Acupuncture has been used empirically in clinical practice in China for several millenia and has recently drawn interest as a mode of anesthesia. Despite extensive investigation, the exact mechanisms of its analgesic action are unknown, but are thought to involve endogenous opioid peptides. Only recently have studies attempted to evaluate the effect of acupuncture on gastrointestinal function and disease. A review of studies from both the Chinese and Western literature supports the efficacy of acupuncture in the regulation of gastrointestinal motor activity and secretion through opioid and other neural pathways. However, no firm conclusion can be drawn about the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of specific gastrointestinal disorders because of the lack of properly randomized controlled trials.