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 IBS, such as MacPherson et al (2017; n=116) in a follow up two years after their RCT acupuncture for IBS, finding a favourable result 24 months on. Another RCT for diarrhoea type IBS (Zheng et al, 2016; n=448) found the acupuncture group found a level of improvement in line with that of the group assigned pharmacological (Loperamide) intervention in terms of reducing stool frequency.
Zhu et al (2018a) conducted a network meta-analysis of diarrhoea type IBS, with 29 studies (n=9369) entailed in it, finding that acupuncture may improve symptoms, but that further high quality research was needed to corroborate the overall results. A meta analysis of diarrhoea predominant IBS (Deng et al, 2017) looked at 17 trials (n=1333), finding improvement in clinical symptoms in the acupuncture groups. Similar trends have been seen in the trials for acupuncture in constipation predominant IBS, in a network meta-analysis, in which the quality of the trials was predominantly of high quality (40 trials n=11032; Zhu et al, 2018b).
British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about IBS including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.
British Acupuncture Council Research Digest – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (approx halfway down the document)
Deng, D., Guo, K., Tan, J., Huang, G., Li, S., Jiang, Q., Xie, J., Xie, H., Zhang, Z., Chen, Y. and Peng, L., 2017. Acupuncture for diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Zhongguo zhen jiu= Chinese acupuncture & moxibustion, 37(8), pp.907-912.
MacPherson, H., Tilbrook, H., Agbedjro, D., Buckley, H., Hewitt, C. and Frost, C., 2017. Acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome: 2-year follow-up of a randomised controlled trial. Acupuncture in Medicine, 35(1), pp.17-23.
Zheng, H., Li, Y., Zhang, W., Zeng, F., Zhou, S.Y., Zheng, H.B., Zhu, W.Z., Jing, X.H., Rong, P.J., Tang, C.Z. and Wang, F.C., 2016. Electroacupuncture for patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome or functional diarrhea: a randomized controlled trial. Medicine, 95(24).
Zhu, L., Ma, Y., Ye, S. and Shu, Z., 2018a. Acupuncture for diarrhoea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: a network meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2018.
Zhu, L., Ma, Y. and Deng, X., 2018b. Comparison of acupuncture and other drugs for chronic constipation: A network meta-analysis. PloS one, 13(4), p.e0196128.