Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an extremely common gastro-intestinal disorder that is diagnosed by conventional medicine when there are symptoms of: abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, or alternating diarrhea and constipation with no pathological precursor.
From a conventional medical point of view the exact cause of IBS still remains unknown. However, there are certain triggers such as: unhealthy diet, stress, hormonal changes, and intestinal bacterial overgrowth that can affect the functional movement of the intestines. There are two ways that these triggers can affect the digestive system.
One of the ways that these triggers may affect the digestive system is an increased rate and strength of intestinal peristalsis (contraction and relaxation of intestinal smooth muscles) which forces ingested food through the intestines at a faster than normal rate causing bloating, gas and diarrhea. The opposite effect may occur, with a weaker and reduced intestinal peristaltic wave that results in ingested food passing through the intestines at a slower rate causing the bowels to be constipated.
Often IBS sufferers deal with the symptoms for a while before seeking medical intervention. It is typically after undergoing a colonoscopy and/or other conventional medical tests and receiving little to no definitive answers on how to relieve their symptoms that many IBS sufferers seek out Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for more answers and relief.
From a Chinese Medicine standpoint IBS is typically a disharmony of three organs – the liver, spleen, and large intestine. The Liver is associated with the emotion anger and likened to the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which governs the fight/flight response in stressful situations and the rest/digest/repair response in times of relaxation. During times of stress and anger the liver will become dysfunctional and stimulate a fight/flight response that will affect the function of the spleen. The spleen in Chinese Medicine can be compared to the small intestine, pancreas and overall chemical digestive functions in Western Medicine. When it is affected by the liver due to stress or simply over-burdened by an unhealthy diet, the common IBS symptoms of bloating, flatulence and diarrhea may be seen.
In Chinese Medicine, the large intestine is associated with the ability to emotionally “let go.” When stress forces the liver to affect the large intestine, its ability to excrete waste can become stagnated and bound resulting in constipation and bloating. When a dysfunctional liver is in disharmony with both the spleen and large intestine simultaneously one will often experience bloating, flatulence, and alternating diarrhea and constipation.
These are the four key methods that Chinese Medicine uses to address IBS:
Treatment to address current symptoms and support digestive organ function and address emotional disharmonies.
2. Chinese Herbal Medicines
Herbal formulas used to address current symptoms, support organ function, reduce stress and anxiety, and/or clear dampness (bad intestinal overgrowth).
3. Stress management
Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Breathing exercises.
4. Diet Therapy
Diet changes to support the individual constitution and address the presenting IBS symptoms.