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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Dan Shen and Tan Xiang

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is among the world’s most common health conditions, with 15-25 percent of the U.S. population struggling with it. IBS is characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits – either constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms tend to emerge in teenagers or young adults, and they are chronic.

These symptoms can also cause significant quality of life issues, so patients are driven to explore all of their treatment options. For many patients, that includes Chinese medicinal herbs like Dan Shen and Tan Xiang.

IBS: A Difficult Condition to Diagnose and Treat

IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion. In other words, there isn’t a single test or symptom that can be used to confirm IBS. Other conditions must be ruled out first. This can make for a frustrating, and extended, diagnostic process. And for a large number of patients, the frustration continues during treatment.

Lifestyle adjustments such as dietary changes, better sleep maintenance, and less stress are a necessary part of IBS treatment. Allopathic physicians may prescribe medication, including anticholinergics, antidepressants and analgesics. These medications come with side effects and their efficacy is limited in many. More research is needed, but IBS appears to be a highly individualized disorder.

How Chinese Medicine Addresses Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Chinese medicine is ideal for resolving difficult-to-pinpoint symptoms like abdominal pain and GI upset. That’s because Chinese medicine treats the body as an interconnected network of systems, rather than compartmentalized organs. Houston practitioners know that dysfunction in one organ can disrupt others, and that how energy flows through the body can also affect health.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, IBS is frequently the result of blood stagnation (poor circulation) or qi stagnation (poor energy flow). By improving the quality of blood and energy flow, practitioners aim to balance out the body and better regulate functions like digestion.

To do this, Houston practitioners rely on a number of herbal therapies, including Dan Shen and Tan Xiang. Both have been used for GI dysfunction for centuries, and they’re particularly effective together. Dan Shen (red sage) is a slightly cool herb that’s used to reverse blood stagnation. Tan Xiang (sandalwood) is a warm herb that’s used to invigorate the qi and help it flow better through qi channels – also termed meridians. Together, these herbs can attack two common reasons for IBS, providing patients with relief.

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Using A Combination Of Eastern and Western Medicine To Relieve IBS
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Acupuncture and Herbal Therapy Can Relieve a Variety of Irritable Bowel Symptoms

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is quickly becoming one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders in the west. According to epidemiological data published in 2015, between 10 and 20 percent of western adults suffer from the condition. The causes underlying Irritable Bowel Syndrome are still being researched, but it seems that stress and nervous system dysregulation are at least two contributing factors.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome can have a severely negative impact on quality of life, especially among patients with severe symptoms, like intense abdominal pain and cramping.

Acupuncture and herbal therapies, though, can alleviate these symptoms to an extent. Some patients regard acupuncture as a primary form of relief. As IBS can be extremely stubborn to treat, more and more physicians are regarding eastern modalities, such as acupuncture, as worth exploring.

What Does the Medical Research Say About Eastern Medicine and IBS?

Several studies back the use of acupuncture and herbal therapy in Irritable Bowel Syndrome patients. Some of those studies include:

  • A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. This study considered 230 patients and divided the patients into two groups. A third control group was also involved. One of the experimental groups received true acupuncture, while a second experimental groups received sham acupuncture (or acupuncture at different acupuncture points).

    The researchers found that though there wasn’t much difference between the two experimental groups, there was a significant difference between both acupuncture groups and the control group – which didn’t receive acupuncture. This either points to a powerful placebo effect, or to the pain and cramp-relieving effects that many other studies have demonstrated with the treatment.
  • A 2006 study published in Gut. Interestingly, this study showed similar outcomes to the 2009 Am J Gastro study. This one only considered 43 patients, but both groups that received some form of acupuncture benefited significantly more than the control group.
  • A 2014 meta-analysis published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. This analysis considered six studies – five of which met high quality standards. After reviewing the data, which included more than 600 patients, the researchers concluded that acupuncture provides statistically significant control of IBS symptoms.
  • A 2017 study published in Electronic Physician. This study considered herbal therapies only and looked at an array of herbs and their ability to relieve IBS symptoms. The researchers concluded that several types of herbs could provide relief with abdominal pain, gastrointestinal motility and help with inflammation.

The medical research behind acupuncture, herbal therapy and Irritable Bowel Syndrome is still being developed, but the early results show that they are promising tools in the fight against the condition.

How Do Acupuncture and Herbal Therapy Help with IBS Symptoms?

While the underlying mechanism isn’t completely known, researchers have some strong theories as to how acupuncture can help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Acupuncture is a known nervous system stimulator. When practitioners insert needles close to high traffic nerve pathways, it’s possible that this stimulates the nervous system into releasing endorphins and other brain-boosting chemicals. This could account for acupuncture’s pain-relieving effects, as endorphins suppress pain expressions and improve mood. It’s also possible that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system into healing the body and reducing inflammation.

Although the exact biochemical processes are still being researched, it’s clear that acupuncture may help patients with the following symptoms: 

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Motility-related issues, like constipation and diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating

While IBS medications are getting better at treating the condition, many IBS patients still have difficulty treating their condition. Eastern medicine may be better suited to the task for some people, as eastern modalities address whole-body health instead of targeting a particular organ or treatment pathway.

The number of acupuncturists is growing rapidly in the U.S. and will likely top 10,000 providers in the next five years. Given the rise of acupuncture in America, it’s easier than ever to find a practitioner – but it’s critical that you target a licensed practitioner for your acupuncture.

Why is licensing important for acupuncturists? For the same reason that certification is important for physicians. A licensed acupuncturist is educated in the safe, effective delivery of acupuncture and other eastern modalities, including herbal therapy.

A licensed acupuncturist adheres to stringent sanitary standards, such as using single-use needles and preparing the patient’s skin prior to needle application. This minimizes the risk of infection and other adverse effects (bleeding and pain, mostly), which is already low to begin with. In fact, that’s one of acupuncture’s major advantages – the risk of complications is much lower than it is with drug therapy.

When Combined with Other Modalities, Acupuncture and Herbal Therapies are Effective Adjuncts for IBS

Acupuncture and herbal therapies can be effective support modalities – or adjuncts – for IBS patients. However, researchers do point out that acupuncture and herbal formulas are best placed in an adjunct role and not as a primary form treatment.

Given this, many Irritable Bowel Syndrome patients would benefit most from a practitioner who can provide both western and eastern forms of treatment. Practitioners licensed in both areas can provide complementary therapies, which minimizes the likelihood of adverse effects and optimizes the results of treatment.

If you’re considering acupuncture or herbs for IBS in Houston, a board-certified Houston doctor who is also licensed in acupuncture can provide the optimal mix of east and west for a more well-rounded treatment plan.

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