Acupuncture Improves Diabetic Gastroparesis

“Needleless” acupuncture can provide relief for people dealing with diabetic gastroparesis, according to new research recently presented at the 2013 Digestive Disease Week meeting in Orlando, Florida. As many as 50% of people with diabetes will develop gastroparesis.


Gastroparesis, most commonly caused by damage to the nerve fibers that control the movements of the stomach, is a condition in which the stomach’s ability to move food into the small intestine is reduced. This slow stomach emptying results in a variety of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, feelings of fullness after eating, a lack of appetite, discomfort in the upper abdomen, and bloating. Various medicines, gastric electrical stimulation, Botox injections, and intravenous nutrition are among the treatments currently available.

To determine whether stimulating acupuncture points on the skin via electrical stimulation (rather than needles) could control symptoms in people with diabetic gastroparesis, researchers enrolled 12 people — four men and eight women, with an average age of 51 — in an eight-week study. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either four weeks of electrical stimulation of gastrointestinal-specific acupuncture points via watch-sized stimulators or four weeks of a sham (inactive) treatment. At the end of this period, the participants were switched to the alternate treatment for the remaining four weeks of the study.

“Active” treatments involved placing stimulators at acupuncture points p6 (just above the wrist crease) and ST36 (on the front of the leg, just below the knee). As stated by study author Richard W. McCallum, MD, “Those points, according to Chinese medicine, tap into control centers for nausea, heartburn, and regurgitation. They also are near nerves.” Inactive treatments, for the purposes of this study, involved placing stimulators at point S1 on the forearm and S2 on the lower leg, which are not thought to have any effect on central nausea control centers in the body. In both versions of the treatment, the stimulators were to be turned on for at least two hours after meals, and for up to 300 minutes each day.

At the end of the month-long active treatment, the frequency of both heartburn and reflux had decreased in those receiving the active treatment, although not by an amount that reached statistical significance. Abdominal fullness and vomiting also decreased by 21% and 31%, respectively, in those receiving the active treatments compared to the inactive treatments.

Electrocardiograms taken at the end of each treatment period indicated that the active treatments worked by stimulating the vagus nerve, a nerve that extends from the brain to the abdomen. Researchers theorized that the stimulation might improve stomach emptying by contracting muscles in the upper gut.

“One of the biggest challenges in patients who have diabetic gastroparesis is that symptoms can make it very difficult for them to adequately control their diabetes. Improving these symptoms allows them to consistently eat a more appropriate diet and have more predictable use of insulin and other medications,” noted Jay Kuemmerle, MD, moderator at a press conference to announce the results.

Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the findings should be considered preliminary. The researchers hope to test this treatment approach in people with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

For more information, read the article “Acupuncture Points Useful in Diabetes Control?” or see the study’s abstract on the Digestive Disease Week 2013 Web site. (Click on “MyDDW,” then “Search Scientific Sessions” and search for “Self-administered needleless acupuncture therapy to control dyspepsia and GERD symptoms in patients diagnosed with diabetic gastroparesis.”) And for more on treating gastroparesis, click here.

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  • Evelyn

    Very interesting article,my live-in partner has
    these symptoms and the Drs.keeps giving him meds
    for the symptoms but he’s still the same or worst
    i’m printing the article to bring it to his Dr.’s
    next appointment.Thank you very much.

  • Ken O’Steen

    Hey Thanks for the Great information…
    Hey I have A Issue that has bothered me I
    Know Since 2006,When I cut my lawn/yard
    Work Or just about anything,Sitting on frount
    porch reading the paper Etc.,almost amediatley
    after comming in I Start getting nausated & Dry
    Heaving/Vomiting ,with nothing comming
    Up,Its not because of a sugur low or dehidration,
    I was just wondering if these things yal been
    Testing maybe Something to do with my
    issue’s… Thanks Ken O’Steen Waycross GA.

  • Sandie Herron

    I’ve had gastroparesis for over a decade, and I’ve tried a lot of different treatments. I never had the electric stimulator placed, however, and I wonder how benefits would compare between the electric stim internally and from an external source. If anyone would think of that, it would be Dr. McCallum.

    It is very difficult to manage my diabetes (which came years after the gastroparesis) since all the food I ate for the gastric emptying studying didn’t even reach my stomach for 30 minutes. So I know that testing 2 hours after a meal is about useless. I try for 4 hours for a more accurate result. Again, according to my study, my stomach isn’t half empty until after at minimum 4 hours have passed.

    I wonder if a continuous diabetic pump would be helpful in the case where a diabetic has gastroparesis since it can adjust dose and frequency easily.

  • Sylvia Carpenter


  • Laverne

    My daughter has this after having gastric bypass 10 years ago. Her Dr. reversed her bypass and said it will take a year for her stomach to start working again. She has bouts with vomiting. I am going to show her this article. She does not have diabetes.She has been suffering for a couple of years with this problem. Thanks for the article.

  • Patricia Pursel

    I have a lot of stomach and digestive problems. I do not have nausea and vomiting but I have bloating, severe heartburn at times and other digestive problems I am sure they are caused by the Diabetes but haven’t come up with a solution so far except to treat the symptoms.

  • Kim Hawes

    I have been a “type 1” for 30 years. I was told I would only live to be 30, today I am 46. I suffered horribly from gastroparesis, first I was put on Reglan…bad news for me. It stopped my monthly for 2 years…then caused me to lactate. Finally, a psychiatrist figured out that I was having strange side effect of Reglan. Now my medical chart reads that I am allergic to this drug. My new stomach doc had me try erythromycin…which is an antibiotic that is known for stomach upset. That stomach upset is actually moving the gut along, which is exactly what I needed. I took it for 5 years. Now I use meditation and deep breathing to help control nausea. It has been working for about 4 years. That is 4 years of no hospitalizations. When my gastroparesis was at its worst there were years that I was in the hospital 18-20 times.

  • Masker Wajah

    Hi diane

    Great info, I ever get acupunture, but i just knew that it could improve diabetic gastroparesis

    Thanks for this great info