Acupuncture for colic

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Minimal acupuncture may help infants experiencing colic, according to a new study published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine. Infants experiencing colic—crying time more than three hours a day, for a minimum of three days a week— showed fewer symptoms after receiving minimal acupuncture treatment compared to the standard treatment.

Largely human acupuncture research has been conducted in adult populations with research often showing reduced pain, improved gastrointestinal function and increased calm. To see if it might reduce babies with colic crying time, researchers treated 147 babies between two and eight weeks old who had been diagnosed with colic.

The babies and their families visited a child health center twice weekly for two weeks and were assigned to one of three groups, . Parents in all three groups spoke with a nurse about their child’s symptoms, and two of the groups also received acupuncture.

Babies in the first group were given standard minimal acupuncture at LI4, a spot on the hand between index finger and thumb, for 2 to 5 seconds. babies in the second group received acupuncture at up to five locations on the hands and legs, for up to 30 seconds.

All of the parents kept diaries of how much time the babies spent crying at home. As expected after two weeks, all three groups were crying less since colic tends to resolve in time.

However the researchers noticed a greater reduction in crying time in both acupuncture groups than in the standard-treatment group, suggestive of a faster recovery. During the second week of the experiment, only 16 babies in the standard acupuncture group and 21 in the tailored group still met the criteria for colic, compared to 31 babies in the standard-treatment group.

The results also suggest that acupuncture could have a lasting impact. Six days after the final clinic visit, the differences between the acupuncture and non-acupuncture groups remained. Overall, there were no meaningful differences between results in the two acupuncture groups.

The babies tolerated the acupuncture well. Sleeping babies rarely woke during treatment, and 200 of the 388 treatments given involved no crying at all. Only 31 sessions involved crying for longer than a minute, and only 15 resulted in any bleeding. (In each of those cases, only a single drop of blood was noted.) Three families dropped out of the trial before it ended.

Fussing and crying are normal for babies, the authors point out, and the goal of treatment should be a reduction to normal crying levels, not complete silence. The authors also recommend eliminating cow’s milk from a baby’s diet before seeking acupuncture or other treatment. (This means choosing formula without cow’s milk protein, or, if a mother is breastfeeding, avoiding cow’s milk herself.) Doing so can help treat excessive crying; in the week long registration period for the study, this helped treat excessive crying in 269 of the 426 babies initially identified for the research.

Acupuncture is performed routinely in paediatric pain clinics in the United States, and has also been used to treat bed wetting, ADHD, nausea and constipation. In some cases, it allows less medication to be given: an important benefit for young children who are more sensitive to the effects of drugs.

Although research on infants is sparse, some earlier studies have shown promise for colic and pain. “I think that acupuncture is especially interesting in symptoms where there’s no other safe method or medication that relieves the symptoms, like in colic,” says study author Landgren. 

Please note that under national law claims of efficacy of treatment are required to be made with reference to evidence of a high standard. Traditionally acupuncture and moxibustion have been used to treat a wide variety of conditions however not all have been able to demonstrate evidence of efficacy within the constraints of clinical trials.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Nicole Trudgeon (Chinese medicine Practitioner). Nicole is a practitioner of acupuncture and chinese herbal medicine (AHPRA registered) at her Booragoon clinic and is a Chinese Medicine Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Perth campus.