The symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, for short, include diarrhea, constipation, and recurrent stomach cramping and pain. IBS is a chronic, gastrointestinal functional disorder affecting on in five Americans or about 20 percent of the adult population in the United States. It is one of the conditions most commonly diagnosed by doctors. Women are more prone to it than men and in about 50 percent of cases, the condition began before the age of 35.
IBS – Its Causes
Scientists still do not know what exactly causes IBS. It is believed to develop from triggers such as hormonal issues, diet, and stress. In all cases of IBS, emotional stress always plays a role in this condition’s development.
Both primary healthcare providers and patients associate IBS with intolerance to certain foods; however, there is no scientific proof that there is a connection between findings from common diagnostic examinations for food intolerance and perceived food intolerance by patients.
Emotion and Stress
New epidemiological studies have shown that there is a clear connection between IBS and mood disorder and psychological stress. There is a close and well-known relationship, known as the “brain-gut interaction,” between gastrointestinal function and emotion. The intestines and brain are both connected via the autonomic nervous system. When a person becomes upset or anxious, the digestive tract is stimulated, which causes spasms and other symptoms. Also, due to unpleasant digestive symptoms, some people can develop anxiety resulting in a vicious cycle that a lot of people with chronic pain experience: pain generates stress and stress generates pain. It has been observed that there is a greater occurrence of IBS among people suffering from chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. These two conditions are both deemed to be very much connected to emotional disorders and stress.
As it is now known that certain diets can trigger or alleviate IBS symptoms, there are people with IBS who may also experience a total healing of their symptoms while they are relaxed (i.e., while they are on vacation), even if they are eating unusual or forbidden foods or if their diets are poor in nutrition. Some IBS sufferers, on the other hand, tend to experience stomach bloating and other IBS symptoms every time they eat (any kind of food) and drink (any type of fluids, even water) all because of stress. The main thing to remember is that diet is important, and the emotional state of a person at that time plays a key role in whether or not a specific type of diet triggers or relieves the symptoms of IBS. But in order to manage the symptoms in the long-term, addressing alone the issue of diet is not enough.
A lot of women suffering from IBS may feel their symptoms intensifying around the time of their menstrual cycle. Based on this observation, it is therefore believed that hormones responsible for reproduction play a major role in the rise of IBS. Since the HPG Axis (hormonal system of females) and HPA Axis (stress hormones) interact closely with each other, this theory seems plausible. However, it has been observed that there are IBS symptoms that are actually set off by the amplified emotional symptoms related to female disorders such as dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) , and PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Addressing these female menstrual conditions is important when treating the symptoms of IBS. To manage or treat those aforementioned gynecological conditions moxibustion and acupuncture can be utilized with extreme efficacy.
Management of IBS Symptoms Using Acupuncture and Standard Drug Treatment – Recent Evidence
Drug therapy presently used for IBS symptoms has proven to have limited benefits and may bring about potential risks. Moreover, a low level of satisfaction has been found among some IBS patients in the type of treatment provided to them by their primary care doctors. Because of this, around half of the total number of IBS patients has relied on alternative and complementary therapies such as acupuncture for symptomatic relief or management of symptoms.
Acupuncture Needles on the Stomach
Acupuncture has been used for hundreds of years for the treatment of several types of digestive conditions. Studies have indicated that acupuncture works well in a variety of digestive conditions such as constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain and bloating, functional dyspepsia, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms related to digestion tend to improve after a round of acupuncture treatment partly due to the fact that the treatment has an effect on the perception and motility of the digestive organs. Lab animal studies (involving dogs and rats) have shown that acupuncture treatment has a significant effect on visceral perception and gastrointestinal motility, both of which are very much related to the rise of IBS symptoms. Lab studies on rats have also shown that acupuncture treatment of the lower limbs (specifically on the St 36 acupoint just below the knee) produces gastric motility through vagal efferent, while acupuncture treatment on the stomach (specifically, on the St 25 acupoint) reduces gastric motility through sympathetic efferent.
However, in clinical studies on human patients with IBS, there were mixed results. Based on clinical evidence, the 2006 Cochrane Collaboration Systematic Review concluded that acupuncture’s effectiveness in the treatment of IBS has not been conclusively established and it has recommended that further comprehensive studies be conducted in the future using sufficient experimental design. It is uncertain that traditional acupuncture protocols entailing the simple insertion of needles into pre-designated acupoints (often used in past acupuncture clinical trials) will be accepted by the Western medical community as sufficient treatment for many IBS patients.
Gastroenterologists consider IBS to be a “difficult” condition to deal with. But with a comprehensive, customized, and carefully designed acupuncture program, IBS sufferers may be able to enjoy real and profound clinical benefits.