Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders seen by physicians today. As many as one in five American adults has IBS and yet it goes unspoken because of the seemingly embarrassing nature of the symptoms.
Diagnosis is usually a process of elimination because there are no physical signs that can definitively diagnose IBS. According to the diagnostic criteria developed by researchers, the Rome criteria, you must have certain signs and symptoms before a physician can diagnose you with IBS:
1. Abdominal pain and discomfort lasting at least 12 weeks, though the weeks don't have to occur consecutively. You also need to have at least two of the following:
2. A change in the frequency or consistency of your stool. For example, you may change from having one normal, formed stool every day to three or more loose stools daily. Or you may have only one hard stool every three to four days.
3. Straining, urgency or a feeling that you can't empty your bowels completely.
4. Mucus in your stool.
5. Bloating or abdominal distension.
Symptoms are almost always aggravated by stress. Episodes may also be aggravated by eating, and are frequently relieved after a bowel movement.
IBS according to Chinese Medicine
While other patterns may be present, IBS is almost always considered a disharmony between the liver and the spleen in traditional Chinese medicine. The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of substances throughout the body. This flow can be upset by emotions or stress, causing stagnation of Qi (energy) or blood. Traditional Chinese medicine views the spleen as being associated with the function of digestion and transforming food into energy (Qi and blood). The spleen can be weakened by a number of factors, including overeating unhealthy foods, overwork, too much worry, fatigue, and lack of exercise. When the spleen is weak and the liver is not moving smoothly, the liver overacts on the spleen and can manifest as symptoms of IBS.
To support the spleen and the liver common supplements include Chinese herbal formulas along with digestive enzymes and even probiotics. Acupuncture on a weekly or bi-weekly basis helps to rebalance the body and can correct the liver/spleen disharmony and thereby correct the symptoms caused IBS.
Finally, diet and lifestyle cannot be overlooked and must be addressed. Here are some general guidelines that can be used to balance IBS and liver/spleen disharmony:
1. Diet should include good protein and good fats, with moderate complex carbohydrates that emphasize vegetables. Good protein sources are wild and low-mercury risk fish or free range chicken, grass fed beef and lamb free of growth hormones and steroids. Other good sources of protein are nuts, seeds, beans, and free-range eggs.
2. Vegetables that are especially alkaline and contain a good amount of water and fiber. They will help to cleanse the body and support the liver. Eat vegetables steamed or sautéed, it helps to support the spleen and digestion. Raw, cold vegetables should be avoided.
3. Squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes/yams are especially nutritive to the digestion and spleen.
4. Whole grain brown rice supports spleen Qi as well.
5. Stocks, broths and soups should be a staple in the diet as a great spleen Qi tonic.
6. Do not consume water or beverages with meals as to not dilute gastric juices and natural digestive enzymes.
7. Avoid common food triggers: caffeine, alcohol, dairy, greasy/fatty foods.
8. Getting adequate exercise and practicing stress-relieving measures such as yoga. breathing exercises and meditation regularly.
9. Getting adequate sleep to minimize the effects of stress on your body and digestive system.
Lakeshore Wellness Center
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