Simply IBS is abdominal pain and bloating, and altered bowel habits, that does not have an identifiable physiological cause. Conventional medicine recognises some connection between IBS and emotional state (1,2) and it has begun to be considered to be a dysfunction of the brain-gut axis, but as I’ve written elsewhere the Chinese model doesn’t separate the psychological and somatic. All physical complaints are thought to affect us spiritually to some extent, and all mental and emotional disturbances have the potential to affect us physically. This is what makes the tools of Chinese medicine particularly appropriate when these affects are stronger.
Many people with IBS are unsatisfied with conventional treatments and seek alternatives, including acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine (3). A recent review(*) of published studies found that there were clinical trials that showed that acupuncture was more effective at relieving IBS symptoms than pharmacological medicine, and that acupuncture combined with herbal medicine “had the highest probability of being the best option for improving global IBS symptoms”(3). While the authors thought that the evidence wasn’t strong enough to make them certain that acupuncture treats the symptoms of IBS effectively, they did recommend that IBS patients who were intolerant of the side effects of standard pharmacological treatment consider using acupuncture and related therapies.
* Actually a review of reviews. But that’s a bit meta to write in a blogpost.
- Savas LS, White DL, Wieman M, Daci K, Fitzgerald S, Laday Smith S, Tan G, Graham DP, Cully JA, El-Serag HB. Irritable bowel syndrome and dyspepsia among women veterans: prevalence and association with psychological distress. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Jan;29(1):115-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03847.x. Epub 2008 Sep 9. PMID: 18785989; PMCID: PMC2939246.
- Lee SP, Sung IK, Kim JH, Lee SY, Park HS, Shim CS. The effect of emotional stress and depression on the prevalence of digestive diseases. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2015;21(2):273-282. doi:10.5056/jnm14116
- 1. Wu IXY, Wong CHL, Ho RST, et al. Acupuncture and related therapies for treating irritable bowel syndrome: overview of systematic reviews and network meta-analysis. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. January 2019. doi:10.1177/1756284818820438