Can TCM help me manage my IBS?

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We’ve all been there. Maybe you had a greasy diner meal, or maybe you just have a sensitive stomach. Either way, you’re outside your home and you have to use the bathroom– and fast.  Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can strike at the most unfortunate times, and even prevent people from leaving their homes. You then go to see professional help and you get a diagnosis of IBS. What is it and what can you do about it?

There are three main types of IBS: IBS-C, or constipation, IBS-d, or diarrhea, and IBM-M, or mixed bowel habits, such as a combination of both constipation and diarrhea. In addition to those two symptoms, other effects of IBS can include abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, gas, incomplete bowel movements, and mucus in the stool. 

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, IBS can stem from one of many “disharmonies.”  The two main digestive organs in TCM are the stomach which is involved in R&R (rotting and ripening) and the spleen which in TCM is involved in T&T (transportation and transformation). Typically, IBS is a reflection of disharmony between these two organs.  Of course, there are other organ systems to factor in. For instance, when stress is a contributing factor towards IBS, the liver is most likely overacting on the spleen.  In addition to stress, there are many other possible contributing factors to IBS, such as lifestyle, diet, family history, history of mental illness, bacterial infections, food intolerances, and hormonal factors.  We’ve only recently begun to understand the vast array of microorganisms that are hosted in our gut, and research is still being done on how these microorganisms affect our overall digestive and immune health.

In TCM, we use a combination of acupuncture and herbs to treat and manage the symptoms of IBS. At ORA, we utilize herbs as they are effective in alleviating bloating, decrease gas, and harmonize digestion in between acupuncture treatments. Other TCM treatments include sliding cupping along the small and large intestine, which can increase peristalsis and alleviate abdominal discomfort and bloating. Additionally, e-stim on the abdomen, which is achieved through acupuncture needles on specific acupoints, can signal a strong response to the nervous system. This releases more serotonin in the gut, which can help improve intestinal motility and potentially restore proper digestive function. 

For IBS, the acupuncture points used include st36 (for mixed bowel habits), st-25 (for constipation), and sp 15 (for diarrhea). In addition to TCM, we recommend working with a team of medical professionals, such as a gastroenterologist or a registered dietitian, to find your triggers. 

Self-massage is also a great way to help manage IBS symptoms. Here’s how to do it: 

  • Begin by taking the pads of your 4 fingers (excluding the thumb) and massage in slow circular motions around the belly button. Start on the right side and work your way up and around the umbilicus in a clockwise motion; this will help to stimulate the small intestine. 
  • For the large intestine, you should begin with circular motions at the lower right quadrant which is located directly over your right hip point. From that point, you should work your way up the ascending colon (which is located on the lateral right side of your abdomen, between your right hip point and the right side of your rib cage).  
  • Once you’ve finished massaging the ascending colon, you’ll be at the upper right quadrant under the right rib cage.  
  • Keep massaging, slowly, until you’ve reached the upper left quadrant under the left rib cage.  Now you’ll be at the descending colon.  
  • Complete the massage by making slow circles down the left side of your abdomen, and finish once you get to your lower left hip point. This massage may stimulate the release of gas or a bowel movement – which is what we’re looking for! 

It might be uncomfortable to talk about – but IBS is something that affects millions of people. Instead of accepting your fate and suffering through your symptoms, consider getting relief and managing your IBS with TCM.