What is IBS & How can Chinese medicine help?

Nov 15, 2022
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What is IBS & How can Chinese medicine help?

Are experiencing abdominal cramping often accompanied by bloating? Do you find your bowel movement unusual? Is this more often when you're stressed, anxious, or tired? Is anyone in your family also experiencing this? These are the signs that you might have Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS). 

IBS is generally described as a gastrointestinal disorder wherein one experiences pain and discomfort in the abdomen with altered bowel movement. Research is also being conducted if IBS is hereditary or if it is often experienced by family members due to their typical diet and lifestyle. The types of IBS are based on stool form and frequency. Some may experience a lot of constipation while others have the type of IBS diarrhea. Others can have both of the symptoms of constipation and diarrhea. It is best to consult a gastrointestinal specialist for you to have a diagnosis. If you are already diagnosed with IBS, your physician might have informed you that this is a chronic condition and that you are advised to make lifestyle changes to avoid the symptoms. You may also be under certain medications and sometimes, not all medications provided can help in easing the discomfort. Other medications may provide the target results but may also have side effects that are difficult to manage. Kindly note that we do not advise anyone to discontinue a medication without talking to their prescribing doctor.


Traditional Chinese medicine is composed of multiple approaches to improving quality of life and treating health problems. Have you considered TCM to address your discomfort brought about by IBS? In TCM, IBS is a manifestation of liver and spleen relationship imbalance. Emotional distress such as stress, being constantly anxious, and overworking affects the liver. The qi from the liver affects the spleen which is the organ related to digestion. The spleen manifests as "sick" by producing gastrointestinal symptoms. This TCM concept has been strengthened by the study of the gut-brain axis and IBS being related to hypersensitivity of the nerves in the gut showing a possible correlation between emotional and mental distress triggering the symptoms of IBS. Liver qi stagnation can bring pain and diarrhea. Spleen deficiency causes malabsorption and bloating. The discipline of traditional Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years. Recent studies prove its effectiveness in providing ease to those with IBS and helping patients improve their lifestyle to avoid triggering the symptoms.

One of the most recognized modalities of TCM, acupuncture is used to stimulate the flow of qi and blood by inserting thin needles into the acupuncture points. Acupuncture promotes balance in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It also stimulates neurotransmitters and hormones. For IBS, acupuncture can trigger the secretion of hormones like serotonin which also decreases stress and regulate the muscles of the digestive tract. This also produces an opioid effect to ease visceral pain. 

Acupuncture is usually used together with moxibustion therapy in addressing digestion problems. Moxibustion is a heating modality in which mugwort (other dry leafy plants can also be used) is burned on or near the skin of specific areas. Its role is to provide warmth and expel cold which can be causing the liver-spleen imbalance. Moxibustion can reduce bloating and pain with regular treatment. 

Another component of TCM is herbs. Herbal medications for IBS help in providing additional tone to the spleen, soften the liver, and expels dampness that causes bloating and pain. The kinds of herbs to be taken for IBS will depend on your symptoms more particularly on your bowel movement and stool quality. Keep in mind that medications can have different effects on different people. It is best to consult a certified herbalist if you are planning on taking herbal medications especially if you are also on medication prescribed by your physician. This is to avoid adverse reactions from the interaction of substances within your body. Our Ting Wu is a certified herbalist and she can help you determine the best treatment plan if you opt to take herbs for your condition.


TCM is a holistic approach and its goal is to address the root cause of ailments. That is why lifestyle and diet changes are necessary to have an optimum result. Here are several recommendations that are both TCM and Western medicine-approved:

  • Take time in chewing your food properly. This gives your digestive system time to break down and absorb nutrients well. Eating at a slow pace also helps you to avoid overeating. This decreases the chances of indigestion.
  • In TCM, damp accumulation also affects the function of the spleen. That is why avoidance of cold food is recommended because it brings bloating and flatulence. Some of the cold and damp foods are dairy, raw vegetables, and alcohol. Take note: Other diet restrictions will depend on the physician's diagnosis and prescription.
  • Stress plays a big role in aggravating IBS. Oftentimes, we do not have control over our external environment. What you can do on your end is to know when to take rest and when to remove yourself from stress-inducing situations. Be mindful of your emotions.
  • In addition to decreasing stress, it is helpful to learn relaxation techniques and engage in activities like yoga and meditation. 

Book a consultation with Dr. Ting Wu of NYC Acupuncture + Wellness to know more about IBS and have the best TCM treatment plan for your condition.