Over 20% of the UK population suffers with ‘unexplained’ discomfort and irregularity in bowel habit. The term Irritable Bowel Syndrome is used to describe the experience of symptoms such as pain or discomfort in the abdomen, bloating, swelling, bouts of diarrhoea and/or constipation and feeling sick. It is a chronic, re-occurring and often debilitating condition which can cause misery for sufferers.
There is no single cause of IBS. Some people can trace their IBS back to a single event such as a bout of food poisoning or infectious illness; however in most cases the cause is unknown. Some people find their IBS is triggered by sensitivity to certain foods, others find it is exacerbated by stress or emotional states. Each person’s experience of IBS is different.
This lack of understanding of the cause means that conventional medicine finds IBS very hard to treat, instead focusing on symptom relief with antispasmodic drugs.
The inconsistency of symptoms and triggers isn’t a worry to a Chinese medicine practitioner. As acupuncturists we don’t treat IBS, we treat the person. An acupuncturist looks at each individual’s experience of IBS to fully understand what functional disturbances there are in their system and why. By working out why and how someone’s digestive system isn’t functioning, we are able to treat the root cause and bring about relief.
This means that alongside acupuncture treatment we may make suggestions as to lifestyle changes that may be helpful in combating IBS symptoms. This could be dietary changes, or techniques such as meditation to address more emotional causes.
How acupuncture can help
Research (see below) has shown that acupuncture treatment may benefit IBS symptoms by:
- Providing pain relief
- Regulating the motility of the digestive tract
- Increasing parasympathetic tone. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which can stimulate colon spasms, causing pain and discomfort. In people with IBS, the colon can be oversensitive to the smallest amount of conflict or stress. Acupuncture activates the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation or ‘rest and digest’ response.
- Raising the sensory threshold of the gut. (A lowered threshold to bowel pain and distention are hallmarks of IBS)
- Reducing anxiety and depression. Distressing IBS symptoms can lead to a vicious cycle of anxiety-pain-anxiety and lead to feelings of depression. Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry, increasing production of serotonin and endorphins to combat these negative emotional states.
If you would like to know more about how acupuncture could help your digestive dysfunction, Please contact us for a no-obligation chat.
The People’s Acupuncture Project, Exeter
Chen J et al. Electroacupuncture improves impaired gastric motility and slow waves induced by rectal distension in dogs. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2008 Sep;295(3):G614-20.
Han JS. Acupuncture and endorphins. Neurosci Lett. 2004 May 6;361(1-3):258-61.
Ma XP et al. Effect of electro-acupuncture on substance P, its receptor and corticotropin-releasing hormone in rats with irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2009 Nov 7;15(41):5211-7.
Lu B et al. A randomised controlled trial of acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome. Program and abstracts of the 65th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology; October 16-18, 2000, New York, NY. Poster 268, p.428
Pomeranz B. Scientific basis of acupuncture. In: Stux G, Pomeranz B, eds. Acupuncture Textbook and Atlas. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; 1987:1-18.
Samuels N et al. Acupuncture for psychiatric illness: a literature review. Behav Med. 2008 Summer;34(2):55-64.Schneider S et al. Neuroendocrinological effects of acupuncture treatment in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Complement Ther Med. 2007b;15(4):255-63.
Tian XY et al. Electro-acupuncture attenuates stress-induced defecation in rats with chronic visceral hypersensitivity via serotonergic pathway. Brain Res. 2006 May 9;1088(1):101-8.
Tian SL et al. Repeated electro-acupuncture attenuates chronic visceral hypersensitivity and spinal cord NMDA receptor phosphorylation in a rat irritable bowel syndrome model. Life Sci. 2008 Aug 29;83(9-10):356-63
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Xing J et al. Transcutaneous electrical acustimulation can reduce visceral perception in patients with the irritable bowel syndrome: a pilot study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2004 Jan-Feb;10(1):38-42.
Xu GY et al. Electroacupuncture attenuates visceral hyperalgesia and inhibits the enhanced excitability of colon specific sensory neurons in a rat model of irritable bowel syndrome. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2009 Dec;21(12):1302-e125
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for more information on this research please go to http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs.html