Copyright © 2021 Natural Medicines (
December 2013

Acupuncture and Moxibustion Evaluated For Inflammatory Bowel Disease

A combination of acupuncture and moxibustion may be more effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) than standard medication, a review suggests.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be referred to as spastic colon, mucous colitis, spastic colitis, nervous stomach, or irritable colon. IBS is a functional bowel disorder, conditions in which the bowel appears normal but does not function normally. IBS is fairly common and makes up 20 - 50% of visits to gastroenterologists (doctors who diagnose and treat digestive problems). Lower abdominal pain, and bloating associated with alteration of bowel habits (constipation and/or diarrhea) and abdominal discomfort relieved with defecation are the most frequent symptoms.

The practice of acupuncture originated in China 5,000 years ago. Today it is widely used throughout the world and is one of the main pillars of Chinese medicine. There are many different varieties of the practice of acupuncture, both in the Orient and in the West. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) usually combines acupuncture with Chinese herbs. Classical acupuncture (also known as five element acupuncture) uses a different needling technique and relies on acupuncture independent of the use of herbs.

Cupping and moxibustion are healing techniques employed across the diverse traditions of acupuncture and oriental medicine for over 2,000 years. In modern times, both methods are usually used to complement acupuncture with needles but they may be used independently. Cupping and moxibustion share the principle of using heat to stimulate circulation and break up congestion or stagnation of blood and chi. Cupping has some relation to the massage technique tuina, which uses rapid skin pinching at points on the back to break up congestion and stimulate circulation. Moxibustion is more closely related to acupuncture as it is applied to specific acupuncture points, while cupping may be used over acupuncture points or elsewhere.

In the current review, the authors looked for high-quality studies that had been conducted on the effectiveness of acupuncture and moxibustion for IBS. They included 43 trials, 10 of which compared this combination therapy to sulphasalazine (SASP), a drug taken by mouth for inflammatory bowel diseases.

The authors conducted an analysis of the 10 trials comparing SASP to combined acupuncture and moxibustion. The results suggested that the combination therapy was more effective than SASP taken by mouth in the treatment of IBS.

The reviewers concluded that acupuncture and moxibustion therapy may demonstrate better effectiveness than SASP taken by mouth in the treatment of IBS. However, further research is needed to better understand and confirm these findings.

Numerous alternative and complementary therapies have been explored for potential benefits in treating inflammatory bowel diseases. There is good scientific evidence to support the use of probiotics for ulcerative colitis.

For more information about acupuncture and moxibustion, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness database.


  1. Ji J, Lu Y, Liu H, et al. Acupuncture and Moxibustion for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:158352. Epub 2013 Sep 24. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2021 Natural Medicines Inc. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. Natural Medicines is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.