Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is an ever increasing problem suffered by many people. It represents a group of digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea. According to Western medicine IBS does not represent a specific disease. It is not considered to be caused by a virus, bacteria or specific food intolerances. Usually symptoms develop over a lengthy period of time and the reason as to why can be a bit of a mystery. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) however has quite a different take on the matter.
TCM Approach to beat the bloat
Liver Qi Stagnation
According to TCM the Liver plays a crucial role in digestion. Normally the Liver will provide support to the digestive process. If the energy or Qi (pronounced “chee”) of the Liver becomes blocked or stagnant, which could happen due to prolonged stress or perhaps hormonal imbalances, it can cause considerable disruption to the digestion. The Liver is said to “invade” the stomach and create pressure rather than support it. This literally causes stress in the gut which can create pain, bloating and alternating diarrhoea and constipation.
IBS symptoms, particularly during an acute phase, can often mimic those of gastro or flu like symptoms. These may include; urgent diarrhoea, muscle aches, fatigue and nausea. However these symptoms are usually ongoing and when blood tests are done no apparent pathogen appears in the system. This is a common story. However upon investigation it may be determined that in the past a virus or bacteria had been contracted and resulted in severe digestive disruption. The original infection appears to have been dealt with by the immune system or antibiotics, but later on, during times of fatigue or stress some of the symptoms may continue to re-occur. From a TCM point of view this is because the original pathogen has not been fully cleared, further draining the body and potentially and weakening the digestive system.
If we become run down due to illness, stress, physical exertion or emotional challenges it stands to reason our body may not be able to perform its daily functions as well as it should. Prolonged pressure will eventually drain our bodies Qi(energy). According to Chinese Medicine if your Qi becomes weak or deficient, the digestive system will often become very sensitive and weak.
Foods such as wheat or fruit which had been fine before may start to create uncomfortable bloating and wind. The more we demand of our bodies the more sensitive it becomes. This may also be indicated by intolerance testing such as fructose and lactose. Simply eliminating foods will help ease the discomfort temporarily but is not enough to address the root cause of the problem. For long term health it will be necessary to strengthen the body, soothe and replenish the digestive system.
Treatment of IBS will usually involve all the modalities Chinese Medicine has to offer. Acupuncture is very effective at soothing acute discomfort of bloating and pain and removing stress from the body. Chinese herbs taken on a daily basis will provide the foundation of creating long term change by rebalancing and strengthening the digestive system. Chinese Medicine nutrition, which can be quite different to our Western concepts; will help maintain a healthy and regular digestive tract.
Tips to help along the way
- Listen to your body. If a food or drink is causing discomfort reduce the intake and find an alternative.
- Avoid or minimise rich and spicy foods. Occasionally these foods may be ok but regular intake will further inflame the tummy.
- Always try to manage and process stress the best way you can. This will ensure the pressure isn’t relayed to the digestive tract.
- Try to cook most meals as raw food can be extra effort for the body to digest and cause further bloating and discomfort.
- Bo Jen Mi tea is a tasty herbal concoction which can be very soothing on the stomach. This product is available at Gardenvale Chinese Medicine.
Gardenvale Traditional Chinese Medicine