The research on whether acupuncture helps ease irritable bowel syndrome has so far been a mixed bag, according to a new review of past clinical trials.
The review, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, found that in some trials, acupuncture seemed to work better than certain medications for irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
Yet in others, acupuncture was no better than a "sham" version of acupuncture used for comparison.
"It's difficult to interpret the results of the review," said lead researcher Eric Manheimer, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
For now, he said, "I think the evidence is equivocal."
IBS is a digestive disorder that causes repeated bouts of abdominal cramps, bloating, and either diarrhea or constipation. It's different from the similar-sounding inflammatory bowel disease -- an umbrella term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, two more-serious digestive disorders that damage the lining of the colon.
In many cases, IBS can be managed with diet changes, along with anti-diarrheal medication or, for constipation, laxatives or fiber supplements.
But people with tougher-to-treat IBS may need more. There are a few drugs for the condition -- including alosetron (Lotronex), which works on nerves to relax the colon, and lubiprostone (Amitiza), which helps with constipation.
Doctors sometimes also prescribe low-dose antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or drugs called antispasmodics, which may help with abdominal pain.
But those drugs are often limited in their effectiveness, and can have side effects.