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Why does my disgestive disorder slightly improve after acupuncture and then comes back within a week much worse?

Q: I've been receiving acupuncture for 15 months for digestive disorders, bloating, sluggish bowels, hemorrhoids, twisted fascia to the pelvic floor and atrial fibrillation related to the stomach. Symptoms mildly get better but return even worse within a week or sometime after treatment. Why? What do I do?

A: There is a behavourial therapy called NLP of which a a favourite premise is that "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got, so if something you're doing isn't working, do something different." On that basis it would be very tempting to say that you perhaps should change the therapy or the therapist, and sometimes there is a simple truth in this.

However, we have come across many situations where the practitioner is actually doing a good job even though the symptoms remain largely unchanged. Patients can sometimes be held in a pattern which might become far worse if not treated, and we still have a fond memory of an old patient whose lack of progress was depressing us until he said 'do you know, I think I'm getting worse slower.'

That said, bloating and sluggish bowels make for a very uncomfortable life, and we suspect that alongside your acupuncture treatment you may need to be doing something more focused on your nutrition to see the benefits of both treatment. Most of us have a rudimentary knowledge of the kinds of food which a patient should avoid given their state of balance, and in many cases the advice we give does score some good results. Sometimes, however, the advice needs to be more precise, and there are many practitioners who take this Chinese nutritional training at a much higher level, almost akin to herbal medicine. In fact, many digestive disorders, which prove intractable to acupuncture alone, are greatly benefited by Chinese herbal medicine. Most of the members of the RCHM (Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine) are also BAcC members, but you may find that going to a Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioner alongside your acupuncture practitioner might work a treat, especially if your rapport with your current practitioner is one you don't want to lose.

Before taking this step, though, it might well be worth reviewing your diet with your existing practitioner.  There are four or five 'headline' syndromes which describe bloating and sluggishness, and it should be immediately apparent what would be good for you to avoid. Timing of eating is also critical. There is an old English saying 'breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord and dine like a pauper', and we have seen some patients make dramatic improvements simply by moving towards this pattern. There are also certain food types which are just not good for some people. We had a patient whose digestive disorders alone refused to change even though everything else improved. Once he cut out lactose, though, his symptoms almost vanished.

The fact that things don't change may well mean that the treatment is not powerful enough to break the pattern of your digestion, and that something you are eating is having a more potent effect on the system. We suspect that your best move would be to have a kind of 'case conference' with your practitioner and agree a plan to move your case forward, either by adding some other dietary changes or by adding another tier of dietary change to accompany your treatment. We certainly hope this gets you going in a more positive direction.

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