Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Food has become distorted in many modern cultures. Humans have gone from a natural state of finding nourishment and understanding its relationship with the body to not even knowing where food comes from. This distortion is so pervasive that a huge portion of the population doesn’t even know how to cook for themselves. I am not writing this to vilify society or go on a tangent about food (that’s for another article!), but diet is poorly understood by many, particularly in the US. By shedding light on larger issues such as the lack of nutritional education in America and bad eating habits, different symptoms and diseases like IBS can be prevented in the future. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

IBS is very common, and can occur in very different ways. There can also be many causes to IBS, such as foods, stress, hormones, potential nervous system abnormalities between the gut and brain, bacteria overgrowth, and abnormalities in the contracting and expanding of the colon. It is a very different process for each individual. In many people, it is caused by the over-contraction of the large intestine, causing constipation and hard to pass stools as a result of the gut’s nervous system not responding correctly to the brain. The opposite can also happen, where the intestines don’t contract at all, causing diarrhea. This interruption in the proper functioning can be triggered by stress, hormones or any acute illnesses of the gut or intestines. In many cases of IBS, it is caused by diet. Genetics may also play a role if a family member has IBS.

In Chinese Medicine, through thousands of years of practice and observation acupuncturists began to notice patterns of symptoms and record them. The patterns that arise with IBS show that qi is getting stuck in the middle burner. Chinese medicine breaks down the body into three segments: upper burner, middle burner, and lower burner. When qi is stuck in any of the burners it can’t flow smoothly through the rest of the body and will develop issues. The liver, who lives in the middle burner doesn’t like being confined and the qi begins to rebel. This means the qi is going to the wrong place. When it rebels it often goes to the spleen and stomach and causes issues with the breaking down of foods and liquids. So with the liver qi invading the spleen, we have all the hallmark symptoms of IBS: bloating, the potential for diarrhea or constipation, cramping, and maybe even headaches! These symptoms are the results of organs in the middle burner not fulfilling their duties.

With acupuncture and Chinese herbs we want the qi to move out of the middle burner, help supports the spleen/pancreas and liver functions and restore balance to the body. The majority of symptoms in IBS trickle down from other issues and then manifest. Once the primary issue is resolved then all the symptoms can disappear. A review was done on multiple studies looking at the effects of Chinese Medicine on IBS. 90.48% of patients found relief from IBS with Chinese Medicine, and the studies confirmed that it is more effective than Western modalities. I have included the source of the review below. Thanks for reading!

Study Review: Li, C.Y., Li, S.C. (2015). World Journal Gastroenterol. 21(8): 2315–2322. Treatment of
irritable bowel syndrome in China: A review. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i8.2315.

Maciocia, G. (2012). Elsevier, Ltd. The Practice of Chinese Medicine: the treatment of diseases with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. 562-563.

Mayo clinic staff. (2014). Diseases and Conditions: irritable bowel syndrome.

Stephenson, C. (2011), Elsevier, Ltd. The complementary Therapist’s Guide to Conventional Medicine. 144-146.