In a 2014 study, researchers explored why moxibustion helps alleviate recurrent abdominal pain in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Moxibustion is an acupuncture and Oriental medicine therapy that involves burning a dried form of the herb mugwort. The smoke and heat penetrate through the skin into deeper layers of the body. The study "Mechanisms Underlying the Analgesic Effect of Moxibustion on Visceral Pain in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review" appeared in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
IBS is the umbrella term for a group of chronic diseases which damage parts of the digestive tract. Primary symptoms are abdominal pain, cramping and diarrhea. Alternative treatments are sought because the drugs prescribed for the diseases can produce negative side effects, drug tolerance and even addiction. Moxibustion is safe, clinically effective, economical and rarely yields adverse consequences.
Scientists examined the result of moxibustion at the acupuncture point ST25, Celestial Pivot, to understand the mechanisms behind the reduction of abdominal pain. This point resides on the stomach, very near to the bellybutton. Its functions include the ability to address any issues related to the intestines by improving gastrointestinal motility, which is necessary to improve IBS symptoms. Researchers reached some conclusions to explain why moxibustion worked.
Mast cells, critically important for the immune system, increased in numbers with the application of moxibustion. The neurotransmitter, hydroxytryptamine, which can increase or decrease body functions, positively affected the motility in the digestive tract, and thereby reduced pain. Another regulator of gastrointestinal activity, the protein prokineticin, also responded favorably to the therapy.
Transient receptor potential channels (TRP), located in nerve fibers, saw an increase in their analgesic abilities. With the suppression of calcium ions in the intestines, came a reduction in abdominal pain as well. Moxibustion also demonstrated the ability to activate the spinal dynorphin system. This system distributes opioid peptides, which provide an analgesic effect.
Source: Huang, R., Zhao, J., Wu, L., Dou, C., Liu, H., Weng, Z., … Wu, H. (2014). Mechanisms Underlying the Analgesic Effect of Moxibustion on Visceral Pain in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM, 2014, 895914. http://doi.org/10.1155/2014/895914
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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.