Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as a complex condition with several underlying imbalances leading to digestive irregularities such as alternating constipation and diarrhea; however, IBS presents differently in each individual depending on underlying constitutional weakness. Often, all of the factors play in to IBS. In order to address this imbalance effectively and achieve long standing relief, each organ level imbalance must be addressed:
Liver Qi Stagnation is a common disorder often caused by emotional constraints. Those who have Liver imbalances may have unresolved emotional scars resulting in feelings of frustration and anger. When the Liver energetic organ becomes heated up due to constrained energy, it strikes out at other organ system according to Chinese medicine. Stress may be a trigger for this type of irritable bowel syndrome. Explosive bowel movements would be a clear indication of Liver Fire attacking the Large Intestines.
Liver Attacking the Spleen and IBS
In TCM, the Spleen energetic organ system is central in digestive issues; functionally, the Spleen in Chinese medicine is very different than the spleen organ of western medicine. Because the Spleen oversees the transformation of foods and fluids according to TCM, IBS is nearly always linked to a Spleen imbalance. Symptoms would include any bowel irregularities, but would be clearly indicated with chronic loose bowel movements and sticky bowel movements.
Liver-Spleen imbalances leading to Damp-Heat and IBS
As IBS progresses and Liver Qi Stagnation becomes chronic, the Heat of the body consumes Yin and Blood of the body. TCM recognizes many causes of constipation including Dryness. Because there is an element of Heat consuming fluids alongside Internal Dampness due to Spleen imbalances, the Damp fluids condense creating sticky Phlegm fluids. Depending on the diet or emotional stressors, IBS will present with alternating symptoms in this complex condition.
Stress and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The inability to adapt well to stress is common after a period of ongoing stress due to familial friction, economic distress, or chronic illness. When our nervous system is unable to distinguish between a truly life threatening situation, and a common daily stressor such as a traffic jam, we begin to react to every little common life stressor as if it is a true crisis. This makes us emotional fragile and unable to adapt well to inevitable changes. In these cases, herbal ‘adaptogens’ are invaluable for ‘re-setting’ our nervous system so that we are able to battle each life challenge competently.
Metal Element Imbalances and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
In Chinese medical theory, the Metal Element governs over the Large Intestines. The emotion associated with the Metal Element is grief; therefore, any type of loss including death of a loved one, separation or divorce, loss of a job or status, or the death of a pet can be a trigger for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Working through all of the stages of grief is crucial in fully resolving IBS which is complicated by emotional constraints. The Metal Element also encompasses the Lungs, skin, and sinuses; this means that IBS is often seen in those who suffer with chronic asthma, psoriasis, eczema, or sinusitis.
Diet and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Avoiding foods that create Internal Dampness and cause Spleen damage is crucial in the recovery of IBS. Inappropriate foods with Spleen imbalances would include raw vegetables and juices; fruit and fruit juices; iced water and iced drinks; frozen desserts; fried foods and greasy foods; highly processed foods; white flour and sugar. Click here for appropriate food therapy guidelines.