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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Acupuncture

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:03am

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is an increasingly common digestive complaint.People with IBS suffer from abdominal pain, cramping or discomfort, along with diarrhea, constipation, or both.They may also experience a number of other gastrointestinal symptoms.Peopleoften feel worse when under physical or emotional stress, before or during the menstrual period, although sometimes the disorder seems to have a completely illogical life of its own.

In Western medicine, IBS is considered a “functional disorder” - meaning there is no observable physical problem in the digestive system.It is thought to be some form of miscommunication between the brain, peripheral nervous system, and digestive organs, which messes up the regulation of digestive functions.This is actually good news, because functional disorders of this type usually respond very well to acupuncture.

In Chinese medical thought, IBS almost always involves an imbalance between the Liver and the Spleen.The Spleen is considered responsible for “transformation and transportation” of qi - that is, taking in food, converting it to energy, and supplying that energy to the body.The Liver’s job is to keep energy flowing smoothly through the body so that all organ systems can work efficiently.

There is a close relationship between the Spleen and Liver: when Liver qi is not flowing smoothly, its tendency is to build up until it lashes out sideways at the Spleen, disrupting the activities of digestion.(Most of us have seen this in our daily lives, whether it’s losing one’s appetite when depressed, craving sweets under stress, or experiencing anxiety that causes diarrhea, constipation, or both.)Chinese medicine devotes a lot of attention to balancing this relationship, a treatment strategy known as “harmonizing the Liver and Spleen”.

IBS is one of the most commonly treated conditions in my practice.I have found that nearly everyone responds very well to acupuncture treatment, even those with severe or long-standing symptoms.Many people also report improvements in anxiety or depression, sleep issues, fatigue, headaches, or menstrual pain, all of which may also be caused by a liver/spleen imbalance.

Besides acupuncture and herbs, other things that help are exercise, stress management, and regular eating habits.Here’s a great website with lots of information on this condition and how to manage it. Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.

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