I realized recently that I haven’t written any articles about acupuncture and the digestive system. This is a big lack on my part as digestive problems are seen on a regular basis in my clinic. In this article I will discuss irritable bowel syndrome, which encompasses a fairly large diagnosis of changes in the digestive system.
Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most common functional disorders.
It can be described as irregular bowel movements and abdominal discomfort without any organic disease. There may be constipation or diarrhea, or an alternation between the two, abdominal pain and abdominal distension which are eased by defecation, sensation of incomplete defecation, or mucus in the stools. This syndrome usually occurs together with gastric problems, and is usually associated with emotional stress. The reason for the state of diarrhea or constipation has to do with the modification in the speed at which food travels in the large intestine. If the food passes too quickly, diarrhea results. If the food passes too slowly, there will be constipation.
This syndrome usually starts gradually with teenagers and young adults. In most cases, irritable bowel syndrome becomes chronic. However, people with this problem often have times in their life when the symptoms become less strong or disappear and then reappear later on. The gravity and number of symptoms varies widely from person to person. Proper dietary choices and treatments are paramount in order to help reduce these symptoms to a minimum.
The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not fully understood. One hypothesis is that people with this syndrome suffer from abnormal contractions in the intestines. Another hypothesis is that changes in hormones play a role because women suffer from this syndrome more than men. Another idea is that there is an imbalance in the intestinal flora, possibly from a gastro-intestinal infection.
Because the cause is not fully understood there doesn’t exist a way to prevent the syndrome and the medical treatment is aimed more at changing dietary habits and reducing stress rather than taking medication.
Before starting any treatment, it is a very good idea to keep a food journal of everything you eat for a few weeks. This will help you to discover which are troublesome foods and which foods help your digestive system. It is a good idea to eliminate, or at least reduce, any foods that create digestive problems. A nutritionist can help you to find a new diet appropriate for your health condition.
A few suggestions to help you get started:
- Increase your consumption of soluble fibers such as oats, barley, and cream of barley as these fibers are much easier for the intestines to digest.
- Reduce insoluble fibers such as whole wheat and small fruits as these foods increase contractions of the intestines.
- Try to reduce fatty foods.
- Try and limit foods which create bloating and gas, such as milk and dairy products, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
- Stop consuming alcohol, chocolate, coffee, and caffeinated beverages because these also stimulate contractions in the intestines.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Eat at regular intervals without skipping meals.
- Make sure that you chew well.
- Probiotics can be very useful to help make sure that your intestinal flora is well balanced.
- Look into relaxation techniques as stress can be a factor.
- And finally, do regular physical exercise.
In acupuncture, looking at which emotions aggravate the digestive system often treats irritable bowel syndrome.
The main emotions involved are fear, anger, anxiety, and worry.
Acupuncture works to help release these pent-up emotions which trigger the various symptoms. It also has a definite effect on reducing stress and can help regulate the digestive system so that it works better and assimilates food properly, thus reducing or eliminating symptoms.