Moxibustion, a traditional Chinese medicine therapy, is occasionally used to treat patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Researchers, co-led by Chunhui Bao and Luyi Wu, examined the long-term effects of moxibustion therapy in patients with diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D). Their article, published in Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology, reported that moxibustion treatment at the acupoints ST25 and ST36was associated with a “sustained beneficial clinical effect in the treatment of patients with IBS-D for at least 24 weeks,” including “improvements in disease severity, stool characteristics, diarrhea frequency, and bowel urgency.”

The trial randomized 104 patients with IBS-D to receive either moxibustion therapy (n = 52) or a placebo, three times each week, over a six-week treatment period. The body surface temperatures at the bilateral ST25 and ST36 acupoints were 43°C ± 1°C in the moxibustion group and 37°C ± 1°C in the sham group. The primary outcome of the trial was the rate of adequate relief of IBS (IBS-AR) symptoms from baseline to six weeks. Secondary outcomes included IBS symptom severity scale (IBS-SSS), Bristol stool form scale (BSS), IBS quality of life (IBS-QOL), and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).

According to the article, the rate of IBS-AR was significantly higher in the moxibustion group compared to the sham group at six weeks (76.9% vs. 42.3%; p <0.001). The mean decrease of total IBS-BSS score was lower in the moxibustion group compared to the sham group (–116.9 vs. –61.5; p <0.001), both of which the authors reported were maintained throughout follow-up. They also found that five domains on the IBS-SSS were lower in the moxibustion group compared to the sham group throughout the study. At week six, the proportion of patients with a 50-point or greater reduction in IBS-SSS was significantly higher in the treatment than in the sham group (p <0.001). The treatment group had similarly durable improvements in BSS, stool frequency, and stool urgency (p <0.001), although the “improvements of IBS-QOL and HADS were comparable between the groups.”

Co-first authors, Bao and Wu, and the study’s collaborators in closing posited that “this study suggests that moxibustion is a safe, effective, and highly acceptable therapy for improving and maintaining IBS-D symptom relief over a long time period.”