Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition which has become much more prevalent in recent years. A recent modern condition in western terms, this has been recognised and treated for thousands of years with Chinese Medicine.
Within Chinese medicine this condition refers to a disharmony between the Liver and Spleen. Symptoms commonly associated with this condition include:
- Worse for Stress
- Worse after eating particular things
- Alternating diarrhoea and constipation
- Worse for emotional turmoil
- Loose stools or hard pebble-like stools
Since this is a functional problem rather than a structural problem with the digestive tract, acupuncture is a good treatment choice along with appropriate dietary and lifestyle advice.
IBS is known as ‘Liver invading the Spleen’ in Chinese medicine. The function of the Liver is to ensure the smooth circulation of Qi around the body and by doing this it aids all the other organs in their functions. When the Liver is out of balance then it can upset other organs, and in this case the Spleen, (i.e. the digestive system). The Liver is particularly affected by stress, anger, bitterness, frustration, and resentment. Excessive stress and lack of exercise will cause the energy (Qi) of the Liver to stagnate and this in turn will affect other organs. When the liver qi stagnates, this causes constipation and while the spleen qi is weak, this causes diarrhoea. It is the disharmony between these two that explains that alternation between constipation and diarrhoea.
So why are some people affected and not others? If the digestive system (Spleen in Chinese medicine) is strong then it is still able to function adequately even though the Liver maybe out of balance. In other words, for IBS to occur there needs to be an imbalance in both the Liver and the Spleen (digestive system). Thus, to treat IBS it is important to smooth the flow of the Liver’s energy and to strengthen the digestive process. Along with acupuncture, this will involve eating food which is easier for the body to digest. Often stress is unavoidable but there are ways to help ourselves cope better and the main one is exercise.
IBS is a much used term now for a whole variety of digestive disorders. It seems that it is often given as a diagnosis when nothing else can be found. This means I have seen a large variety of patients with this diagnosis that present with symptoms such as bloating, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation or abdominal pain. Chinese medicine is more refined in this case and distinguish these clearly as differing problems. For this reason acupuncture and Chinese medicine can get good results in treating IBS. It is important to note that with all digestive disorders, appropriate diet and lifestyle changes may be necessary.
Irritable bowel syndrome can be treated effectively with acupuncture, herbal medicine or a combination of both.