Acupuncture treatment may be a beneficial option for individuals coping with Crohn’s disease. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, around 780,000 Americans are affected by Crohn’s disease, and even more are diagnosed with some form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Although it is a disease that affects adults and children alike, there is still no known western medicine cause for Crohn’s disease, and therefore no cure.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), along with Ulcerative Colitis (UC). It causes chronic inflammation in the small intestine and colon, but can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Where it occurs along the GI tract will be different for each person. The inflammation tends to spread into deeper layers of the bowels. The inflammation can lead to many painful and debilitating symptoms, and in some cases, Crohn’s disease can be life-threatening.
Crohn’s Disease Symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain/cramping
- Blood in the stool
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Mouth sores
- Drainage or pain near the anus from inflammation
Severe Crohn’s Disease Symptoms:
- Inflammation of the liver or bile ducts
- Kidney stones
- Delayed growth or sexual development (in children)
- Inflammation of the joints, eyes, and skin
- Anemia (iron deficiency)
The severity and type of symptoms can change over time. It is also important to keep in mind that although Crohn’s disease is usually diagnosed between 20 and 30 years old, it can develop in children as well. About 1 in 4 people show symptoms before the age of 20, and rapid treatment is essential as it could cause growth delays and weakened bones in children.
Although there have been many advancements in the treatment of Crohn’s disease in recent years, it is still unknown as to the exact cause of the disease. Diet and stress were speculated to be the cause, but it has since been determined that these factors may exasperate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease but do not cause it.
The causes of Crohn’s disease may involve:
- Heredity – doctors of western medicine now believe that genes may play a role in making some more susceptible than others. Current research shows that approximately 20% of people with IBD have another family member with IBD, and will often share the same pattern of disease. Additionally, if both parents have IBD, the risk for their child to develop Crohn’s disease is 35%.
- Malfunctioning immune system – doctors also now believe that a virus may trigger Crohn’s disease, although they have not yet identified this trigger. When the body tries to fight off invading microorganisms, the immune system attacks the bacteria. It is believed that those with Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis have an overactive immune system where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy bacteria in the GI tract which causes the inflammation leading to the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Though these are the main contenders for possible causes of Crohn’s disease, doctors believe ethnicity, age, smoking, and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications) may also play a role in raising one’s risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
Treatment options in western medicine are to get control over symptoms and flare ups, and improve quality of life. Treatments range from medications, to diet & nutrition to surgery or any combinations of the like. The sheer fact that not even western medicine has a lot of research as to the cause or cure of Crohn’s disease, leaves patients searching for answers and leaning towards more holistic options, such as acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Acupuncture and Crohn’s Disease
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Crohn’s disease is caused by invasion of the exterior pathogenic factors, unbalanced diet, or constitutional deficiencies. Acupuncture works for Crohn’s disease by improving the Crohn’s Disease Activity Index (CDAI), lowers CRP (C-reactive protein) levels, increasing hemoglobin levels, improving quality of life, and reducing CRP levels for Crohn’s disease patients. The CDAI index is a way of measuring clinical responses to medical procedures and medicine, and CRP is determined through blood test and quantifies inflammation levels in Crohn’s disease patients.
Acupuncture Points for Crohn’s Disease:
- ST25 – Celestial Pivot – Tianshu – located 2 cun lateral to the AML level with CV8, and beneficial for intestinal issues.
- ST37 – Upper Great Hollow – Shangjuxu – located 6 cun below ST35, and beneficial for disorders of the intestines and digestive system.
- UB25 – Large Intestine Shu – Da Chang Shu – located 1.5 cun lateral to GV3 level with L4, and beneficial for all intestine related issues.
- L4 Huatuo – Sides of Spine at L4 – Huatuojiaji – located .5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous processes of L4, and beneficial for Crohn’s disease among other symptoms/disorders.
- L5 Huatuo – Sides of Spine at L5 – Huatuojiaji – located .5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous processes of L5, and beneficial for various bowel issues.
- T12 Huatuo – Sides of Spine at T12 – Huatuojiaji – located .5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous processes of T12, and beneficial for various colon issues.
Any points prescription will vary from person to person, especially in a condition like Crohn’s disease as every person can present very differently. Acupuncture can reduce inflammation in the GI tract in patients with Crohn’s disease, improves quality of life, and reverses tissue damage.
It has been found to have these benefits for Crohn’s disease especially when adding moxa. A 2014 study, Moxibustion and Acupuncture for the Treatment of Crohn’s Disease, concluded that moxa with acupuncture “provided significant therapeutic benefits in patients with active CD (Crohn’s disease) beyond the placebo effect, and is therefore an effective and safe treatment for active CD.” Another study in 2017, Effect of Electro-Acupuncture and Moxibustion on Brain Connectivity in Patients with Crohn’s Disease, concluded that both were effective in improving symptoms of Crohn’s disease patients in remission. Researchers state that moxibustion may modulate the activity of the default mode network (DMN consisting of the right precuneus (PCUN) and inferior parietal cortex (IPC), and electroacupuncture may modulate brain function through homeostatic afferent processing network (including the insula and anterior middle cingulate cortex giving new encouraging insight on the clinical application and brain mechanisms in performing acupuncture and moxa for Crohn’s disease.
Acupuncture Treatment for Crohn’s Disease
In both western and eastern medicine, the importance of diet when living with Crohn’s disease is of utmost importance, and should be discussed with the patient along with their treatment plan. There are many people in the United States right now who are dealing with Crohn’s disease, and aren’t given many options as far as prevention and treatment in western medicine; many of which, if a more severe case, end in surgery or wearing a bag for the rest of their life. Although further study is needed, it seems acupuncture may be a strong contender for the treatment of Crohn’s disease.
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