Moxibustion is an alternative therapy that involves burning herbs and applying the resulting heat to specific points on the body. A technique used in traditional Chinese medicine and in Tibetan medicine, moxibustion is typically administered in conjunction with acupuncture.
Uses for Moxibustion
According to practitioners, the heat generated during moxibustion helps increase the flow of vital energy (also known as "qi" or "chi") throughout the body via certain pathways (known as "meridians"). In traditional Chinese medicine, stimulating the flow of chi is considered essential to achieving health and wellness. In fact, physical and mental health problems are thought to develop (in part) as a result of blockages in the flow of chi.
Proponents claim that moxibustion can help treat the following health problems:
- back pain
- muscle stiffness
- menstrual cramps
- digestive problems
What Does Moxibustion Involve?
There are two main types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. The technique most commonly used today, indirect moxibustion, often involves burning moxa (a substance created from dried leaves of the herbs mugwort or wormwood) on top of the acupuncture needle. In some cases, however, practitioners may set the burning moxa over a layer of ginger, garlic, or salt placed on the patient's skin. Other techniques include applying heat to acupuncture points from an electrical source, as well as holding the burning moxa above the skin for several minutes.
In direct moxibustion, the burning moxa is placed directly on the skin. Since this technique can cause pain and scarring, direct moxibustion is no longer used very often.
Benefits of Moxibustion
To date, few studies have tested the safety and effectiveness of moxibustion in treatment of any health condition. Here's a look at some of the evidence related to moxibustion:
1) Moxibustion and Hot Flashes
In a 2009 study of 51 postmenopausal women, researchers found that 14 sessions of moxibustion reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
2) Moxibustion and Ulcerative Colitis
Available scientific evidence doesn't support the use of moxibustion in treatment of ulcerative colitis, according to a research review published in 2010. The review's authors analyzed five clinical trials and determined that moxibustion did show some benefits for people with ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease). However, all of the reviewed studies were found to be of low quality.
3) Moxibustion and Breech Birth
Moxibustion is often touted as a means of decreasing risk of a breech birth. But in a report published in 2005, scientists found insufficient evidence to support the use of moxibustion in correcting a breech presentation. The report's authors sized up three clinical trials (involving a total of 597 women) and concluded that more research is needed before moxibustion can be recommended to women looking to avoid a breech birth. However, the report did find that moxibustion may reduce the need for certain medical procedures typically used to correct breech presentation.
Is Moxibustion Safe?
Moxibustion is considered unsafe for people with diabetes. What's more, oils from mugwort and wormwood may cause toxic reactions when taken internally.
If you're considering the use of moxibustion for any type of health condition, make sure to consult your doctor before undergoing treatment. It's especially important to talk to your doctor if you're considering the use of moxibustion while pregnant.
American Cancer Society. "ACS :: Moxibustion". November 2008.
Coyle ME, Smith CA, Peat B. "Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 18;(2):CD003928.
Lee DH, Kim JI, Lee MS, Choi TY, Choi SM, Ernst E. "Moxibustion for ulcerative colitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis." BMC Gastroenterol. 2010 7;10:36.
Park JE, Lee MS, Jung S, Kim A, Kang K, Choi J, Park J, Choi SM. "Moxibustion for treating menopausal hot flashes: a randomized clinical trial." Menopause. 2009 16(4):660-5.