Irritable Bowel Syndromes (IBS) is a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by episodic abdominal pain or discomfort in association with altered bowel habits being diarrhoea and/or constipation). Other gastrointestinal symptoms (such as bloating and flatulence) are also very common. A variety of factors are believed to play a role in the development of IBS symptoms. These include; altered bowel motility, visceral hypersensitivity, psychosocial stressors, altered brain-gut interactions, immune activation/low grade inflammation, alterations in the gut microbiome, and genetic factors.
In the absence of the pathophysiological biomarkers which can distinguish between the differing IBS subgroups, treatment of this condition is predicated upon a patient’s most bothersome symptoms. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, IBS is caused by a combination of the following:-
Longstanding bottled-up emotions such as anger, hatred, resentment, stress, and depression. These will stagnate the liver Qi (energy) The livers’ free flowing function is especially important in harmonizing the emotions and digestion. Stagnant liver Qi will then invade the spleen causing abdominal distension and pain, constipation and /or diarrhoea, flatulence, sour belching, nausea, vomiting and tiredness.
Long periods of pensiveness, melancholy, excessive mental activities will knot the Qi and weaken the spleen giving rise to tiredness, loss of appetite, and loose stools. There may also be lack of concentration and poor memory.
Irregular eating habits, eating too little, following a strict diet, or overeating, will impair the function of spleen. This can result in bad digestion, poor appetite, lethargy and loose stools.
Overuse of antibiotics in the treatment of various respiratory and infectious disease. Most antibiotic are cold and damp in nature and will injure the spleen and stomach resulting in diarrhoea, candida (yeast) infections and dyspepsia as well as tiredness, weakness and poor weight gain.
How Can Acupuncture Help IBS?
Acupuncture offers a positive optional solution for IBS sufferers. Often the term ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome’ is used as a catch-all phrase for all cases of abdominal distress which do not have other explanations. In Chinese medicine, various cases of IBS are not viewed as falling into one broad disease category, but are broken down into many different disorders because the causes can be so varied. The individual symptoms vary greatly from person to person because the underlying problem is usually very different for each person. In TCM terms, IBS may be classified as a type of abdominal/intestinal pain, epigastrial/stomach pain, or as a type of diarrhoea, depending on the individual symptoms experienced.
For IBS with abdominal/intestinal pain, the cause is usually due to liver-energy becoming blocked, which may cause further problems with the spleen’s digestive functions. The blocked liver energy causes symptoms of bloating, constipation, and belching, as well as moodiness and irritability. These are symptoms which may well be aggravated by emotional disturbances or upset. When the spleen is also involved, there will additionally be fatigue and alternating constipation and diarrhoea. Acupuncture treatment helps mobilise liver energy to resolve the over long retention of food, relieve pain and improve digestion while correcting spleen function to resolve diarrhoea and improve energy levels.
For IBS with epigastric/stomach pain,the cause can be due to a variety of different imbalances within the stomach leading to improper or incomplete digestion of food. This can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from pain, nausea and vomiting to belching, headaches, diarrhoea or constipation. Each and every symptom experienced by the sufferer will depend on the specific problem occurring within the stomach. These may be due to heat or cold damaging the stomach, or because the stomach energy is blocked. In all these cases, acupuncture is helpful in restoring the stomach to its’ proper function so that digestion problems and symptoms are resolved.
Research has shown that physical activity improves symptoms in patients with IBS and is protective against symptom deterioration. A recent demonstration of this has been provided by a study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Also, an experiment in the use of electro-acupuncture (in which a small electrical shock is delivered via the acupuncture needle) was conducted on dogs causing their stomachs to empty faster. This is the first clear evidence that acupuncture is actually able to directly affect the function of the bowel and suggests that it may very well be useful in treating IBS.