01.09.2016 Eastern Healing

Eastern Treatments for IBS

While Western medicine is often baffled by IBS, Eastern therapies have proven their worth, says acupuncturist Olivier LeJus

Life has never been easy.It is well known that continual stress has multiple impacts on our health. We may no longer have to share our habitat with wild animals, but modern life has created its own challenges. When our brain gets overstimulated, it responds as if it is under threat.

It doesn’t matter whether a bear is attacking you, being late to catch a plane, or trying to finish a project within a deadline, the physiological response is almost identical. The body resorts to survival mode. In what is called “the flight or fight syndrome”, the production of the hormone adrenalin is suddenly increased so more blood is directed to where it is immediately needed - the brain. This heightens alertness and prepares the muscles for fight or flight.

In contrast, less blood is supplied to the parts of the body not involved with immediate survival, including the digestive organs.

When the stressful situations become more frequent, the body is constantly out of balance. It is easy to understand why so many people suffer from insomnia and anxiety from overstimulation of the brain and digestive problems because the associated organs are not receiving the blood supply and stimulation they need to function effectively.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic intestinal condition associated with stress. It can cause a great deal of discomfort, and is reported to be the second cause of absenteeism from work in this country. The symptoms include stomach cramps, abdominal pain, bloating nausea, and alternating diarrhoea and constipation, or one or the other.

Several American studies have revealed that the impact of IBS on people’s lives is as significant as congestive heart failure or renal failure.

IBS is one of those odd diseases called a “functional disorder“ that Western medicine finds very difficult to treat because there are no signs of internal dysfunction of the organs, although the functioning is clearly affected. Women are twice as likely to be afflicted than men. Conventional treatments include medications and dietary modifications, but they are expensive and not always effective.

Several American studies have revealed that the impact of IBS on people’s lives is as significant as congestive heart failure or renal failure.

According the Sydney Centre of Digestive Diseases, “Some people, but not many, are able to control the symptoms through diet and medication. Many do not seek medical help, or turn to alternative therapies.”

In Oriental medicine, IBS is associated with a liver dysfunction, although the stomach and large intestine are clearly affected. The liver is very susceptible to emotional imbalance. For example anger, depression and stress all have a connection with the liver. When that organ gets disrupted, it causes an imbalance on its Earth partner the spleen and the stomach. This is poetically referred to as “Wood insulting the Earth“. More pragmatically, we can clearly feel the influence of the liver on the digestion when we have had too much to drink and spend the next day vomiting and rushing to the toilets.

In clinical practice, we use liver as well as and spleen and stomach acupuncture points to pacify these organs and calm the mind, as well of another from of treatment called moxibustion which I have found to be very effective. In that therapy, a herbal substance called mugwort, (or Artemisia Vulgaris or Ay Ye) is compressed like a cigar and lit to warm the acupuncture points and stimulate the flow of energy along the meridians.

In 2010, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) formally recognised both acupuncture and moxibustion as part of China’s cultural heritage, giving both therapies equal importance.

Although IBS was not specifically mentioned in the old classical books of Traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion therapy has been used to treat abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, bloating and constipation for over 3000 years.

Its efficacy was clinically demonstrated in 2003 during Chinese scientific research conducted at the Shanghai Research Institute of Acupuncture and Meridians. More than 10 were projects sponsored by the Chinese government, resulting in over 50 published articles.

The final clinical results showed that moxibustion applied on specific points on the stomach and large intestine meridians was effective in relieving IBS in 76.92% of cases. More scientifically, according to the authors of the research, moxibustion was shown to regulate the concentration of serotonin, endorphins and corticotrophin in the Central Nervous System.This is very important because these substances are responsible for transmitting abdominal pain.

Of course, we often have to make modifications to our lifestyle to eliminate the causative factors, or if that can’t be done, to learn to live with it.

Considering that emotional stress plays an important part in that dysfunction, any form of relaxation will be beneficial, including meditation, yoga, and especially another form of Traditional Chinese Medicine called Qigong. Similar to Tai Qi, each movement is designed to stimulate the flow of Qi in a specific meridian. Therefore not only is the body kept supple, and the mind relaxed, but the blockages of energy causing pain and dysfunction are removed to insure longevity and harmonious health. I think it is definitely worth a try!

Olivier Lejus

Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com