Factsheet: Acupuncture for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

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Background information about acupuncture

Traditional Acupuncture is a safe and effective system of medicine that originated in China thousands of years ago and still forms an important part of mainstream healthcare there today.

In Traditional Acupuncture we view the human body in a holistic way. We focus on the health of the person as a whole and emphasise the connection between physical and emotional health. Every person is unique and one individual may become ill for different reasons to another so in Traditional Acupuncture we design each treatment according to the individual’s needs.

In Traditional Acupuncture, good health involves a smooth flow of energy (Qi) through channels in the body. Illness, injury or emotional stress occur when Qi is out of balance or unable to flow freely. Acupuncture maintains the body’s equilibrium and flow of Qi, by inserting fine needles into specific points on the body. This concept may seem a bit wacky, but Qi can actually just be seen as a metaphor for metabolic functions or chemical changes constantly taking place in the body.  Someone receiving acupuncture will often report an increased sense of well-being as well as improvement in the symptoms which brought them to treatment.

Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) with acupuncture
Over 20% of the UK population suffer with ‘unexplained’ discomfort and irregularity in bowel habit. The term Irritable Bowel Syndrome is used to describe symptoms such as abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, swelling, bouts of diarrhoea and/or constipation and feeling sick. It is a chronic, recurring 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.

This variation in symptoms and triggers isn’t a worry to an acupuncturist as we look at each individual’s symptoms and experience to fully understand what disturbances there are in their system and why. By working out why and how someone’s digestive system isn’t functioning, we can customise treatment, addressing the root cause for each individual to bring about relief.

Alongside acupuncture we may make suggestions for 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 can acupuncture help? (The science bit)
Research 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.

What to expect in a multibed clinic
We treat several people together in one room. It is possible for us to work in this way because acupuncture needles usually take 20-40 minutes to do their work. We are able to place needles in one patient, leave them to relax into their treatment, and then move on to another patient.

At the People’s Acupuncture Project up to 6 people are treated at the same room bringing a community spirit to the experience. You may feel nervous about coming into this environment but we are a very warm and welcoming clinic. Patients in multibed clinics consistently report that they like the sense of togetherness and humanity they find.  Research shows that patients treated in multibed clinics report many positive experiences and very few negative.

Some people may be concerned about privacy but it isn’t usually necessary to remove clothes as the most-frequently used points are on the arms and legs. Wearing loose clothing means we can get to the points we need. We also have gowns and blankets available if necessary. We will do everything we can to ensure you feel comfortable.

Need more information?
Give us a call or drop us an email for a discussion about how acupuncture can help you, how we work, or other query you might have about treatment.

click here for a printable PDF version of this factsheet

(please contact us if you would like a fully referenced copy of this factsheet)

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