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Acupuncture Improves Diabetes Related Gastroparesis

May 30, 2013
In a small study, diabetes patients with gastroparesis experienced significant relief of nausea when using needleless acupuncture…. 

The study enrolled 12 participants, with a mean age of 51 and with refractory gastroparesis symptoms. It was a crossover study design with 4 weeks of active self-administered treatments, followed by 4 weeks of sham treatments. The treatments consisted of electrical stimulators placed strategically on acupuncture points.

Treatment for 4 weeks with watch-sized electrical stimulators placed on gastrointestinal-specific acupuncture points led to a 30% decrease from baseline in nausea in a group of 12 patients (P=0.005), Richard W. McCallum, MD, of Texas Tech University in El Paso, reported at the annual Digestive Disease Week Meeting.


Patients were instructed to apply the stimulators to acupuncture points p6, which is just above the wrist crease, and at ST36 on the leg for the active treatment. Patients were to turn on the stimulator for at least 2 hours after meals, and up to 300 minutes each day.

Results demonstrated a 39% decrease in vomiting (P=0.055) and a 21% reduction in bloating (P=0.006). Also, at the end of 1 month of active treatment, frequency scores for heartburn and reflux were lower than after sham treatment (0.78 versus 1.13), although this was not found to be statistically significant.

Electrocardiograms were obtained at the end of each treatment period, measuring R-R wave variability in an attempt to measure the vagal sympathetic balance.

"This was intended to determine whether we actually stimulated the vagus nerve, and the R-R intervals showed a trend toward increased vagal activity after eating with the active treatment (P=0.09) but not with the sham," McCallum explained. "We believe the vagus nerve stimulation helps improve gastric emptying by contracting smooth muscle in the upper gut. The cutaneous stimulation also may encourage the release of pancreatic peptides."

Practice Pearl:

  • Patients with diabetes-associated gastroparesis experienced significant relief of nausea with "needleless" acupuncture.

Sarosiek I, et al "Self-administered needleless acupuncture therapy to control dyspepsia and GERD symptoms in patients diagnosed with diabetic gastroparesis" DDW 2013; Abstract 749.