Irratable Bowel Syndrome

IBS Treatments with Acupuncture in Atlanta

Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Western Medicine

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal disorder causing a variety of symptoms which may include cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and irregular bowel movements. Some people with IBS have diarrhea with frequent loose stools, while others have constipation with infrequent or difficult to pass bowel movements. Other IBS sufferers will experience alternating diarrhea and constipation. Symptoms are frequently triggered by stress and emotional factors or the ingestion of aggravating foods.

IBS is the most common gastrointestinal (GI) disease seen by general practitioners and makes up 30-50% of all referrals to GI specialists. The disorder affects up to 55 million Americans, and women are affected 3 times more than men, with average age of onset being between 20 and 40.

The diagnosis of IBS is essentially a catch-all category for intestinal complaints that are not otherwise understood by your doctor. If your Western MD provides you with a diagnosis of IBS, it likely means he / she does not have a clue about what is the root cause of your GI problems. A diagnosis of IBS usually means tests such as colonoscopies and X-rays, or radiation rich CT scans have revealed little or nothing.

IBS is described by doctors as a ‘functional’ illness – the small and large intestines aren’t functioning properly despite there being no structural damage found through diagnostic testing. Often, no anatomic defect can be found in IBS patients, but what is known is that there is a link between the onset of symptoms and emotional triggers or specific foods. There are two major clinical types of IBS described in Western medicine: diarrhea-predominant IBS and constipation-predominant IBS.

Diarrhea-predominant IBS: characterized by diarrhea which occurs immediately after waking up or immediately after eating. Other common symptoms include pain, bloating, urgency, and urinary incontinence.

Constipation-predominant (or ‘spastic colon’ type) IBS: manifests with pain over at least one area of the colon and periodic constipation. This pain may be continuous or it may come in bouts, and is frequently relieved with bowel movements. There may be constipation alternating with normal stools or constipation alternating with diarrhea. The stool can often contain mucus. Associated symptoms include bloating, gas, nausea and dyspepsia. Eating can commonly trigger these symptoms.

IBS causes are unknown to Western medicine. Western medicine often treats IBS through anti-spasmodic or anti-diarrhea medication, diet modification, and stress reduction techniques. Most of these methods are meant to address and control symptoms of IBS as opposed to treating and healing the root of the disease, leading to temporary relief at best. At worst, medications prescribed by doctors can have unnecessary side effects adding more frustrating symptoms to GI symptoms already present.

IBS Treatments with Acupuncture in Atlanta

Irritable Bowel Syndrome in TCM

Traditional Chinese Medicine has more experience in understanding and treating these ailments, and IBS symptoms are not mysterious to the TCM clinician. Chinese medicine treats GI disorders holistically, with a focus on finding and fixing the root of the disorder internally as well as providing lasting relief from symptoms. Varying patterns of diarrhea, constipation, cramps, bloating and gas involve the free flow of energy, or Qi, and the timing and balance (Yin/Yang) of the digestive organs.

In fact, the theory of “Yin & Yang” is the fundamental TCM theory used to determine the pattern of disharmony in the body ( Yin and Yang are terms used to describe two polar opposites. Each body part, each organ, and even each symptom in the body can be described in terms of Yin and Yang. Levels of Yin and Yang are constantly changing, and excesses and deficiencies of Yin and Yang almost always appear in combination. For example, in IBS, the symptom of loose watery or mucousy stools shows an excess of Yin, but if the patient feels a burning sensation along with the loose stools, this indicates an additional excess of Yang. In treating the overall pattern of disharmony, the TCM practitioner uses a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbs and diet modification to address all imbalances of Yin and Yang.

In viewing the body as an integrated whole, TCM also looks at the theory of the internal organs. The TCM definition of an Internal Organ is very different from the Western concept. In Western medicine, an organ is a material-anatomical structure. In Chinese medicine each Internal Organ encompasses much more. There is an anatomical structure, but there is also a corresponding emotion, tissue, sensory organ, color and element. In addition, 12 of the Internal Organs correspond to the 12 main acupuncture meridians (or channels) that run through the body. There is Qi (or energy) flowing through each meridian. If an Internal Organ is out of balance, the Qi of that organ will be damaged.

IBS affects the large and small intestines in Western medicine, but in Chinese medicine, the Spleen, Stomach, Liver, Kidney, and Large Intestine (capitalized to distinguish the Chinese organ) can all play a role in the pattern of disharmony. This does NOT indicate a modern-day pathology of the liver, spleen or stomach. Rather these are patterns where stress and lifestyle factors often play a part. Worry, over-contemplation, and anger can all unbalance the Qi of the organs and cause problems with digestion. TCM takes into account the crucial emotional component to this digestive condition as well as the vast importance of diet and lifestyle. Beyond simply food choices alone, irregular eating habits such as over-eating, rapid eating, being distracted when eating, and eating excessive cold, raw, or difficult-to-digest foods can also contribute to poor digestion and IBS.

Methods of Treatment

Acupuncture targets specific points that are essentially electrically conductive control centers on the body in order to help nourish Qi and encourage its free flow. These points adjust the balance of Yin and Yang and regulate bodily processes connected with the GI system. There are also specific techniques used in needling that strengthen the body when the patient is deficient, as well as specific techniques used when the patient is experiencing an excess of some kind or a combination of excess/deficiency and Yin/Yang.

Chinese Herbs

Another important component of treatment is the Chinese herbal formula. In Chinese herbalism, a group of herbs is combined together to specifically address a person’s unique constitution. This is one way in which treatment is individualized – a master herbalist treats no two patients with the same combination of herbs. Our Atlanta-based practitioners are well-versed in concocting custom-made herbal formulas tailored to address your specific constitution, condition, sensitivities, and wellness needs.

Most herbalists use a “classical formula” as a foundation. Many classical formulas written up to 2,000 years ago are still commonly used today. Groups of herbs can be added or taken out of classical formulas to customize them for patients.

Research on IBS & Chinese Herbs

An Australian study published in 1998 in the Journal of the American Medical Association lends strong scientific support to treating IBS with Chinese herbs. In this double-blind study, 116 patients with IBS were divided into 3 groups. One group was given a standard Chinese herbal preparation, a second group was given customized herbal formulas (individually written for each patient), and a third group was given a placebo. Each patient had regular consultations with both a Chinese herbal-medicine practitioner and a gastroenterologist.

Both groups taking the Chinese herbs showed significant improvement over the patients taking the placebo. Positive results were reported by both the patients themselves and the gastroenterologists. Although there was improvement in both groups of patients taking herbs, it is important to note that the positive effects were shown to last longer in the group that was given individualized formulas. Only these patients had maintained improvement on a follow-up consultation 14 weeks after completing treatment.

This study clearly shows that Chinese herbalism is most effective when each patient is treated not only for their condition, but also for their bodily constitution and other presenting symptoms. According to the principles of Chinese medicine, each patient must be treated as an individual. Optimal results will be obtained with both herbs and acupuncture when specific treatments are customized for each patient.


Diet is extremely important in diagnosing and treating GI disorders. Diet is a natural extension of the herbal approach to treating IBS and makes the positive effects of both acupuncture and herbal formulations sustainable and faster-acting. Our specialists can perform food allergy tests (IgG, IgE, and IgA) and recommend a healthy diet for your individual body’s needs.

It is the rule rather than the exception that most patients coming for treatment of a chronic disease will have to address diet in order to see long-lasting changes in their health. If not the root of the illness itself, the diet often definitely perpetuates it.

Even more often, patients believe they are eating “healthy.” While this may be true from the standpoints of an oversimplified and archaic food pyramid or branding and marketing, this usually is not the case with regard to the energetics, potential immune reactivity, and inflammatory response of a given food or eating habits.

An example here would be someone who eats an all organic, locally-grown/raised, non-GMO chicken salad wrap sandwich. While most Americans would maintain that this meal is healthy, the energetic nature of chicken in CM is very warming and tightening. If this person is diagnosed with some sort of Heat condition in Chinese medicine and is shown to be allergic or sensitive to wheat or chicken with functional lab testing, or they’re very stressed out, on-the-go, and it’s summertime in Atlanta, this would be a meal that would be conducive to promoting further GI distress and anxiety on several accounts. This would especially be the case if this person is eating this meal without first eating a wholesome nourishing breakfast and is eating this salad wrap while driving and talking on their cell phone. In this case, the food and the eating habit could both lead to GI distress.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is clearly a complicated illness in both Western and Chinese medicine. Its many manifestations require very different treatment approaches in TCM. The varying patterns of disharmony that can cause IBS may even appear in combination and treatment must be adjusted appropriately. In any case of this disorder, our practitioners will customize Chinese medicine treatment and modify classical herbal formulas for the individual, as well as help with any necessary diet and lifestyle changes, suggest mind-body practices for the management of stress and emotions and assist with cultivating the overall well-being of the patient.

At Buckhead Acupuncture & Herbal Center, we specialize in GI disorders and treating the root of your health problems, not just the symptoms. Please contact us to schedule a personal consultation.