Acupuncture Works

GastroIntestinal Health and Disease

Chinese medicine ascribes the Stomach and Spleen a central role in health. If you cannot assimilate the foods you eat then your health will be affected. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) places special focus on restoring and regulating the normal digestive functions of the Stomach and Spleen. The Spleen in Chinese Medicine is the activities of the pancreas not the Spleen in Western Medicine where it is the organ responsible to clean the blood of defective red blood cells.

The Classic states: “When the spleen is healthy it can generate all living things. If it becomes depleted, it can bring about the hundred diseases.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy states that the majority of diseases that human kind suffers from are caused by our emotions, many gastrointestinal disorders are often associated with emotional stress. The stomach can be affected by external pathogens like H. Pylori the bacterium responsible for gastric ulcers, GI Flu viral gastroenteritis, and drug induced gastrointestinal issues.

There can be functional changes due to longstanding chronic poor eating habits, eating foods that simply do not agree with your system and the use of excessive alcohol or any substance that can cause GI complaints.

According to the Five-Element Theory of traditional Chinese medicine, these conditions have excess fire lodging in the Liver and the Stomach, and the symptoms are typical of wood (liver) overacting on earth Stomach).

Western Medicine:

Traditional Western Medical practice works at treating the symptomology: Antacids (such as Maalox and Mylanta) neutralize stomach acid, have a quick onset of action but only a short duration. Histamine-2 antagonists Zantac (Ranitidine) and Tagamet (Cimetidine) have potent effect and medium duration of action and are well tolerated in most cases. However, they inhibit liver metabolism, and may cause drug-drug and drug-herb interactions and must be monitored carefully. Proton-pump inhibitors Prilosec (Omeprazole) and Protonix (Pantoprazole) have potent and irreversible effect to inhibit production of stomach acid. Unfortunately, prolonged use may cause atrophic gastritis, and in laboratory studies, stomach cancer in animal subjects.

Even though these drugs are effects to reduce stomach acid and treat several gastrointestinal conditions, they must be prescribed and monitored carefully. They also carry a risk of unwanted side effects. Also consider if you take a drug that blocks the production of stomach acid this will affect the way in which your body digests and assimilates food, this can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Take the commercials where someone complains that they cannot eat the greasy fat and meat laden sub sandwich, and then a friend suggests taking this popular acid reducer. It does not make logical sense to take a drug so you can continue to eat the wrong things and further harm your health. THINK ABOUT IT!

TCM by targeting both symptoms and causes, herbs achieve short and long term success to treat many gastrointestinal disorders. However, herbs do have their limitations. In cases of severe peptic ulcers, herbs are not as potent as, and do not last as long as, proton-pump inhibitors. In acute cases of profuse gastrointestinal bleeding are medical emergencies, and require immediate medical intervention. Use of herbs is not recommended in these two scenarios. It is also very important to also look at life style choices and to make changes to your diet and habits to achieve optimal health. If Herbal medicines are used as Western drugs then you will still have the problems.

Gastrointestinal disorders are treated by TCM with herbal formulas that according to numerous clinical studies, neutralize stomach acid, decrease production and secretion of stomach acid, relieve pain, kill H. pylori, and in severe cases of bleeding ulcers, stop bleeding (caution here severe gastric bleeding requires emergency care herbal medicine can be used for after care. Acupuncture can restore the normal function of the digestive organs.

Stomach or Gastric Disorders

Anatomy and Physiology in brief:

The stomach is located between the esophagus and the small intestine. It is where digestion of protein begins. The stomach is an amazing organ in that it secrets hydrochloric acid and at the same time must protect itself from this acid by secreting an alkaline mucus to protect the lining. There are cells that secret pepsin which is an enzyme that breaks down protein, also secreted is the hormone gastrin that signals the parietal cells in the stomach lining to secret hydrochloric acid especially after you start eating and aids in gastric/stomach motion. The stomach has three tasks. It stores swallowed food. It mixes the food with stomach acids. Then it sends the mixture on to the small intestine.

You should seek Western Medical advice and or treatment if you have any of the following:

  1. Blood when you have a bowel movement
  2. Severe abdominal pain
  3. Recurrent heartburn not relieved by antacids
  4. Unintended weight loss
  5. Ongoing vomiting or diarrhea

Abdominal Pain – The Bellyache

The abdomen extends from below the lower sternum to the pubic bone and groin. Some people call this entire area the stomach. The abdomen contains many other important organs than just the stomach. Pain in the abdomen can come from any organ contained within the abdomen. The pain may start somewhere else, such as your chest and this could be from a gallstone. Severe pain doesn’t always mean a serious problem. Nor does mild pain mean a problem is not serious.

Please seek out your healthcare provider if the pain lasts a week or more or if you have pain with other symptoms listed below please get immediate medical help if:

  1. You have abdominal pain that is sudden and sharp
  2. You also have pain in your chest, neck or shoulder
  3. You’re vomiting blood or have blood in your stool
  4. Your abdomen is stiff, hard and tender to touch
  5. You can’t move your bowels, especially if you’re also vomiting


Dysentery, the runs, the trots, the Hershey’s squirts just to name a few colloquiums.

Diarrhea is frequent loose, watery stools for more than three times in one day; accompanied with cramping, bloating, nausea and an urgent need to have a bowel movement. Diarrhea is considered chronic or long-term when there are loose or frequent stools for more than 4 weeks.

Causes of diarrhea include certain bacteria like E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridia (C-Dif) or viruses like the Norwalk virus also known as traveler’s diarrhea or parasites like Giardia lamblia found in untreated water supplies or from contaminated rivers and streams, certain medicines (antibiotics), food intolerances (lactose intolerance)and diseases that affect the stomach, small intestine or colon. In many cases, no cause can be found.

Although usually not harmful, diarrhea can become dangerous or is a sign of a more serious problem. You should talk to your doctor if you have a strong pain in your abdomen or rectum, a fever, blood and/or pus in your stools, severe diarrhea for more than three days or symptoms of dehydration. If your child has diarrhea, do not hesitate to call the doctor for advice. Diarrhea can be dangerous in children.

The most common cause of diarrhea is viral gastroenteritis an intestinal infection caused by several different viruses of which the most notably one is the noroviruses. It is highly contagious and common on cruise ships. Viral gastroenteritis condition is often called the stomach flu but it is not caused by the flu virus. Viral gastroenteritis often occurs in mini-epidemics in schools, neighborhoods, or families.

Food poisoning and traveler’s diarrhea are two other common causes of diarrhea. They occur as a result of eating food or drinking water contaminated with bacteria or parasites.

Medications, especially antibiotics, laxatives containing magnesium, the over use of vitamins containing magnesium or vitamin c above two grams, and chemotherapy for cancer treatment, can also cause diarrhea.

The following medical conditions can also lead to diarrhea:

  1. Malabsorption syndromes such as lactose intolerance
  2. Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  3. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  4. Celiac disease
  5. Gastric banding or bypass surgery

Emergency Situations:

Seek medical care and advice if:

  1. You have blood or pus in your stools or your stool is black
  2. You have abdominal pain that is not relieved by a bowel movement
  3. You have symptoms of dehydration
  4. You have a fever above 101°F, or your child has a fever above 100.4°F, along with diarrhea
  5. You have oily-looking foul smelling stools
  6. You have recently traveled to a foreign country
  7. You have eaten with other people who also have diarrhea
  8. You have started on a new medication
  9. Your diarrhea does not get better in 5 days (2 days for an infant or child),or worsens before that
  10. Your child has been vomiting for more than 12 hours (in a newborn under 3 months you should call as soon as vomiting or diarrhea begins)


  1. Wash your hands often, especially after going to the bathroom and before eating.
  2. Teach children to not put objects in their mouth.
  3. When taking antibiotics, use a probiotics two hours before or after taking the antibiotic this goes for yogurts too. The antibiotic will kill the healthy bacteria. There is a specialized probiotics like Florastor ® or Jarrow-Dophilus that helps maintain the balance of good bacteria in your intestines and is safe to take with other medicines.
  4. Wash your hands!!! or Use alcohol-based hand gel frequently.

Traveling to underdeveloped areas, follow the steps below to avoid diarrhea:

  1. Drink only bottled water and DO NOT use ice.
  2. DO NOT eat uncooked vegetables or fruit that do not have peels.
  3. DO NOT eat raw shellfish or undercooked meat.
  4. DO NOT consume dairy products.
  5. Use alcohol-based hand gel frequently.

Pruritus Ani: Itching around the anal area

This condition results in a compelling urge to scratch the anus. Pruritus ani is a symptom, not a final diagnosis. There are several causative factors responsible for anal itching. Excessive moisture around the anal area may be due to perspiration or a small amount of residual stool around the anal area. Pruritis ani may be a symptom of other common anal conditions such as hemorrhoids and anal fissures. The initial condition can be made worse by scratching, vigorous cleansing of the area especially with soaps or overuse of topical treatments.

This condition is often associated with allergic reactions to or from a specific condition(s):

  • Soaps
  • Mushrooms are a major cause of anal itching
  • Powers either perfumed or not
  • Deodorants
  • Beer and wine
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Citrus fruits
  • Vitamin C
  • Coffee and Tea
  • Berries
  • Shelled sea foods
  • Fermented foods
  • Cheese
  • Tomatoes and tomato products
  • Smoking
  • Anal intercourse with inadequate lubrication
  • Certain lubricants
  • Latex condoms
  • Lice
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Pinworms
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Fungus infection
  • Yeast infection
  • Anal fissures

Cleanliness is a major factor and results from too little or too much cleaning. The natural tendency once an anal itch develops is to scratch and wash the area vigorously and frequently with soap and a washrag or sponge. This makes the problem worse by damaging the skin protecting the anus and washing away protective natural oils.

A gastroenterologist may identify a definite cause. A physician can recommend treatment to eliminate the specific problem.

Traditional Chinese Medicine defines this as damp head in the Large Intestines and is best treated with dietary modification and herbal medicines that can affect the cause.

Treatment is simple:

Prevent moisture in the anal area:

  • Keep the area dry and clean of fecal matter, avoid all soaps, medicated, perfumed and deodorant powders.

Prevent trauma to the delicate tissue of the anus to the affected area:

  • Soap of any kind on the anal area will cause irritation and excessive dryness of the tissues by washing away the natural skin oils. Do not scrub the anal area with anything this includes toilet paper.
  • The best anal hygiene is to rinse the anal area with warm water and pat the area dry. Use wet toilet paper, baby wipes or a wet washcloth to blot the area clean. Never rub. Witch-hazel is good as well.
  • Try not to scratch the itchy area. This may seem impossible but continuing to scratch produces more damage and this leads to more itching and makes the itching worse this is a viscous cycle.
  • Apply prescription medications sparingly to the skin around the anal area and avoid rubbing. Prolonged use of prescribed or over the counter topical medications may result in irritation or skin dryness that can make the condition worse.

Reference and Resources:

Anatomy of the Stomach 

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) Viral Gastroenteritis

Clinical Manual of Oriental Medicine 2nd Edition, Dr. John Chen PharmD Lotus Institute of Integrative Medicine

Biomedicine A Textbook for Practitioners of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine By Bruce H. Robinson, MD 2007 BluePoppy Press Boulder, Colorado

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