The traditional way to soothe IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an illness affecting millions of people worldwide.

According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, about 2 in 3 IBS sufferers are female; people of all ages (even children) can be affected, yet most are under the age of 50; and about 30% of all visits to gastroenterologists are due to IBS symptoms.

While the root cause of IBS has not yet been identified, the symptoms can be debilitating and are triggered by diet and stress. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views IBS as a syndrome of imbalances.

Today, I’d like to discuss how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can help rebalance the issues that cause IBS symptoms followed by some stress release methods for alleviating that trigger.

Common IBS symptoms

IBS is an abnormal condition of the intestinal tract. People suffering from IBS complain of the following common symptoms:

  • Abdominal bloating and gassiness
  • Chronic (if not intermittent) abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Irregular bowels on a spectrum of more than three per day or less than three per week
  • Difficulty passing stools, a feeling of urgency to do so, and feelings of the bowel movement being “incomplete”
  • Malformed stools that tend to be either hard and lumpy or loose and watery.

IBS according to TCM

The theories of TCM hold that there are several “patterns of imbalance” at the root cause of IBS symptoms. These patterns are differentiated by sets of symptoms and are thus treated with different patent herbal formulas.

In terms of the mental-emotional causes of IBS, TCM distinguishes several syndromes. Let’s take a look.

Liver qi stagnation

“Liver qi stagnation” is among the most common cause wherein the stress or emotional upset “stagnates” the liver energy, slowing the release of blood and overheating the spleen and stomach.

This imbalance is made worse with emotions and stress, and its symptoms include alternating diarrhea and constipation, irritability, depression, mood swings, tension and spasm in the neck and upper back, epigastric pain, abdominal pain and/or bloating, hypochondriac pain, cold fingers and toes.

An effective Chinese patent herbal formula for this type of problem is Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan (Bupleurum Soothe Liver Teapills).

Liver qi invading the spleen

Another syndrome is known as “liver qi invading the spleen.” With this syndrome there is a marked emotional component that worsens with stress and emotional upset.

Symptoms include abdominal pain and cramping, irritability, anger, moodiness, depression and recurrent, explosive diarrhea. The diarrhea here is a physiological response of the body to prolonged, repeated or severe emotional and psychological stress. After the diarrhea episode the person usually feels better, if only temporarily.

A strong herbal formula for this is known as Tong Xie Yao Feng Wan (Calm Wind Tea pills).

Liver qi stagnation with food / damp stagnation in the intestines

Another form of IBS — predominate diarrhea type — is known as “liver qi stagnation with food or damp stagnation in the intestines.” This syndrome presents with indigestion, flatulence, belching, acid reflux, abdominal distension and pain, tendency to constipation, sluggish bowels or alternating bowel habits.

This type of IBS is typical among office workers who are habitually stressed, overworked and sedentary, leading to a slowing down of peristalsis due to hyper tonicity in the gastrointestinal system. Chinese herbs, such as Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan (Saussurea Qi Promoting Pills), help this syndrome.

5 stress reducers

Because stress not only triggers IBS but also makes its symptoms worse, getting a handle on this is a key to the relief and prevention of IBS symptoms.

You can modify the stressors that you have control over and you can learn to modify your response to the stress that you don’t have control over. Here are some natural stress reduction techniques I recommend.

  1. Set priorities:Do not attempt to do more than you can and don’t feel bad about saying no or delaying new work, activities or other commitments.
  2. Reframe: Adopt a reframing skill from programs like NLP or the Sedona Method to help reduce the stress associated with certain aspects of your personal and professional life. This means dealing with problems like doubts, fears, anxieties and other psychological issues..
  3. Exercise:Sign up for bi- or tri-weekly yoga classes, Pilates, qigong or tai chi to help align mind, body and spirit. With so many areas of life pulling our strings, we easily can detach from our centers and become a tripartite being, when we live best as one.
  4. Relax:Engage in meditation or other deep-relaxation practices every evening. The body metabolizes stress hormones during rest and sleep, so relaxing the mind and body prior to sleep can offer an even stronger “sleep repair” and stress release.
  5. Get out of your rut:Take a vacation and chill out. If you think there is no time and if you have not had a vacation in a while, your body and mind could be stressed more than if you were able to step away from work and life for a few days. Even if you have no budget to travel, sometimes a staycation is all you need to get back to your personal life and reduce the pressures of daily stress.

Additional thoughts…

According to the Mayo Clinic, even though the symptoms of IBS are uncomfortable, they do not cause underlying changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of cancer. This makes IBS an illness rather than a disease (like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), thus offering psychological relief from possible outcomes.

IBS can be treated naturally and many of the methods are within your own grasp and easily embraced. Here, we discussed Chinese herbals and stress relief. Next week, in Part 2, we’ll look at how diet and supplements can help reduce and prevent IBS symptoms.


Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.