Better than conventional therapies: Moxibustion helps remedy insomnia

Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy using traditional Chinese medicine that could be a great alternative to prescription medication for people suffering from insomnia, according to research. The study, led by the Guangdong Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, looked at published material which compared moxibustion compared to other forms of therapy to determine its effectiveness.

In the study, which appeared in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers scoured medical databases such as CENTRAL, PubMed, and EMBASE, including those in China like Wanfang Data for randomized clinical trials that compared moxibustion with both Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. The search parameters focused on the effectiveness of the treatment against insomnia, as well as any adverse outcomes that the treatment may cause.

Based on the data collected in the search, moxibustion was more effective in treating insomnia than conventional medicine, as well as other forms of traditional Chinese medicine. The data also revealed that moxibustion is significantly safer compared to Western medicine. This meant that moxibustion could be the safer alternative to drug therapy when it comes to dealing with insomnia.

“The results demonstrated that moxibustion was more effective for insomnia than western medications, oral Chinese medicine, and other TCM therapies,” the researchers wrote in their report.

However, a significant challenge that they found was that most trials were conducted using small sample sizes. The researchers believe that this highlights the need for high-quality trials and larger sample sizes to fully determine the benefits of moxibustion when it comes to treating insomnia, as well as understand its long-term implication.

“Moxibustion should be considered as a novel therapeutic option for insomnia, and more rigorous clinical trials of moxibustion therapy for insomnia are needed to assess its effects,” they added. (Related: Moxibustion found to be a safe alternative treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.)

Understanding moxibustion and its many benefits

Moxibustion, for the uninitiated, is a procedure where herbs are burned, and the heat that comes off it is applied to specific points on the body. In traditional Chinese medicine, the heat that it generates allows the body to increase its qi (or vital energy) through certain pathways called meridians. The concept is similar to that of acupuncture, and some use a combination of the two for treatment.

These days, there are two types of moxibustion available for those looking to try the treatment.

  • Indirect moxibustion, the procedure most people are familiar with, involves burning moxa (a mixture of dried mugwort and wormwood) on top of an acupuncture needle. Other variations involve holding the heat source above the skin or putting it above a layer of salt or garlic on the skin.
  • Direct moxibustion involves placing the burning moxa directly on the skin. Since this can cause pain and scarring, it’s rarely used.

Based on studies, moxibustion provides the following benefits:

  • It relieves hot flashes — A 2009 study found the moxibustion reduced the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
  • It helps with arthritis and back pain.
  • It alleviates migraine and menstrual cramps.
  • It relieves digestive problems.
  • It helps treat tendonitis and muscle stiffness.

Learn more about the benefits of moxibustion at

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