to each individual, will also help resolve heartburn, stomach pain, and indigestion. 

TCM for Heartburn During Pregnancy

Many women experience acid reflux, which can happen at any time during pregnancy. This is due to hormone changes that can relax the LES so that it doesn’t close completely. In the later stages of pregnancy, the uterus pushes up on the digestive organs and diaphragm. According to TCM, stomach fire, indicated by a craving thirst for cold drinks, may need cooling. Stagnation in the digestive organ system can cause belching and bloating. Acupuncture treatments can be tailored to address these conditions, improving digestive flow and balancing hormones. 

Top 10 Tips for GERD Diet and Lifestyle 

watermelon
choose melons, apples, and pears over acidic fruits

Creating and maintaining balance between Yin (cool) and Yang (warm) energies in the body and spirit is central to treating heartburn with TCM.

  1. High fiber diet – eat oatmeal and plenty of cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli.
  2. Avoid citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits) and emphasize melon, bananas, apples and pears. Tomatoes and pineapple are also highly acidic and can cause problems, as can onions and garlic. Citric acid is also a common food additive and should be avoided.
  3. Eat several small meals per pay – eating larger amounts at one time increases the chance of the stomach becoming distended. 
  4. Reduce fatty foods – high-fat foods stay in the stomach longer. Avoid fried foods, dairy ingredients and marbled meats.
  5. Avoid alcohol, especially red wine
  6. Avoid caffeinated drinks: coffee, tea and sodas can all trigger heartburn.
  7. Drink ginger or chamomile tea, which are both soothing to the stomach. Green tea can also positively stimulate the LES.
  8. Don’t lie down after you eat. Eat at least two hours before you intend to go to bed.
  9. Watch your workout positions: movements that affect your abdomen can cause reflux. Crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts, headstands, downward dog and other poses should be done carefully if at all. Never exercise on a full stomach. 
  10. Sleep with your head elevated above your feet. A wedge-shaped foam lift will work much better than stacking pillows. Or, attach risers to the feet at the head of your bed.

Best Acupuncture Near Me for Heartburn Relief

Acupuncture treatment for heartburn is a safe and effective acid reflux remedy. If you or someone you know is suffering from GERD, acid reflux, stomach pain, or symptoms of ulcer, we hope that you will not hesitate to find an acupuncturist in your area to schedule an initial consultation. We are practicing at Art of Wellness in Santa Monica, one of the top 20 acupuncture clinics in the greater Los Angeles area.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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