In the spring of 2021, I went to the dentist for my annual checkup and cleaning. He identified two cavities that had formed, one on the lower right tooth and one on my upper right and performed a routine procedure to fix them. The next day my right cheek was swollen to the size of a baseball. I went back to my dentist immediately and he prescribed two rounds of antibiotics. 

I am forever grateful for modern antibiotics. Without them, there is a good chance the infection could have spread from my cheek to my throat requiring immediate medical attention. But the reality is every medicine, even lifesaving medication such as antibiotics, can have its negative consequences.

Increasingly, the gut flora is recognized as an important component for human health.1 Antibiotics can devastate the body’s natural gut flora as the bacterial killing properties of antibiotics do not discriminate and equally attack both detrimental and beneficial bacteria. 

The gut flora produces important neurochemicals such as serotonin, and can have a hand in the body’s metabolic and inflammatory disorders, cancer, depression and even longevity.2 Prebiotics and probiotics have long been encouraged for the promotion of a healthy gut biome. Prebiotics, such as fiber, can feed healthy bacteria and promote a diverse and healthy gut biome, while probiotics can directly replace or increase beneficial bacteria in the gut. But research conducted with acupuncture might provide another recourse for gut flora health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and National Institute of Health (NIH) recognize acupuncture’s ability to help with a wide variety of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. Irritable bowel and colitis, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and much more have been recognized by WHO and NIH to be treatable with acupuncture.3  One study measuring acupuncture gastrointestinal effects on humans and animals suggest acupuncture’s benefits comes from its ability in “regulating GI motility, the GI barrier, visceral sensitivity, and the brain-gut axis.”4 Exciting new studies conducted in the past five years on rats reveal acupuncture may even change gut microbiota.

A 2019 experiment on obese rats demonstrated interesting insights. Diet-induced obese rats demonstrated different gut bacterial levels compared to their non-obese counterparts.5 In the test group, obese rats who received electrical acupuncture in gallbladder 26 (an acupuncture point), had gut flora changes closer to the normal weight rats than the non-treated obese ones. Electrical acupuncture directly increased/decreased the number of different bacteria found inside the rats demonstrating a physiological change with the use of acupuncture.

A 2020 experiment on cancer-induced rats followed a similar projection.6 The cancer rats had a remarkable different gut biome compared to its control non-cancer rats. The experimental rats who received electrical acupuncture, again showed changes in their gut biome that more closely matched the control non-cancer groups. 

A CDC report stated that four out of five Americans are prescribed antibiotics each year7 which means millions of Americans are changing their gut biome each year. More research needs to be conducted to see if the benefits can be replicated in human studies, but the latest research brings much excitement to the potential benefits acupuncture can bring to gut biome health. 

Agustin Orozco is a licensed acupuncturist and certified massage therapist with AcQpoint Wellness Center in Palm Desert. He can be reached at (760) 345.2200. For more information visit www.acqpoint.com.

References: 1) Ding, R.-xue, Goh, W.-R., Wu, R.-na, Yue, X.-qing, Luo, X., Khine, W. W., Wu, J.-rui, & Lee, Y.-K. (2019). Revisit gut microbiota and its impact on human health and disease. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 27(3), 623–631. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfda.2018.12.012. 2) Ding, R.-xue, Goh, W.-R., Wu, R.-na, Yue, X.-qing, Luo, X., Khine, W. W., Wu, J.-rui, & Lee, Y.-K. (2019). Revisit gut microbiota and its impact on human health and disease. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 27(3), 623–631. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfda.2018.12.012. 3) World Health Organization (WHO) on acupuncture. Harlem Chi. (n.d.). Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://harlemchi.com/world-health-organization-who-on-acupuncture/. 4) Li, H. (2015). Acupuncture and regulation of gastrointestinal function. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 21(27), 8304. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v21.i27.8304. 5) Wang, H., Wang, Q., Liang, C., Su, M., Wang, X., Li, H., Hu, H., & Fang, H. (2019). Acupuncture regulating gut microbiota in abdominal obese rats induced by high-fat diet. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/4958294. 6) Xu, X., Feng, X., He, M., Zhang, Z., Wang, J., Zhu, H., Li, T., Wang, F., Sun, M., & Wang, Z. (2020). The effect of acupuncture on tumor growth and gut microbiota in mice inoculated with osteosarcoma cells. Chinese Medicine, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13020-020-00315-z. 7) CBS Interactive. (2013, April 11). CDC: 4 out of 5 Americans prescribed antibiotics each year. CBS News. Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cdc-4-out-of-5-americans-prescribed-antibiotics-each-year/ 

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