By Michael G. Pingicer, M.S., L.Ac.
What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that affects the proper function of the large intestine. It is one of the most common disorders in America with no biomedical explanation or cure. But Chinese medicine is effective in eliminating or reducing the problem. The chief signs and symptoms of IBS are as follows1:
Other signs and symptoms that may or may not occur are as follows2:
- Abdominal cramping
- Bloating and gas
- Diarrhea or constipation or both
These signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe and can really put a damper on a person's day as the symptoms can sometimes last for an extended period of time resulting in a canceling of activities for a day spent near the toilet. This disorder really reduces the quality of one's life.
- Mucous in the stool
- Anal or rectal pain
- Loss of Appetite
- Feeling of incomplete emptying of the colon after a bowel movement.
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IBS affects 1 in 5 (20%) Americans, it occurs more often in women than in men, and it begins before the age of 35 in about 50 percent of people.3 As was stated above, there is no known biological cause for IBS which is why it is characterized as a disorder and not a disease. It is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that an IBS diagnosis is made after ruling out all other possible diseases that could be causing the signs and symptoms of IBS. It is necessary to perform tests in order to make sure a serious disease is not presents, and diagnosing can be a long and aggravating process.
What causes IBS?
Two of the most common triggers of IBS are food and stress. This is frustrating because the foods and stress that trigger IBS can be different for each person. For one person, coffee causes IBS; for another, grapes are the culprit. One person can manage stress at work but not at home and vice versa. IBS could possibly stem from these two triggers when considered in conjunction with the decline in food quality and rise in stress in America. TCM teaches that worry, stress, and poor diet are all related factors that can contribute to bowel disorders, and this is just one of many examples of the mind-body connection. IBS can be a real struggle to deal with, but it doesn't seem to cause inflammation or changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer. In many cases, one can control irritable bowel syndrome by managing one's diet, lifestyle and stress4.
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TCM Explanation of IBS
IBS can be explained using TCM theory, and the pattern of IBS primarily involves disharmony between the liver and the spleen.
In TCM, the spleen is responsible for the transformation and transportation of new qi and blood in the body that is derived from food taken in during each day. A healthy spleen means that one has no digestive issues at all: no heartburn, no gas, no bloating, no diarrhea, etc. If the spleen becomes depleted and weak from overwork, too much worry, stress, poor diet, etc., disease of the gastrointestinal type could result causing any of the signs and symptoms listed above. This is called spleen qi vacuity.
Some foods to avoid in spleen qi vacuity:
- raw foods
- ice cream
- simple sugars
The liver is in charge of the free coursing or flow of qi in the body. The liver can become stagnant from stress, frustration, or emotional issues creating an inactivity of the body's physical and mental functions, which go hand-in-hand in TCM. This disease could present with emotional problems such as depression or with physical ailments such as pain. This is called liver qi stagnation.
Some foods to avoid in liver qi stagnation:
LIVER QI STAGNATION + SPLEEN QI VACUITY = IBS
- fatty foods
- excess coffee (1 cup is okay)
- excess alcohol (1 drink is okay)
- excess protein
- junk food/processed foods
- excess salads
The following is a statement of fact in TCM:
"Wood (liver) normally restrains earth (spleen), but if earth is weak, then wood overwhelms it rendering earth even weaker."5
What does this statement exactly mean?
The liver and spleen have a relationship that is interdependent; meaning when one is diseased, the other is usually affected. In health, the liver restrains the spleen meaning that it gives proper order to the spleen. It can be thought of as a foreman in charge of a bunch of contractors. If the contractors are healthy, the foreman will keep them ordered and on task, and the team will construct a beautiful building. In IBS, the liver that is normally in control becomes excessively so and overwhelms the spleen that is already weak and vacuous. This could be seen as a foreman who is angry and controlling. He would bully a bunch of already tired contractors into overworking and they would make mistakes. The resulting building will not be well put together and will have many problems along the way.
This dual-disease of liver qi stagnation and spleen qi vacuity draws a pretty distinct parallel between the triggers of food and stress in the biomedical diagnosis. Stress stagnates the liver, and poor diet can weaken the spleen. This is just one of many possible patterns of energetic disharmony associated with patients with IBS. Please consult with a practitioner of TCM who will diagnose your specific pattern and design a tailored treatment plan for you.
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Call 212-894-0767 to see how we can help with treating your IBS.
Results of a pilot study on acupuncture's effectiveness treating IBS showed a significant improvement both in general well-being and in symptoms of bloating.6 A study on Chinese herbal medicine shows that Chinese herbal formulae offer improvement in symptoms for some patients with IBS. Compared with patients in the placebo group, patients in the active treatment groups (using Chinese herbal medicine) had significant improvement in bowel symptom scores and significant global improvement in overall symptoms as rated by patients and by gastroenterologists. Patients reported that treatment significantly reduced the degree of interference with life caused by IBS symptoms.7
What can acupuncture do for you?
TCM is very effective in treating IBS. We will take a look at your diet to see if there are changes that can be made. Overall, the goal would be to reduce the daily, physical stress on the gut caused by bothersome foods such as beans, coffee, raw fruits and vegetables. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can also help to move the stagnant liver qi and help you deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. We will also provide you with some meditative breathing exercises to perform daily to help with continual, daily stress reduction. Daily herbal medicine will aid in keeping the liver from overwhelming the spleen while simultaneously tonifying & strengthening the spleen to relieve the symptoms of IBS and help get your digestive system working properly.
Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac.
Aiyana Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs
41 Union Square West, Suite 519
New York, NY 10003
"Juliette was so warm and friendly from our initial meeting. She took the time to explain what acupuncture was, asked very detailed questions in order to treat me appropriately. She creates a soothing and comfortable environment when working with you. She receives nothing but high recommendations from me!"