Acupuncture for Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a condition in which your stomach empties too slowly.  The muscles responsible for moving food out of your stomach are either weakened or damaged, causing food to sit in your stomach.  The symptoms of gastroparesis can include heartburn, nausea, vomiting, pain, bloating, decreased appetite, and anxiety.  The possible causes of gastroparesis include damage to the nerve responsible for digestion (vagus nerve), diabetes, a viral infection, certain medications, and adhesions from scar tissue.

In Chinese medicine, gastroparesis would be diagnosed as something called Food Stagnation, which is essentially food not moving through your digestive tract.  Because there is frequently an emotional/anxiety aspect to gastroparesis, it might also be diagnosed as a Liver and Spleen disharmony.   Your Chinese Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of everything in your body, including your emotions and digestion.  When that flow is impaired—or because that flow is impaired—your Chinese Spleen, which is responsible for digestion, is weakened.

Chinese medicine for Gastroparesis SymptomsWhile the symptoms of gastroparesis tend to ebb and flow, it is generally a chronic condition, with no known cure. In Western medicine, gastroparesis symptoms may be controlled with medications.  In addition, there are a number of factors, mostly dietary, that can help bring the discomfort associated with this condition under control.

Can acupuncture help with gastroparesis?  The answer is yes; while acupuncture isn’t a cure, it is all about enhancing flow and movement in your body.  Many patients have found that acupuncture can help move food through the digestive tract and bring relief from the pain, bloating, nausea, and emotional symptoms associated with gastroparesis.

If you suffer from gastroparesis, there are a number of things you can do for yourself to alleviate symptoms.  Your goal is to get adequate nutrition while avoiding flare-ups.  Some tips that help accomplish this goal include:

-Eat several small meals during the day, and keep your meals light.  The more you eat at one sitting, the slower your stomach will empty—so think small.

-Movement helps move your food along.  Take a not-too-vigorous walk after eating to help the process.

-Eat more of your meals earlier in the day.  Stop eating a few hours before you wind down for bedtime.

-Make friends with soups and smoothies.  Liquid meals will be best tolerated, as they will empty from your stomach better than solid foods.  In addition, be sure to drink liquids with any solid foods that you eat.

-Aim to get enough calories, which can be difficult with this condition.  While fats in solid foods may be hard to digest, you may find that you can tolerate fats in a liquid or softened form such as full fat milk or nut butters.

-High fiber foods that are found in some fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains tend to slow down the emptying process. You will better tolerate high fiber foods if you eat them well-cooked in soup.

-Chew your food well.

-You may find that probiotics or digestive enzymes help this condition.  Get some advice from a health care provider or from your natural foods store.

-When you’re having a flare-up, use some gentle heat on your stomach.  In Chinese medicine, heat enhances flow and may help move things along.

-Do whatever it takes to manage your stress.  Stress and emotional upsets play a huge role in this condition.  Acupuncture can be a big help here, but you can also meditate, visualize, take a yoga class, or go fishing—whatever works to calm your frazzled nerves.  Your stomach will thank you for it.

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