Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional gut issue in the world and in Australia it is thought to affect an estimated 30% of us. It is more common in females and can occur at any age, although tends to occur before 40 years of age.1
Let’s outline what IBS is, how it is diagnosed and treated with modern medicine and how Chinese medicine may be a fantastic approach for you.
What Exactly is IBS?
IBS is a group of intestinal symptoms that usually occur at the same time. The symptoms can range from a mild niggle to pretty awful, making day to day life difficult and miserable. Modern medicine recognises three main types of IBS:
- Constipation dominant (IBS-C)
- Diarrhoea dominant (IBS-D)
- Mixed bowel habits (IBS-M) – this type is both constipation and diarrhoea
The abnormal bowel movements are often accompanied by gas, bloating and cramping. The longer the IBS symptoms go on, the more impact they have on overall wellbeing, affecting mood, energy, sleep, socialising and can really restrict food choices. IBS can even lead to anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of understanding of IBS in modern medicine. The diagnosis is made usually just by ruling out other causes of the symptoms such as inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis, or an infection. A doctor can carry out blood tests, analyse a stool sample or perform a colonoscopy which can check for any diseases.
IBS symptoms may be triggered by food intolerances, general diet, stress, some medications and changes in gut bacteria, but there is a difficulty in diagnosing the condition as the triggers differ for everyone. The notion that gut bacteria contributes to IBS symptoms is exciting and there is more and more scientific research being undertaken on this.
Many people report that their symptoms become worse during periods of emotional stress, so they may be related to our sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) sides of the nervous system, and also the connection between our gut and brain.
If we endure stress for an extended period of time, our nervous system defaults to fight or flight and our body stays in a state of hyper-vigilance, with less energy available for aiding recovery and improving digestion. This leads to a poorer digestive system, leading to imbalances in gut flora. It can quickly become a vicious cycle as digestion is further affected and become a contributor to stress.
How is IBS Treated?
As there is a lack of clarity around IBS, there isn’t a universally accepted treatment. It really depends on who you see for your condition, but some of the more well-known options include:
● Pharmaceuticals like laxatives or anti-diarrheals
● Treating infections in the gut with antimicrobials (pharmaceutical and/or herbal)
● Diet changes, particularly FODMAP restrictions (carbohydrates that are difficult to absorb in the gut)
● Probiotics to benefit gut flora
● Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
● Stress management techniques
A lot of people suffer with IBS symptoms for years without significant improvement and can become more and more sensitive to certain foods and therefore continuing to restrict foods.
Using Acupuncture to Treat IBS
In China acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and modern pharmaceuticals are successfully used to deal with IBS and other digestive issues. Chinese medicine takes a very holistic approach to health and wellbeing, treating the entire body as a whole. A focus on digestion is one specific function in the body that is often part of Chinese medicine, regardless of the problem or the symptoms.
Digestive issues have been addressed by traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. A great advantage of Chinese medicine is that it gives a very individualised approach to healing. Chinese medicine clinics in Australia, like Village Remedies, have drawn on this knowledge and are available to treat your IBS symptoms. Firstly, a practitioner will do a general health assessment, and gather information about your health and lifestyle history and about symptoms, both your current IBS related symptoms and other possible symptoms such as sleep patterns, stress levels, pain and energy.
A treatment plan of acupuncture will be devised, along with Chinese herbal medicine where appropriate. The plan is to relieve symptoms and also restore a healthy digestive system that functions as well as possible.
When the energy flow, or ‘“qi” throughout the body becomes disrupted, it can lead to illness and disease. Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needs into specific acupuncture points on the body to release blocked energy and correct imbalances. The needles help remove the blockages and also stimulate the nervous system and that may relieve pain, stress and other IBS symptoms. Acupuncture points may include those along the stomach and large intestine. Acupuncture is painless and there are very little or no side effects at all.
Don’t live with the uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms of IBS any longer. Contact a registered and experienced Chinese Medicine clinic and discuss a treatment plan that suits you.