A Acupuncture & Chinese Herbal Medicine Clinic
Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome
with Acupuncture and Herbal Remedy
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder involving the intestines that is associated with
variable degrees of abdominal pain, constipation, and/or diarrhea as a reaction of stress. Many
patients with IBS have alternation constipation and diarrhea. It is estimated that 10-20% of all
Canadian adults experience symptoms of IBS, and patients with IBS account for half of all doctor visits
for gastrointestinal complaints. IBS affects three times as many women as men and, after the common
cold, is the next most common cause of missed school and work.
What causes it?
No one knows why some people develop heightened sensitivity of the GI tract, but researchers are
working on the theory that there are direct links between the GI tract and the central nervous system.
Such a brain-gut connection would explain why emotional upsets affect the intestines and why
intestinal symptoms affect the mood.
How Acupuncture treats IBS?
Unfortunately many people experience side effects from any or all of the types of Western drugs used
to treat this condition. The good news is that Chinese medicine has been proven to treat IBS safely
and effectively. Unlike some conditions the Chinese medical literature is virtually unanimous in it’s
description of the Chinese medical mechanisms of this disorder. All Chinese sources say that this
condition is due to liver depression and Qi stagnation with spleen Qi deficiency. Liver depression is
primarily due to stress. However, the incidence and severity of the liver depression tends to be greater
in women because women are more prone to blood deficiency and blood deficiency can also cause or
aggravate liver depression. Spleen deficiency is due to overeating sugars and sweets, too much
thinking, too much fatigue, and too little physical exercise. Chinese medicine refers to this kind of joint
liver-spleen disorder a liver-spleen disharmony. If this liver is depressed and the spleen is deficiency,
a number of other complications can arise. The main ones in IBS patients are the creation of damp
turbidity, damp heat, and/or blood stasis. In addition, patients in their 40s or older may develop a
spleen-kidney Yang deficiency due to spleen disease reaching the kidney. Because there are a
number of possible complicated pattern IBS sufferers may present, the first step in being treated with
Chinese medicine is to get a personal pattern discrimination from a qualified professional practitioner.
While every IBS patient sufferers from a liver-spleen disharmony, most also have one or more other
patterns complicating this core mechanism.
After doing individualized pattern discrimination, a practitioner may chose to treat this condition with
acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, or a combination of both. In additional, they will certainly also
adjust the diet and lifestyle. Foods that damage the spleen need to be avoided, and the person usually
needs to learn better relaxation skills. If acupuncture is the main method of choice, the patient may be
suggested to receive two treatments per week for several weeks and then one treatment per week for
several weeks and then one treatment per week for several weeks more. If Chinese herbs are
prescribed, these may consist of modern desiccated, powdered extracts or bulk herbs brewed and
drunk as tea several times per day. Exactly what method of administration and what combination of
Chinese therapies is chosen will depend on the training and preference of each individual practitioner.
The proof is in!
A large amount of research has been done on the Chinese medical treatment of IBS. For instance, Dr.
Chen Weidi, writing in the Shanghai Journal of Chinese Medicine (#3, 1992), reports on his treatment
of 120 IBS patients with Chinese herbs. Eight-one of these patients experienced a complete cure,
while another 31 got a good result. Typically, these results came with 24-26 days of taking Chinese
herbs. Dr.Yin treated another 33 cases with a similar Chinese herbal regime and acupuncture. Of
these 18 cases got a marked effect and 10 got some effect for a total amelioration rate of 84.8%. The
comparison group receiving a Western drug only got a 58.3% improvement rate. Likewise, Dr. Hong
treated 156 cases of IBS with an herbal formula and achieved a total amelioration rate of 91%. In this
study, 62 cases were cured, 80 improved, and only 14 got no effect. There are only three of scores of
research reports on IBS published in the last 10 years, all of which proved Chinese medicine is effective for