A German study has demonstrated that acupuncture is more effective than drug therapy for the treatment of delayed gastric emptying in critically ill patients being fed by nasogastric tube. Thirty mechanically-ventilated intensive care unit patients with delayed gastric emptying (defined as a gastric residual volume (GRV) >500 ml for 2 days) were randomly assigned to either an acupoint stimulation group (ASG) or a group that was treated with conventional promotility drugs (DTG Рmetoclopramide, cisapride, erythromycin) over a period of six days. Those in the ASG received bilateral transcutaneous electrical acupoint stimulation at Neiguan P-6. Successful treatment (feeding tolerance) was defined as a GRV <200 ml per 24 hours. After five days of treatment, 80% of patients in the ASG group had successfully developed feeding tolerance, versus 60% in the DIG group. Overall, the feeding balance  improved significantly in the ASG group: in all days of treatment in comparison with the DTG group, which did not show an increase in feeding balance until day 6. (Acupuncture in Critically Ill Patients Improves Delayed Gastric Emptying: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Anesth Analg. 2011 Jan;112(1):150-5).

A systematic review has assessed the evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment in gastrointestinal diseases. German authors searched Medline-cited literature for controlled clinical trials performed before May 2006, identifying 18 relevant trials that met their inclusion criteria. Of these, only four were robustly designed random controlled trials (RCTs) – two irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) trials and two inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) trials (one for Crohn’s disease and one for ulcerative colitis). In all four trials, quality of life (QoL) was found to improve significantly, independently of whether the acupuncture was real or sham. Real acupuncture was significantly superior to sham acupuncture with regard to disease activity scores in the IBD trials. The authors postulate that psychoneuroimmunologic mechanisms may explain the acupuncture-specific effects leading to clinically relevant improvement of disease activity in Crohn’s and Colitis patients. They also suggest that the efficacy of acupuncture in respect of QoL may be explained by nonspecific treatment effects operating on a psychological and/or physiological level. While recommending further trials, they point out that demystification of the mechanism of acupuncture could be detrimental to its placebo-mediated effects, potentially destroying some of its healing capacity. (Acupuncture treatment in gastrointestinal diseases: a systematic review. World J Gastroenterol. 2007 Jul 7;13(25):3417-24).