Around one in five Australians suffers symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) at some point in their life. People with IBS have sensitive large intestines that are easily aggravated. The factors causing aggravation of the bowels are not easily understood, but it appears that they come from 1) genetic disposition, 2) diet and 3) emotional stress.

Everyone is different and requires individual treatment

In Chinese medicine, we differentiate between patterns. This means that even though the symptoms are the same with sufferers from IBS, the reasons or pathological factors are different. We then treat energetically (with acupuncture or herbal medicine). The aim is to restore a balance between Yin and Yang. Energetic treatments mean that we assist the natural physiology of the body and focus on the entire organism. The manifestation of the balance of Yin and Yang indicates that there is health and well-being.

In simple terms, if IBS is caused by too much cold (too much Yin and not enough Yang), we will replenish the body’s Yang (warming food, warming herbs, acupuncture points that are warming). Often this type of scenario will also require some moving around of energy (because cold stagnates). So, we might apply moxibustion (the burning of mugwort cones on various areas of the body). For this person, it will be important to have mostly warming foods as part of their diet (both cooked food and energetically warming foods).

Stress is a big factor!

It’s hard to admit that stress is part of our lives and being stressed will aggravate IBS. But, how to avoid stress in mostly busy, demanding and challenging environments? Not an easy question to answer. However, to adjust your lifestyle, your responsibilities and activities to a level that is manageable might be the first step into the right direction.

If we are all tense, the internal organs will be tense too. That’s how stress affects our guts. So simple strategies like taking time away from your desk whilst having breakfast or lunch will greatly improve the well-being of both your digestive system as well as you!

As with any other form of illness, in Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture clinics the underlying cause of the illnesses is determined using extensive tests. When we experience emotional disharmony or turmoil, the liver Zang’s Qi becomes stagnant essentially affecting the flow of Qi in the other parts of the body. This stagnation causes abdominal pain, cramping, and constipation.

To achieve maximum relief, a combination of herbal medicine, acupuncture and Qi Gong are used. However, it is always advised to seek the services of certified acupuncture therapists; they will work to identify the exact cause of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome as it varies from one individual to the other.

Various patterns exist

Depending on the disharmony being experienced, an acupuncture therapist may administer varied treatments. Where liver Qi stagnation is the cause of the discomfort, more focus is given to points such as the Tai Chong (Liver 3) or He Gu (Large intestine 4). Such an action also goes a long way in lessening the intestinal wind that may have come about as a result of a strained liver Qi. Points such as the Spleen 4 (Gong Sun) and the Stomach 36 (Zu San Li) are used to treat a spleen Qi deficiency.

By choosing the Chinese acupuncture treatment, one is set to have a relief from constipation and diarrhea from the administration of Spleen 15 (Da Heng) and Stomach 25 (Tian Shu). The administration of Pericardium 6 (Nei Guan) works to relieve stress and balance emotions accordingly giving you the much-needed relief. The analogy involved is that these points affect the stomach and liver, which are related to the spleen. Where dampness is determined to contribute to the illness, Spleen 9 (Yin Ling Quan) may be included in the point formula.

Several herbs are used in tailored formulas

The balancing of the spleen organ and the Qi of the liver can also be achieved through the use of a combination of various Chinese herbal medicine. To treat liver Qi stagnation, herbs like Xiang Fu (Rhizoma Cyperi Rotundi), Bai Shao (Radix Paeoniae Lactiflorae), and Chai Hu (Radix Bupleuri) are used. To eliminate the intestinal wind that may have resulted from a non-performing liver Qi, Fang Feng (Radix Ledebouriellae Divaricatae) is added to the above-mentioned herbs. All Chinese herbs come in herbal formulations, we do not prescribe single herbs. It’s the action of the formula that is powerful and effective.

Herbs such as Dang Shen (Radix Codonopsis) and Bai Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae) are used to treat a spleen Qi deficiency. As it is, these herbs are also effective where the liver has invaded the spleen. Where a patient is suffering from constipation and diarrhea, the symptoms are balanced using a combination of specific herbs. For diarrhea, these herbs may include Cang Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis), Sheng Ma (Rhizoma Cimicifugae), and Mu Xiang (Radix Aucklandiae Lappae). At the same time, the distress that comes from constipation may be stalled by adding portions of Zhi Shi (Fructus Aurantii Immaturus) to the medication. Chai Hu (Radix Bupleuri) and Suan Zao Ren (Semen Ziziphi Spinosi) have been shown to relieve stress and effectively balance emotions.

In case of damp-heat or dampness, Yin Chen Hao (Herba Artemesia Capillaris) or Fu Ling (Sclerotium Poria Cocos) may be added to the formula.

Qi Gong or Tai Qi Chuan to relief stress

Since the irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that can be directly linked to stress conditions, the administration of Qi Gong has proven to be highly effective. Different exercise routines are advised in a bid to ease the pressure. The Eight Brocade Exercises and Tai Qi Chuan are recommended since they strengthen the spleen Qi and move the liver Qi while balancing and calming the emotions at the same time.

Chinese acupuncture treatment also encourages patients to be fully involved in their healing process. For instance, considerable relief may be achieved by massaging one’s lower abdomen in circles. For diarrhea, the circles should be anticlockwise whereas clockwise circles should be made in the case of constipation. It is encouraged that patients learn basic stress-reduction and simple meditation techniques; these can help alleviate distress.

Nonetheless, it is always advised to seek the help of a certified acupuncture therapist since it gives you a clearer understanding of the problem (and solution).



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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) & Traditional Chinese Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2015.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2015, from