Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chinese Acupuncture
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects up to one in five people at some point in their lives. It is most likely to develop during the early adult years and you have a higher risk of developing IBS if you are a woman.
A disease is health condition that has a clearly defined cause; IBS is not a disease, it is classified as a ‘syndrome’ which means it is an umbrella term for a cluster of symptoms with no discernible cause. People diagnosed with IBS can have a range of digestive symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, excessive wind and constipation or diarrhoea. The symptoms of IBS can vary from episode to episode, and from person to person but frequently an IBS flare up will be triggered by some kind of emotion
As the syndrome has no underlying cause, medications prescribed or bought over the counter to ease the symptoms are unable to ‘cure’ the syndrome itself. Acupuncture can be an effective treatment; the ancient theories can explain the relationship between emotional stress and the physical symptoms of IBS. Acupuncture treatment for IBS aims to calm the mind and increase resilience to emotional stress while simultaneously improving the digestion.
To use the terminology of Chinese Medicine, IBS may be caused by a disharmony between the Wood and Earth Elements. The Wood Element is responsible for movement, whether physical movement of the body or substances within the body, or free-flow of emotions. If the Wood energy is depleted, it will result in lowered emotional resilience and a lack of free movement in the system resulting in a sense of stagnation in the system both at the physical or emotional level. The Earth Element is closely related to the bodily functions of digestion and the ability to transform food into substances that the body can use. Earth energy is easily disturbed by stress, overwork, worry and poor diet. The Wood and Earth Elements have a very close relationship in the processes of digestion, when either one, or both of these energies is out of kilter a plethora of symptoms can be generated relating to the movement of substances through the digestive system.
As part of the diagnostic processes associated with Chinese Acupuncture, a full history will be taken to try to ascertain a pattern in the symptoms and signs. This information will be evaluated alongside physical signs, pulse diagnosis and tongue diagnosis to determine the best course of action for your specific situation. Acupuncture treatment can help restore the correct balance between these Elemental energies and improve the digestion; additional points are usually incorporated to help calm the mind and reduce stress.
Many IBS sufferers seek to manage their symptoms through diet, but there are several other things that you can do to improve your outlook:
Gentle exercise such as walking can help to relieve stress. Regular walking can also help to stimulate a healthy bowel movement and alleviate constipation.
Mindfulness and meditation are brilliant tools to help to build emotional resilience and make you feel stronger and calmer in yourself.
Avoid drinking ice-cold drinks as cold drinks put an additional, unnecessary strain on the digestive system; try to stick to drinking liquids that are room temperature or warmer.
If acid reflux is one of your symptoms, try taking a spoonful of unpasteurised apple cider vinegar with a glass of water first thing in the morning. It can help to soothe the inflammation caused by acid reflux and is thought to help replenish the flora of your stomach.
Try to get more sleep which can also improve your resilience to stress and emotional flares. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your acupuncturist for some help!
Alexandra O’Connor Lic Ac MBAcC FEA
Holicity Acupuncture, Maldon & Burnham Osteopathic Clinic, Burnham-on-Crouch