Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chinese Medicine


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder with symptoms that can impact every aspect of a person’s life. The unpredictable nature of the symptoms can be socially isolating; abdominal pain, inflammation, constipation one day, and possible diarrhea (IBS-D) another can make daily life miserable and diagnosis difficult. Although IBS is common in the general population, few seek medical care for their symptoms.

The exact causes and manner of development of IBS are unknown. It is a complex functional motor and sensory disorder. IBS symptoms may result from a disturbance in the way the gut, brain, and nervous system interact. Anxiety and Stress does not cause IBS, however, because of the connection between the brain and the gut, stress can worsen or trigger symptoms.

Only a medical professional can diagnosis IBS and typically it takes a long time for the patient to receive the diagnosis. Other diseases, which cause the same or similar symptoms, must be ruled out before the diagnosis can be made.

Current western treatment of IBS is aimed at symptomatic improvement, with no specific treatment protocol for cure. The main objective is to:

  • achieve remission
  • maintain remission
  • improve the quality of life for the patient


Acupuncture Treatment for IBS:

Both the National Institutes of Health Consensus Panel and the World Health Organization, using different criteria, have identified many different conditions as appropriate for acupuncture treatments, including several that directly pertain to IBS:

These organizations have concluded that:

  • Acupuncture is an effective form of treatment for pain and stress symptoms associated with IBS, and that its benefits exceed those of standard relaxation treatment.
  • Acupuncture treatments can reduce inflammation
  • Acupuncture can increase gastrointestinal muscle contraction and relaxation, and reduce gastric acid secretion, making acupuncture beneficial in treating general gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, muscle cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
  • Acupuncture can nourish and strengthen related organs, minimize symptoms and contribute to medication-free digestive system health maintenance.


All Chinese medicine involves balancing Yin and Yang energy—in Western terms, this may be interpreted as the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity. From this point of view IBS can be a manifestation of the sympathetic nervous system dominance. In other words, it is a stress/lifestyle related condition.

IBS is not a Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis and yet there are many treatment protocols within TCM to effectively address the patterns of symptoms that IBS patients suffer. Acupuncture is rarely used alone. In most cases, diet, lifestyle, and herbal medicine are used in conjunction with acupuncture to rebalance the nervous system, reduce inflammation in the gut, and promote an overall sense of wellbeing.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating IBS. Acupuncture is often used in conjunction with western medicine to help improve the quality of life for patients who suffer from IBS. If you have been diagnosed with this disorder we recommend discussing an integrative approach with your healthcare professional. In many cases, acupuncture can minimize or eliminate the need for prescription medication.

It is my hope that IBS awareness and education can help more people seek help for this disorder. Irritable Bowel Syndrome should not be suffered privately.

The health information contained in this blog post and on this website is to provide for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider. All decisions regarding patient care must be made with a healthcare provider, considering the unique characteristics of the patient.

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The Healing Point Acupuncture Clinic
Xia Xin, L.Ac., CSMA


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