Acupuncture is one of Chinese medicine’s oldest forms of treatment, and it may be the most embraced worldwide. Its mainstream acceptance has a lot to do with versatility, as acupuncture is efficacious in dozens, if not hundreds of medical conditions. Among them are gallbladder and liver problems, as acupuncture has noted positive effects in both organs. And although more high-quality research is needed to properly place acupuncture among various modalities, there are already studies that show promise.
How Can Acupuncture Help Houstonians with Gallbladder Problems?
Gallbladder attacks, typically due to cholecystitis, are characterized by intense rib or shoulder pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and other digestive or pain-related symptoms. Cholecystitis refers to gallbladder inflammation and the condition is typically the result of gallstones blocking one or more bile ducts. Sometimes, these stones are passed through the patient’s stool without further intervention, but gallbladder inflammation may be recurring or chronic in some people.
For patients with recurring cholecystitis, acupuncture can help alleviate many of the most common symptoms, including pain, digestive symptoms, and fatigue.
A related gallbladder condition – biliary colic – is also treatable with acupuncture. Biliary colic is characterized by abdominal pain related to blockages in the general bile duct or cystic duct. As acupuncture is generally effective against most forms of pain, including visceral pain, it is also used to treat biliary colic.
A 2017 study published in the Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion considered the beneficial effects of acupuncture treatments on chronic cholecystitis. The research team split 100 patients diagnosed with the condition into two groups – a control group that was administered cefodizime (a gallbladder medication that has antibiotic properties) and an experimental group that received drug therapy and regular acupuncture. The experimental group was treated using acupuncture points associated with better gallbladder function.
Following seven consecutive days of acupuncture treatment, the two groups were compared. The research team found that the experimental group reported a better overall response to treatment. This was measured using bilirubin levels and liver function testing.
How Can Acupuncture Support Better Liver Health for Houston Patients?
The liver has long been a focal point for acupuncturists, especially as it’s used to treat cirrhosis, or liver scarring. In patients with cirrhosis, scarring frequently interferes with liver function, including the organ’s ability to facilitate fat digestion, filter the blood of toxins, and support better immune function. Symptoms of cirrhosis include:
- Loss of appetite and weight loss without trying
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Sensitivity to bruising and excessive bleeding
- Edema (swelling) and bloating
- Confusion, memory issues or personality disturbances
- Sleep problems
- Death, if left untreated and allowed to progress
Cirrhosis can have a few underlying causes, but the most common reasons for liver scarring are excessive alcohol consumption or an acute viral infection like hepatitis. In both cases, scarring is permanent, but acupuncture can help support liver function in people with scarring.
This was demonstrated in a 2020 meta-analysis published in Gastroenterology Research and Practice that considered 15 studies and hundreds of cirrhosis patients.
The research team concluded that, through various therapeutic mechanisms, acupuncture could significantly improve efficacy rates in cirrhosis patients. This was tracked using several live function grading scores, including scores that measured bilirubin, albumin and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels.
The team also specified what potential therapeutic mechanisms were in play, including:
- Reducing inflammatory responses
- Reducing oxidative stresses
- Inhibiting hepatic stellate cell activation
- Improving hepatocyte lipid metabolism
These mechanisms aren’t confined to the liver, however, as acupuncture has system-level effects on the body.
How Does Acupuncture Treatment Work in the Body?
Eastern and western physicians both consider acupuncture to be a promising therapeutic option for a variety of health conditions. But they have different theories as to why acupuncture is so effective.
Eastern medicine practitioners believe acupuncture can be used to improve the flow of qi – the term eastern practitioners use to refer to life energy. The concept of qi dates back to acupuncture’s beginnings and remains a useful idea for visualizing the body as an interconnected system.
Western researchers also observe acupuncture’s efficacy (a few leading medical institutions recommend it as a viable adjunct option for many conditions), but their theories of how acupuncture works differ. Those theories include:
Stimulating local nerves and the body’s self-healing mechanisms – When acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin, they interface with local nerve fibers and stimulate them into releasing a cocktail of beneficial biochemicals. This includes biochemicals that modulate the inflammatory response and encourage the body to repair its own tissues.
Also stimulating the release of pain-killing biochemicals – In addition to the body’s self-healing mechanisms, acupuncture also stimulates local and system-level nervous tissue into releasing opioid-like biochemicals and mood-boosting hormones (endorphins). Together, these down-regulate pain signaling and improve the patient’s mindset against pain.
Improving circulation – Another beneficial effect of acupuncture is improved circulation. According to eastern medicine, blood stagnation is related to a host of conditions and acupuncture is believed to stimulate circulatory structures into working more efficiently. And improved circulation means the body can direct immunity-related compounds and nutrition to cells with greater efficiency.
Reducing stress and anxiety – Every acupuncture session is designed to be as relaxing as possible. Treatment is administered in a quiet room, by a trained professional who knows how to avoid causing pain or discomfort.
Further, because acupuncture facilitates the release of endorphins and pain-fighting compounds, treatment can place patients in an extended low-stress state that further improves quality of life.
The truth is likely a mixture of the above factors, which adds to the notion that acupuncture is an individualized form of treatment. And this may also explain why acupuncture works for a wide variety of health problems.
Acupuncture Can Also Offset Adverse Effects Associated with Drug Therapy
Liver and gallbladder drugs are effective in many patients, but they’re often saddled with side effects that can make continued treatment difficult to manage.
Ursodiol and chenodiol are two of the most common medication options for gallbladder problems, and they can both cause an array of adverse effects that include:
- Abdominal, stomach or chest pain
- GI upset, such as diarrhea and constipation
- Bloating and cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
In some patients, these side effects may be severe enough to interrupt treatment. When used as an adjunct, though, acupuncture can help control some of the above effects, like pain and GI upset. In this way, acupuncture can help patients stay on their treatment regimen and attain maximum efficacy from it.
Proper, safe acupuncture is administered by licensed professionals who have received specialized training in the modality. This training includes identifying the right acupuncture points (acupoints) to use, as well as how to insert acupuncture needles without causing pain, discomfort, or bleeding.
Licensed acupuncturists are now working all over the U.S. – including Houston – with the rise of the practice’s popularity. That means Houston gallbladder and liver patients now have access to a form of medicine that’s been proven over thousands of years.