Alleviation & Prevention of IBS

Did you know that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects approximately 1 out of every 10 people? [1]  Yes, it’s true.  And, did you know that there is no diagnostic test for IBS? That is a condition diagnosed by certain signs and symptoms and based on exclusion? [2] Yes, that is also true! There is also no single cure or treatment for IBS.  However, fear not this peril.  There ARE things that you can do to help mitigate your suffering with IBS such as acupuncture, herbal therapy, diet modifications among other things, but first, let’s delve a bit into IBS.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (also known as spastic colon, mucous colitis, spastic colitis, and nervous stomach) is considered a “functional gastrointestinal disorder,” which means there is nothing abnormal (structure-wise) that will show up on diagnostic tests about your GI tract. It’s a DISRUPTION or DIS-REGULATION between the brain, gut and central nervous system which results in irritated bowels.

There are a wide array of symptoms with IBS, but it primary involves irregular bowel movements.  In general, there are two categories of IBS and people can veer towards end of the spectrum or the other:  those with diarrhea-predominant IBS and those with constipation-predominant IBS.

Other typical symptoms include:

  • Discomfort in the abdomen (cramps, achiness, sharp or dull pain and gassiness.)
  • Bloating and abdominal distention
  • Change in consistency and/or frequency of stool (usually alternating from constipation or diarrhea, though many have a tendency towards one or the other) and often with mucus
  • Relief upon pain after bowel movements[3]

Other common accompanying signs/symptoms include: heart burn, nausea, feeling incomplete upon evacuating, fatigue, muscle pain, and disrupted sleep.

Sounds like a great time, right?  It’s actually quite debilitating and it can affect people to such a degree that it can be the impetus of severe depression.

While negative (or inconclusive) diagnostic tests after suffering from IBS can be supremely frustrating for those plagued with irritated bowels, there are things that you can do to alleviate and potentially prevent it from occurring including:

  • Identifying your triggers of IBS: use of laxatives, food allergies or sensitivities, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and bacterial infection can all contribute to IBS. Start a journal and you may find that symptoms are worse after eating certain foods. [4]
  • Incorporating diet changes: artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, dairy, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, greasy/fatty foods and carbonated beverages can aggravate episodes of IBS. Avoiding these foods, as well as adding gentle fiber-rich foods like oatmeal and berries can go a long way to helping relieve your symptoms.
  • Adding probiotics to your daily regiment: it’s no secret that our gut flora, as a society, has seen better days.  From overuse of antibiotics to diets fueled by processed, inflammatory foods and meats laden with hormones and antibiotics have a negative impact on the good bacteria of our gut. There is a delicate balance of bacteria in our intestinal flora that, when disrupted, can cause anything from candida to symptoms of IBS.[5]  Probiotics can help cultivate the “good” bacteria, and help maintain homeostasis in our gastro-intestinal tract.
  • Lifestyle changes and stress management: Stress is one of the main contributing factors with IBS.  Learning how to balance the sympathetic (“Fight or Flight”) and the parasympathetic (“Rest and Digest”) nervous systems can help modulate our intestine’s spasmodic reaction to stress. Yoga has been shown to lower levels of functional disability in adolescents. [6]

Acupuncture & Herbs: You may not know but Acupuncture shines in the treatment of areas such as IBS, and other ailments that have no definitive causative factor, diagnostic tests or western medical treatments.[7] [8] As with everything Chinese Medicine, IBS is an imbalance of Yin and Yang and a complex disease, usually involving the mechanisms of the Spleen, Liver, Kidney and Large Intestine. As Chinese medicine looks at the whole person with their particular tapestry of signs and symptoms, treatments will vary accordingly. However, here are general points in how acupuncture can help relieve IBS:

  • decrease pain
  • regulate digestive tract
  • increase parasympathetic tone (which mitigates the reactionary spasms of the colon often induced by stress and sympathetic actions)
  • reduce anxiety and depression

In conjunction with Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal therapy is another stellar treatment therapy that can alleviate symptoms of IBS by the intricate and elegant pairings of specific herbs (often ones that are anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic.)  Chinese herbal therapies are usually formulaic and are powerful so you should consult your Acupuncturist to determine the appropriate formula for your presentation. However, a few common single herbs that can help symptoms of IBS include:

  • Peppermint:  an antispasmodic so can decrease muscle spasms in the GI tract[9]
  • Ginger: an anti-inflammatory that can decrease nausea
  • Fennel:  a carminative (properties that prevent formation of excess gas)

By boiling either one or more of the above together in water for 5-10 minutes, you can make a simple, soothing tea that may help quell some of the symptoms associated with IBS.

For more information or to set up a comprehensive consultation, contact Erin Kumpf, L.Ac at erinkumpfacupuncture@gmail.com or by calling 201-338-0552.

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[1] About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). (2016, March 6). Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.aboutibs.org/

[2] Cunha, J. P., DO. (2015, July 15). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/

[3] Cunha, J. P., DO. (2015, July 15). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/

[4] Cunha, J. P., DO. (2016, March 9). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.medicinenet.com/

[5] Guglielmetti S, Mora D, Gschwender M. Randomised clinical trial: Bifodobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 significantly alleviates irritable bowel syndrome and improves quality-of-life–a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011;33(10:1123-32.

[6] Kuttner L, Chambers CT, Hardial J, et al. A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome. Pain Res Manag. 2006;11(4):217-23.

[7] Pei LX, Zhang XC, Sun JH, Geng H, Wu XL. Metaanalysis of acupuncture-moxibustion in treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2012; 32(10):957-60.

[8] Manheimer, E., Cheng, K., Wieland, L., Min, L., Shen, X., Berman, B., & Lao, L. (2012, May 16). Acupuncture for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/

[9] Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (2015, February 4). Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/

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