Digestive disorders are extremely common in the United States. There are many reasons for this, but two of the most obvious are the repercussions of the common diet and high levels of stress. This is unfortunate because proper digestion is absolutely necessary for good health. Whether you have relatively minor digestive issues such as gas and bloating, or you have severe life-threatening illnesses such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, being proactive about your digestive health is critical for your overall health. This article will discuss Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine’s views of the following biomedical diseases: irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or Gerd, gallstones, and diverticulosis. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are discussed in a separate article.
IBS. Between 10 and 20% of all Americans are affected by symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, with three times as many women affected than men. Symptoms of IBS vary per individual and may include abdominal cramping and pain, constipation and/or diarrhea, flatulence, bloating and nausea.
As with all diseases in Oriental Medicine, treatment is based on the correct differentiation of syndrome patterns. Although many different diagnoses may be present, a common pattern is a disharmony between the liver and the spleen. The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of substances throughout the body. This flow can be disrupted by emotions or stress, causing stagnation of Qi (life force energy) or blood. The spleen is associated with the function of digestion and transforming food into energy. It can be weakened by a number of factors including eating too much unhealthy food, overwork, excessive worrying, fatigue and lack of exercise. When the spleen is weak and the liver is not moving smoothly, the liver overwhelms the spleen and can manifest as symptoms of IBS.
Acupuncture treatments and herbal therapies can help greatly in balancing these disharmonies. Many patients are amazed at the relief they experience. They even notice other positive changes in their lives as well, not just those linked to their IBS.
Lifestyle changes can also help alleviate symptoms and are recommended during and after treatment. Getting adequate exercise may be one of the most important, because it helps to relieve stress, move energy, regulate the bowels and alleviate constipation. Since stress can also be a trigger for IBS, practicing different stress relief measures may also be helpful. Methods such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises or adding some quiet time to your schedule may help to ease symptoms. Some patients respond well to dietary changes such as reducing the intake of fatty foods, dairy products, alcohol, caffeine or carbonated drinks. Getting adequate sleep is also very important for sufferers of IBS, because it helps the body heal and rejuvenate. It also allows the body to better handle stress.
Constipation. Constipation is a very common condition frequently related to travel, low fiber diet, medications or repeatedly ignoring the urge to defecate. The most common cause of constipation in Chinese medicine is heat in the large intestine. In the elderly or postpartum women it may be due to deficiency of blood. Whatever the cause, acupuncture and herbs will help balance the body and relieve the discomfort of constipation.
Diarrhea. Diarrhea is a widespread intestinal illness that is very dangerous to your health. As a matter of fact, it is still one of the leading causes of death in the world. Although parasitic infection is probably the largest contributor to diarrhea, spleen qi deficiency or damp heat are probably the most common causes in Chinese medicine. Acupuncture and herbs would be used to tonify the spleen and/or dry and cool the intestine, providing some much needed relief.
Gallstones. Over 25 million Americans suffer from gallstones. Risks increase with the use of oral contraceptives, being overweight, hormone replacement therapy and some pregnancies. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, and discomfort following the consumption of fatty foods.
Removal of the gallbladder is one of the most common treatment options, but should be used only as a last resort. Acupuncture is a very viable, safe, healthy treatment option. It works to balance the body so gallstones are no longer an issue. As a matter of fact, several patients ended up cancelling their surgeries because acupuncture worked so well for them. They felt better, their bodies were balanced and they did not have to go through the trauma of surgery.
Heartburn. About 10% of Americans suffer with heartburn daily. Symptoms include burning pain behind the breast bone and acid regurgitation. There can be many reasons for heartburn including consuming tomato products, chocolate, coffee, citrus fruits and juices, fatty foods and smoking cigarettes.
In Chinese medicine, heartburn is caused by liver fire and heat in the stomach and counter flow of stomach qi. Acupuncture and herbs are used to cool the fire in the liver and stomach, as well as reverse the flow of energy in the stomach to its normal downward direction. Liver invading spleen or cold spleen are also possibilities that could be corrected with acupuncture.
Diverticulosis. Diverticula are small secular, mucosal herniations through the muscular wall of the colon. They may occur anywhere in the colon, but occur most often in the sigmoid. Inflammation of one or more diverticula is known as diverticulitis. Symptoms of diverticulitis include fever, abdominal pain, and an elevated white blood cell count. Here, the Chinese medicine syndrome pattern is blood stagnation, which is characterized by constant fixed stabbing pain, bruises or dark blotches on the skin and a purple tongue. Liver qi stagnation could also be a culprit, characterized by pain, distention, feeling of fullness, depression, mood swings and frequent sighing. In either case, acupuncture can help. It will create harmony within the body and relieve symptoms.
Remember, proper digestion is necessary for good health. Whatever the digestive disorder may be, acupuncture and herbal therapies are healthy, safe options for treatment. These therapies can be used as preventative measures as well, since it takes time for imbalances in the body to become full-blown disorders. Either way, acupuncture can help you be more proactive about your health.