Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Acupuncture Moxibustion for IBS

by Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D.

Gastorointestine

IBS is poorly understood, and its causes remain unknown. Various theories exist, however, to explain why people develop IBS, including those pointing to stress, diet, and hormonal issues as triggers.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic, functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and cramping, excessive bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. As many as 20 percent of the adult population, or one in five Americans, have symptoms of IBS, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it begins before the age of 35 in about 50 percent of people who suffer from it.[1]

Causes of IBS

IBS is poorly understood, and its causes remain unknown. Various theories exist, however, to explain why people develop IBS, including those pointing to stress, diet, and hormonal issues as triggers. In my experience, emotional stress is almost always a factor in the development of IBS.

Stress and Emotion: Recent epidemiological studies suggest that IBS is significantly associated with psychological stress[2] and mood disorders.[3] A well-known, close relationship, called the “brain-gut interaction,” exists between emotion and gastrointestinal function. Our brain and intestines are connected by the autonomic nervous system. When people become anxious or upset, the digestive tract is stimulated, causing spasms and the development of symptoms. Ironically, people can develop anxiety due to their unpleasant digestive symptoms, creating a vicious cycle that many chronic pain sufferers encounter: stress causes pain, and pain causes stress. It should be noted that a higher prevalence of IBS has been found among fibromyalgia[4] and chronic fatigue[5] sufferers. Both fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue are considered to be highly associated with stress and emotional disorders.

Diet: Both patients and primary care physicians relate IBS to food intolerance [6]; however, no correlation has been found between perceived food intolerance by patients and findings from common diagnostic tests for food intolerance.[7]

While certain diets may relieve or trigger IBS symptoms, some IBS sufferers also experience a complete resolution of symptoms during times of relaxation, such as while on vacation, even if their diets are “poor” and they are eating forbidden or unusual foods. On the other hand, at other (i.e., stressful) times, anything they put in their mouths (even plain water) may cause immediate abdominal bloating and trigger other IBS symptoms. The bottom line: diet is important, but whether or not certain diets help or aggravate could be influenced by other factors such as the individual’s emotional state during a particular time period. Addressing diet alone will most likely be insufficient to achieve long-term management of IBS. (Related Article: Is There an Ideal IBS Diet?)

Hormones: Many women with IBS experience intensified symptoms around the time of menstruation.[8] It is therefore believed that reproductive hormones play a role in IBS. This is possible, since the female hormonal system (HPG Axis) and stress hormones (HPA Axis) interact closely. In my opinion, however, some IBS symptoms are actually triggered by the intensified emotional symptoms associated with female conditions such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and dysmenorrhea (painful periods). It is important to address these female menstrual conditions when treating IBS patients. Acupuncture and moxibustion therapy can be used to manage the aforementioned gynecological conditions.

 Next Page IBS (2) – Current Evidence Regarding Conventional Drug Therapy and Acupuncture for the Management of IBS

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