Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS

Acupuncture, herbal therapies combined with western medicine are helpful in alleviating the symptoms of IBS by calming down the nervous system.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and IBS:

Modern Chinese medical literature classifies IBS as a disharmony between the liver, kidney and spleen with stagnation or deficiency of Spleen Qi. This is brought on by emotional stress and frustration, worry, lack of exercise, over fatigue, & improper diet.

The spleen in Chinese medicine is the organ of digestion and is responsible for the transportation and transformation of the solid and liquids we ingest. When the spleen is not working optimally its function is altered leading to a range of disorders namely accumulation of dampness which impairs the spleens other functions of producing ying qi or nutrient qi, this qi produces blood and supports all physiological activities.

Spleen qi is the energy qi of the body and this is the first qi to be affected by damage to the spleen. Deficient spleen qi and blood leads to pathology of the entire body in this case the small intestines. The final pathologic consequence of impaired spleen qi is dampness a pathologic condition that blocks the normal flow of qi leading to distress and disease. The concept of emotional stress affecting our bodies is a major reason people have disease. In relation to IBS the depression of liver qi affects the gastrointestinal tract causing gas, bloating, headaches, dull pain under the ribs, acid stomach feelings

Acute IBS begins with disharmonies or pathologies of the liver, spleen, and stomach. In chronic IBS the kidney yang is affected leading to disharmonies and deficiency of the spleen and kidney this is due to the kidney yang inability to warm the spleen and the body. Alternative Names for IBS: Nervous indigestion; Spastic colon; Intestinal neurosis; Functional colitis; Irritable colon; mucous colitis, and Laxative colitis. [3, 5, 6]

Acupuncture along with Chinese herbal medicine can be very helpful in alleviating the symptoms by calming down the nervous system and regulating the disharmonies.

Making an effort to get regular exercise, eating a more healthful balanced diet, and working on your psychology to get in touch with the emotions that are causing your symptoms are all necessary to get this condition under control.

Western Medical Perspective of IBS:

Irritable bowel syndrome involves a combination of abdominal pain and alternating constipation and diarrhea. There are many possible causes. For instance, there may be a problem with muscle movement in the intestine or a lower tolerance for stretching and movement of the intestine. There is no problem in the structure of the intestine.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can occur at any age, but often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. It is more common in women. Risk factors may include a low-fiber diet, emotional stress, use of laxatives, having had infectious diarrhea, or other temporary bowel inflammation.

Though the exact cause is unknown, it has been found that emotional factors, diet, drugs, or hormones often precipitate or aggravate the condition. Optimal treatment, therefore, must focus on alleviating the gastrointestinal symptoms and eliminating the factors that trigger the bowel irritation. [6]


  • Chronic and frequent diarrhea, usually accompanied by pain
  • Chronic and frequent constipation, usually accompanied by pain
  • Abdominal pain or tenderness
  • Following meals
  • Relieved by bowel movement
  • Intermittent
  • Abdominal fullness, gas, bloating
  • Abdominal distention
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Emotional distress
  • Depression

Use of acupuncture and herbs is effective to treat various gastrointestinal disorders. Not only to control the symptoms, but often can promote a change in the underlying constitution of the body to achieve long-term results. In fact, most patients remain symptom free for at least several months after the herbs are discontinued. [4]

Most drug treatments focus on relieving symptoms. Anticholinergic drugs [such as Pro-Banthine (Propantheline)], tranquilizers [such as Librium (Chlordiazepoxide)], and sedatives [such as Phenobarbital] are frequently given to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms and to calm the patients. [4]

People with depression are treated with antidepressants, and ones with diarrhea are treated with antidiarrheals. While this discussion of drug treatment is an over simplification, it illustrates that these drugs only treat symptoms, and not the cause, of irritable bowel syndrome. Therefore, though they offer short-term effectiveness, symptoms often flare up again once the drugs are discontinued. [4]

It is generally believed that nervousness contributes to irritable bowel syndrome. Many people with IBS have a history of either parasitic infection, early traumas including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. [2]

The disorder is sometimes called intestinal neurosis. Bowel problems are amplified during times of emotional distress, but the irritability of the nerves affecting the intestinal muscles may be brought on by other factors as yet undetermined. [2]

Dietary constituents have been suggested as a possible problem, the results of investigations have been mixed. Certainly, food allergens may trigger bouts of spasm and diarrhea. A high fat meal induces discharge of bile from the gallbladder, which stimulates intestinal peristalsis: in persons who tend to get intestinal spasms, this might be enough to trigger the response. [2]


[1] National Digestive Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) A service of the National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) National Institutes of Health

[2] TREATMENT OF IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME WITH CHINESE HERBS By Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute For Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon

[3] The Treatment of Modern Western Diseases with Chinese Medicine, A Text Book and Clinical Manual. Bob Flaws and Phillippe Sionneau. Pp 313- 316 Blue Poppy Press 2001.

[4] Lotus Institute of Integrative Medicine Clinical manual of oriental Medicine 2nd edition, By Dr John Chen PharmD

[5] Essentials of Chinese Medicine: Internal Medicine By Anshen Shi ©2003

[6] IBS: U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20894