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Beyond the Medicine Cabinet: Complementary Cures for Digestive Woes

CAM, alternative medicine, complementary medicine, gi plano, gi dallas, gi frisco, gi allen, gi mckinney, gi prosper, gi lewisville, gi the colony, gastroenterology dallas, gastroenterology plano, gastroenterology frisco

In my gastroenterology practice, medications and procedures like endoscopies often provide critical treatment for gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. However, conventional medicine is only one part of the equation when managing chronic digestive disorders. Integrative medicine (otherwise referred to as "CAM - Complementary and Alternative Medicine) combines standard care with complementary therapies to treat the whole person. As a gastroenterologist, I've seen significant results when patients incorporate certain integrative approaches into their regimen. Let's explore some of the top complementary modalities for improving GI wellness.


Acupuncture originated from ancient Chinese medicine over 2,500 years ago. It involves stimulating specific points on the body by inserting ultra-thin needles into the skin. This is thought to activate natural healing processes, reduce inflammation, and balance energy flow through meridian pathways [1].

For digestive health, acupuncture can sometimes provide relief for conditions like:

- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - Studies show acupuncture significantly reduces IBS symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits [2].

- Nausea - Acupuncture at the P6 wrist point has been shown to display efficacy as anti-nausea therapy for various GI conditions. It's commonly used during pregnancy and chemotherapy [3].

- Dyspepsia - Randomized trials found true acupuncture more effective than sham acupuncture for reducing upper abdominal pain, fullness, and bloating related to dyspepsia [4].

Mind-Body Practices

Mind-body techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and guided imagery activate the body's relaxation response. This counteracts the stress response that exacerbates digestive issues like IBS and even can decrease some of the inflammatory response from ulcerative colitis.

For example, mindfulness meditation significantly reduces visceral pain severity, anxiety, and GI symptom distress in IBS patients [5]. Yoga has also been shown in a study to decrease intestinal permeability, modulate nerves in the gut, and lower inflammatory markers [6]. On a very practical level, any mind-body approach can improve GI wellness by reducing stress and anxiety.

Probiotic and Prebiotic Supplements

There is extensive communication between the gut microbiome and the brain, known as the microbiome-gut-brain axis [7]. Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog post that dives into this a bit further. Stress disrupts healthy gut flora, allowing pathogenic bacteria to overgrow. This contributes to intestinal inflammation, pain signaling, and functional bowel disorders.

Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria that can rebalance the microbiota. Certain strains like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have anti-inflammatory effects in the gut when taken regularly. Prebiotic fibers provide “food” for good gut bacteria to thrive, as well as providing a good source of fiber for bowel regularity.

Massage and Physical Therapy

Chronic abdominal pain and cramping causes the abdominal muscles to remain tightly contracted. This muscular tension exacerbates symptoms and the perception of pain. Abdominal massage performed by a physical therapist or certified massage therapist can help relax those taut muscles.

Gentle abdominal massage combined with guided breathing for IBS provides symptom relief comparable to conventional IBS medication [8]. Visceral manipulation also corrects adhesions from surgery or injuries and improves mobility of the digestive organs.

When dealing with chronic digestive disorders, pharmaceuticals shouldn’t be the only option. An integrative approach combining conventional medicine with select complementary therapies often succeeds where drugs fail. Work with a knowledgeable functional medicine practitioner to develop an individualized treatment plan for optimal GI wellness.


1. Liu H, Li H, Xu M, Chung KF, Zhang SP. Acupuncture therapy for gastrointestinal diseases. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:6251824.

2. Manheimer E, Cheng K, Wieland LS, et al. Acupuncture for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;5(5):CD005111.

3. Garcia MK, McQuade J, Lee R, et al. Acupuncture for symptom management in cancer care: an update. Curr Oncol Rep. 2017;19(12):73.

4. Lan L, Zeng F, Liu GJ, et al. Acupuncture for functional dyspepsia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;2014(10):CD008487.

5. Schumann D, Anheyer D, Lauche R, et al. Effect of yoga in the therapy of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016;14(12):1720-1731.e8.

6. Pascoe MC, Bauer IE. A systematic review of randomised control trials on the effects of yoga on stress measures and mood. J Psychiatr Res. 2015;68:270-282.

7. Carabotti M, Scirocco A, Maselli MA, Severi C. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol. 2015;28(2):203-209.

8. Keefer L, Taft TH, Kiebles JL, Martinovich Z, Barrett TA, Palsson OS. Gut-directed hypnotherapy significantly augments clinical remission in quiescent ulcerative colitis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013;38(7):761-771.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that this blog is intended for Informational Use only and is not intended to replace personal evaluation and treatment by a medical provider. The information provided on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Please consult your doctor for any information related to your personal care.


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