Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.
About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.
The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on constipation including an RCT taken in 15 hospitals in China (n=1075) where the acupuncture group was seen to increase the number of weekly spontaneous bowel movements, with the researchers recommending that further studies are needed to see the longer term outcomes (Liu et al, 2016).
Another RCT (Zheng et al, 2018; n=684) similarly showed promise in this area, but was limited somewhat by its design in not having a sham acupuncture control (they only had three different types of verum acupuncture compared with pharmacological intervention), meaning it was difficult to know the magnitude of the effect.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 33 trials (n=4324 total; Zheng et al, 2019) compared eight different non-drug treatments, finding acupuncture and TENS were the most effective in addressing chronic functional constipation symptoms, but interpreting the results with caution due to small study effects.
British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Gastrointestinal tract issues including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.
British Acupuncture Council Research Digest – Constipation (approx halfway down the document)
Liu, Z., Yan, S., Wu, J., He, L., Li, N., Dong, G., Fang, J., Fu, W., Fu, L., Sun, J. and Wang, L., 2016. Acupuncture for chronic severe functional constipation: a randomized trial. Annals of internal medicine, 165(11), pp.761-769.
Zheng, H., Liu, Z.S., Zhang, W., Chen, M., Zhong, F., Jing, X.H., Rong, P.J., Zhu, W.Z., Wang, F.C., Liu, Z.B. and Tang, C.Z., 2018. Acupuncture for patients with chronic functional constipation: a randomized controlled trial. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 30(7), p.e13307.
Zheng, H., Chen, Q., Chen, M., Wu, X., She, T.W., Li, J., Huang, D.Q., Yue, L. and Fang, J.Q., 2019. Nonpharmacological conservative treatments for chronic functional constipation: A systematic review and network meta‐analysis. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 31(1), p.e13441.