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Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Acupuncture and TCM

IBS is very responsive to Chinese medicine (acupuncture, herbs, nutritional and lifestyle advice) thanks to a holistic and comprehensive understanding of our body. While conventional medicine looks closely at the symptom and tries to find the underlying cause, traditional Chinese medicine looks at the body as a whole. Each symptom is treated in conjunction with any other symptoms that occur. The goal of the TKM practitioner   is to assess the entire composition of the patient - taking into account physiological and psychological aspects.

A meta-analysis was conducted by searching international and Chinese databases for randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) to examine the effectiveness of acupuncture and related therapies among IBS patients, while 2314 subjects participated._cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_

The results showed that in alleviating IBS symptoms, acupuncture with needles was the best compared to traditional medicine (the drugs pinaverium bromide and trimebutine maleate were used). Other TCM methods, such as electro-acupuncture, moxibustion or herbal formula, have an additional individual effect and are more effective than conventional medicine.

Image by Giorgio Trovato

What is irritable bowel syndrome?
(hereinafter IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common intestinal disorder. It includes abdominal pain with changes in bowel habits. IBS is described as a "functional" disease - the bowel does not work properly, even though no structural damage is detected. 


IBS is not a structural problem, meaning there are no anatomical changes, nor is it biochemical or infectious in nature. After examining the bowel, the doctor usually finds no abnormalities, inflammation, or obvious signs of disease, unlike ulcerative colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease, with which IBS is often confused. Inflammatory patterns include bleeding in the stool, physical damage to the colon, cancer, or other serious bowel patterns. 2-3 times more women than men are affected by this disease, and the average age at the onset of the disease is between 20 and 40 years of age.

What can cause IBS?

In conventional medicine, the exact cause is unknown, only some factors that trigger its onset are known, among others: 

  • stress, depression and anxiety  

  • gastrointestinal infection  

  • food poisoning  

  • certain foods and drinks (e.g. alcohol, caffeine)  

  • lactose intolerance  

  • eating too fast or too much  

  • some medicines  

  • menstrual cycle  

  • genetic factors

Symptoms of IBS

People with IBS have constant or recurring abdominal pain or discomfort caused by bowel movements. Some IBS patients are prone to constipation, others to diarrhea. For many people with IBS, however, periods of diarrhea and constipation alternate. Other symptoms may include: 

  • irregular bowel habits  

  • liquid mud  

  • closure  

  • alternating constipation and diarrhea  

  • problems with abdominal cramps  

  • gas and bloating  

  • irregular painful bowel movements, dry and hard stools.  

  • mucus in the stool

Understanding IBS from a TKM perspective​

In Chinese medicine, IBS can be caused by disorders of the stomach, spleen, liver, kidneys, and large intestine. IBS is a complex disease and often has a combination of patterns that are responsible for the resulting imbalance. Some common patterns associated with IBS include:

  • Stomach Qi Deficiency: This often manifests as fatigue and diarrhea, which is worse when people are overworked. These symptoms are often accompanied by pain in the upper abdomen, which can be relieved by applying pressure to the painful area. Patients may also experience problems with gas, bloating and indigestion.

  • Excess of cold in the body: frequent watery diarrhea is even more intense especially after raw food and cold food. Patients with these types of problems usually have cold extremities and a weak immune system. Women may still have irregular menstrual cycles, while men may have low libido and inactive sperm.  

  • Liver Qi stagnation: Patients may have ball-shaped stools and pain from bloating, especially in the area below the ribs. In addition, they may suffer from insomnia, nausea, vomiting or problems with stomach acid. Symptoms can be triggered or worsened by stress.

  • Damp-heat in the large intestine: The main symptom is diarrhea with a feeling of urgency and pain in the form of spasms. Diarrhea is often intense and yellow in color, with a strong odor and a burning sensation. It can be accompanied by hemorrhoids. 

Image by Igor Miske
Image by Urip Dunker

Treatment of IBS with TCM

IBS is clearly a complex disease. Its many manifestations require different therapeutic approaches in TCM. The patterns of imbalance in the body that we described above can also appear in combination, so it is necessary to adjust the treatment accordingly. For each severe case of IBS, the TCM therapy is adapted to the individual, as are the classic Chinese herbal recipes adapted to the patient.

Combined with Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, the treatment aims to address the root cause of the IBS condition by relieving stress, bringing the body back into balance, improving bowel function, increasing immune system resistance (against infections) and improving overall health. Click here to learn more about our real and successful examples (More coming soon).


Acupuncture at
inflammatory bowel disease and IBS

Acupuncture and moxibustion can help improve symptoms of diarrhea, stomach cramps, and epigastric pain. Using these safe treatments, acupuncture practitioners can help people with stomach bloating, IBS symptoms, and nausea. Acupuncture treatment can also have a positive effect on the vagus nerve in the brain, which plays an important role in both the functioning of the immune system and the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the functioning of the entire digestive tract. Acupuncture can also have a positive effect on the microbial bacteria found in the intestines, bringing them closer to normal levels.

Image by Katherine Hanlon
Image by Kalyani Akella

Diet and irritable bowel syndrome

Avoiding foods that create internal dampness and damage the spleen is key to recovering from IBS. In the case of an imbalance in the spleen, an inadequate diet would include: raw vegetables and juices; fruit and fruit juices; cold or ice water and drinks; cold desserts; fried and fatty food; heavily processed foods; white flour and sugar.


Click here for a nutritional therapy guide.

Image by Henry & Co.

A holistic approach to powerful detoxification
and long-term health

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