Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal condition that isn’t completely understood.

Some people with IBS have found that acupuncture helps to relieve IBS-related symptoms. Others have found no relief with this treatment.

The research on acupuncture for IBS is mixed, as is the anecdotal evidence. If you have IBS and are considering acupuncture, here’s what you need to know.

Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice that comes from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Practitioners of acupuncture insert hair-thin needles into specific acupuncture points on the body to release blocked energy and correct imbalances. These acupuncture points correspond to and stimulate the body’s internal organs.

A possible explanation for why acupuncture works is that needling acupuncture points helps stimulate the nervous system, releasing feel-good chemicals and hormones. This may reduce the experience of pain, stress, and other symptoms.

Opening channels might be working at a quantum level, enhancing the flow of energy between cells.

IBS symptoms vary and may include:

  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • stomach pain or cramping
  • gas
  • enlarged stomach and bloating
  • mucus in stool

The ability of acupuncture to alleviate these symptoms has been the focus of many studies, with mixed results.

For example, one study of 230 adults found little-to-no difference in IBS symptoms between participants who had acupuncture and those who had sham (placebo) acupuncture.

Both of these groups did, however, have more symptom relief than a control group that had no form of needling. This result may indicate that positive results from acupuncture are caused by the placebo effect. At least one other study has backed up this finding.

A meta-analysis of six randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials found mixed results. However, the researchers who wrote the analysis concluded that acupuncture could significantly improve quality of life for people with IBS. Benefits were seen for symptoms such as abdominal pain.

A small study that compared abdominal acupuncture to traditional Western medication found acupuncture more effective at alleviating symptoms such as diarrhea, pain, bloating, stool output, and stool abnormality.

Anecdotal evidence among some IBS users is also mixed. Many people swear by acupuncture, and others find no evidence that it helps.

Whether acupuncture helps you or not, there are other measures you can take for symptom relief. For example, you can try to eliminate trigger foods.

Keep a food diary to help identify trigger foods

Keeping a food diary may help you identify and isolate food types that cause IBS symptoms. These vary from person to person but may include:

  • fatty food
  • gluten
  • sweets
  • alcohol
  • diary
  • caffeine
  • chocolate
  • sugar substitutes
  • cruciferous vegetables
  • garlic and onions

Try adding more fiber to your diet

In addition to avoiding certain trigger foods, you can also try adding more fiber-rich foods to your diet.

Eating foods high in fiber may help with digestion, allowing your intestines to work optimally. This may in turn alleviate symptoms such as gas, bloating, and pain. A high-fiber diet can also soften stool, making it easier to pass.

Food high in fiber include:

  • fresh vegetables
  • fresh fruits
  • whole grains
  • beans
  • flax seed

Up your water intake

In addition to eating more fiber, try upping your water intake. Drinking six to eight glasses of water daily will help maximize the benefits you get from eating fiber.

Try the FODMAP diet

This eating plan reduces or restricts foods that contain fermentable carbohydrates. Check out this article for more information about this diet and how it may benefit IBS symptoms.

Reduce the stress in your life

IBS and stress can be a which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg situation. Stress can exacerbate IBS, and IBS can cause stress. Finding ways to generate calm in your life may help.

Things to try include:

IBS can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. If you’re unable to get relief from alternative treatments or at-home measures, see a doctor.

There are many medical treatments and medications for this condition which may help you find significant, long-term relief.

IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder, earmarked by symptoms such as pain, gas, and bloating. It can significantly diminish a person’s quality of life.

Researchers have studied acupuncture’s ability to alleviate IBS symptoms extensively, but the resulting findings to date are mixed. Some people find acupuncture to be beneficial and others don’t.

There is probably little risk to trying acupuncture, and it may provide some relief. Work with an acupuncturist licensed in your state. It often takes numerous visits before any noticeable changes occur.

Other medical treatments, as well as lifestyle changes, are available that can help people with IBS find significant relief from symptoms. See a doctor if alternative therapies such as acupuncture aren’t providing you relief.