Diarrhea is a symptom that can be indicative of a variety of diseases; it may be caused by an infection (dysentry), an inflammatory process (colitis), stress or dietary indiscretion. Sometimes no clear cause can be found for irregular bowel habits and these ill-defined problems are usually called ‘irritable bowel syndrome’.
Studies on bowel infections, completed in China, show that acupuncture affects the natural history of this disease. The Chinese report that recovery is quicker, and complications less frequent, if acupuncture is given in this condition. Clear evidence is also provided to show that acupuncture ‘improves’ the natural defenses of the body in these types of infection. A large body of evidence is now available, showing that acupuncture stimulates the body’s natural defenses in many infectious diseases; this again suggests another possible mechanism for the effects of acupuncture. Acupuncture can be shown to alter the activity of the immuno system, stimulating the production of immunoglobulins (chemicals that help to kill invading bacteria), and various other important substances. This measurable effect lends support to the philosophical idea that acupuncture helps the body to cure disease naturally.

Diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and colitis are collectively described as inflammatory bowel diseases. The exact cause of these problems is unknown. When inflammatory bowel disease is present the intestines become raw and inflamed and the patient usually complains of symptoms such as abdominal pain, blood loss and diarrhoea. These diseases are often difficult to treat with the available Western therapeutics, but they are sometimes amenable to acupuncture. Exact figures describing success rates are not available at present.

Irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhoea caused by stress can also be improved by acupuncture, but clear facts and figures are not available and further research is required in this field.

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George T. Lewith MA MRCGP MRCP Written by George T. Lewith MA MRCGP MRCP

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