Acupuncture can help ease symptoms in pregnant women with upset stomachs, a small new study from Brazil shows.

Pregnancy can cause a host of gastrointestinal woes, including heartburn, reflux, and bloating, Dr. Joao Bosco Guerreiro da Silva of Rio Preto Medical College in Sao Jose do Rio Preto and his colleagues note in their report. While many studies have looked at acupuncture for treating vomiting and nausea in pregnancy, they add, there has been no research on whether it is helpful for other pregnancy-related stomach symptoms.

To investigate, the researchers randomly assigned 42 pregnant women with dyspepsia to undergo acupuncture or standard treatment for 8 weeks.

Every 2 weeks, the researchers interviewed the women about their heartburn symptoms, how many antacid tablets they used, and how their symptoms affected their eating and sleeping.

Six women dropped out of the study, including five in the control group. Heartburn symptom intensity fell by at least half in 75 percent of the acupuncture patients and 44 percent of those in the control group. Seven women in each group used antacids; for those in the acupuncture group, average use fell by 6.3 doses, compared to an increase of 4.4 doses in the control group.

At the end of the study, 15 of the 20 women (75 percent) in the acupuncture group said they had at least a 50 percent improvement in eating, and 14 (70 percent) had this degree of improvement in sleeping. Among the control group women, 31 percent and 25 percent showed 50 percent improvement in their eating and sleeping, respectively.

There were no side effects of the treatment, and no differences between the infants born to the women in the acupuncture and control groups. The researchers caution against using acupuncture points in the lower back or lower abdomen in pregnant women, due to possible concerns that needling could trigger contractions.

"This technique should be further studied in prospective randomized studies of large populations to confirm our findings in effectiveness and the absence of adverse effects," da Silva and his team write. "It is simple to apply and if used in an appropriate manner can reduce the need for medication."