Stuck qi upsets tummy

By Michael Côté

In Chinese medicine, when we get abdominal discomfort, we say that qi is not moving properly.

Qi (pronounced “chee” as in cheese) is often mistranslated as energy, but it literally means gas.

Current scholarship suggests that Qi, is best translated as “gasotransmitters.”  Gasotransmitters are gases in the body like nitric oxide, oxygen, and carbon dioxide that are part of our physiology.

When these different gases, or qi, are unable to cycle through our body, we get health problems.

When someone complains about their bowels, a practitioner of Chinese medicine will often inquire about lung health. A person with a lot of stress will typically breathe shallowly, which prevents ideal gas exchange, and causes qi stagnation. And stuck qi leads to pain and discomfort. 

There are a number of ways qi can stagnate, so treatments will vary depending on the underlying cause, which is the diagnosis. In B.C. people registered with the CTCMA are qualified to make a Chinese medicine diagnosis.

So how does acupuncture work for IBS? 

A variety of research has demonstrated that acupuncture:

  • relieves pain
  • reduces anxiety and depression
  • regulates the motility of the digestive tract
  • decreases gut sensitivity
  • calms the parasympathetic nervous system which triggers the relaxation response.

Acupuncture can also alter the brain's mood chemistry by increasing the production of serotonin and endorphins. This helps to overcome negative states and breaks the vicious cycle of anxiety and IBS. 

Finally according to Chinese medical theory, acupuncture regulates qi.

A patient, I will call Adeline who gave me permission to share her story, came to me complaining of “really bad pain with loose stool.”

She experienced colicky pain below her umbilicus that was worse in the mornings. It felt like a stabbing pain at its worst and achy the rest of the day.  She didn't have allergies, and did not have a history of lung problems.  She had not been travelling anywhere because of this problem and had already seen her family doctor two years ago regarding this issue. 

She also saw a registered dietitian who helped her with meal planning to avoid trigger foods. Adeline, however, was still experiencing symptoms. Her pulses were slippery, weak, and slow. Her tongue was red and dry with a yellow coating.

The Chinese medicine diagnosis I gave Adeline was “loose stool from the small intestine not absorbing water, causing stagnant qi.” 

In other words, qi (gas) in the small intestine was not moving properly. 

I recommended acupuncture twice a week for two weeks, then less frequently as symptoms improved. I also prescribed a course of herbal medicine. The goal of the herbs and acupuncture was to help the small intestine absorb water and thereby help qi exchange. 

I also suggested that she add cardamom and nutmeg to her diet.

After five acupuncture treatments, taking the herbs regularly, and following a diet suitable for her, Adeline said that her stool is formed and she has had no nausea for the first time in four years. 

Recently, Adeline took a month-long trip, something she was unable to do previously because of her symptoms.  She is happy with her current level of health and I continue to see her on a periodic basis to help manage her condition.

If you suffer from bowel problems, here are some general guidelines that can help:

  • Breathing exercises like qigong or meditation helps with relaxation.
  • Having a plant-centric diet ensures adequate fibre intake.
  • Having a diet that is suitable for you, like avoiding milk if you are lactose intolerant.  In B.C. you can call 8-1-1 to speak with a registered dietician.
  • Avoiding triggers like ice-cold foods and drink, as well as greasy, heavy, fatty, rich foods such as cheese, bacon, and ice cream.
  • Cooking beans with kombu, ginger, fennel, or cumin can reduce gassiness. Don’t use kombu if you have certain thyroid problems).
  • If you need to use the washroom, excuse yourself and go instead of trying to hold it in. The book Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi can help with overcoming bowel shyness.

If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to book a consultation or treatment please call me at the Okanagan Acupuncture Centre at 1625 Ellis St. in downtown Kelowna.

Michael Côté, R.TCM.P, is a registered practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He can be reached at the Okanagan Acupuncture Centre,1625 Ellis St. in downtown Kelowna.

Useful links:

For a summary on the research on acupuncture and Chinese medicine for IBS see the British Acupuncture Council website.

More Writer's Bloc articles

About the Author

Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

Do you have something to say that is timely? of local interest? controversial? inspiring? foodie? entertaining? educational?

Drop a line. [email protected]

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of Castanet. They are not news stories reported by our staff.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories