Traditional Chinese Medicine for IBS and Colitis

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is also referred to as spastic colon, nervous bowel, or irritable colon. This condition is caused by excessive spasms of the large intestine. It is more common than colitis and probably the most frequent abdominal complaint brought to the attention of doctors. In the U.S., as many as one in five American adults has the  signs and symptoms of IBS.

Colitis, on the other hand, is a disorder characterized by an inflammation of the inner lining of the colon. Sometimes the entire length of the large intestine is involved. This condition can frequently progress to ulcerative colitis.

Making the Diagnosis

Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Diagnosis of IBS is often based on a review of the symptoms and a process of elimination of other disorders. The major symptoms include abdominal cramping, excess of gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. It is important to note that a barium x-ray, sigmoidoscopic examination, or colonoscopy can sometimes produce similar symptoms.

Colitis – This disorder can be caused by several inflammatory bowel conditions. The main defining symptom is diarrhea containing mucous with blood, often accompanied by severe abdominal cramping and pain, weight loss, anemia, and a loss of appetite. The disease usually begins in the rectum and lower portion of the colon; in time the entire colon may involved.

Ulcerative colitis can be readily diagnosed by sigmoidoscopy as well as a barium enema and X-ray study. These diagnostic tools are not suitable when an acute flare-up is involved. Examinations can also reveal that some cases of colitis arise from infectious diseases such as amebiasis, or bacteria from food poisoning such as salmonellosis, or other unknown bacteria or viruses.

Hemorrhage is the most common complication of ulcerative colitis. Sometimes it can lead to severe infection, therefore requiring immediate surgery.

Causes of IBS and Colitis

From the Western medical standpoint there are no clear explanations of what causes intestinal inflammation, although there is recognition of contributing factors such as  allergic response to certain foods or drinks, emotional distress, wrong diet, or heavy cigarette smoking. Any of these can contribute to the irritation of the intestinal tract. Some scholars believe the root cause to be an auto-immune disorder, and I tend to agree.

As a side note, colon cancer tends to occur more frequently in patients with ulcerative colitis, especially in those who have had colitis since childhood.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, IBS and colitis are categorized by a few different terms such as: 1) “Chi Bai Li” dysentery; 2) middle burner disorder; 3) fire stagnation in large intestine. Because TCM is based on a different theoretical model than Western medicine, I often think of it as ‘Macro Correlation Concept’. TCM diagnosis is based on ‘Pattern Identification’, rather than the Western approach of using a specific medical label for a disease. In my 40 years of clinical experience, I have observed that most patients suffer from more than one disease at the same time. For example, if a person comes to my clinic complaining of IBS or colitis symptoms, further investigation may reveal that he also suffers from other medical problems such as low sperm count, depression, anxiety, hiatal hernia, thyroid disease, or other problems.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, any diseases occurring in the large intestine will have a connection with problems in the lungs. Grief is the emotion that is associated with the lungs, and I do find that many people who have longstanding grief, or if their parents had a lot of persistent grief, these people are at higher risk of developing IBS or colitis.

I personally believe that if a person suffers from long term negative emotions, this will also affect the DNA of their lineage, as well as the mental health of their children, and the well-being of animals who live with them.

Differentiation and Treatment of Common Syndromes

1) Hyperactivity of the “Liver Fire” and Insufficiency of the Spleen (often induced by negative emotions) –

  • Signs and Symptoms: Manifested as abdominal pain before diarrhea, after that the pain is decreased, or relieved, accompanied by distention and pain, epigastric fullness, and inability to eat.
  • TCM Tongue Observation: White coating and thin, or it can be thick (especially for someone who has a thick body). Pulse: thready and taut
  • TCM Treatment Principle: Checking hyper function of the “Liver fire” and strengthening the spleen.
  • TCM Chinese herbal formula: Prescription of Importance for Diarrhea with pain.
    • Radix Paeoniae Alba 15 Gram
    • Rhizoma Atractylodis Macroce Phalae 15 gram
    • Radix Ledebouriellae 10 Gram
    • Pericarpium Citri Reticulatae 10 gram
    • Radix Bupleuri 10 gram
    • Semen Coicis 15 gram
    • Semen Dolichoris 12 gram
    • Fructus Crataegi 12 gram
  • Acupuncture treatment: Apply reduce method to acupuncture point Neiting (St. 44), Xingglian (Liv 2), Jinsue (Du 8). Apply reinforce method to acupuncture point:Taihai (Sp 3), Shangwan (Ren 13), Pishu (U.B.20).

2) Downward Flow of Damp-heat –

  • Symptoms: Fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, burning sensation in the anus, bloody and/or purulent stool with mucous.
  • TCM Tongue Observation: Yellow, thick, greasy fur.
  • Pulse: Rolling and rapid .
  • TCM Treatment Principle: Clearing away pathogenic heat and dampness.
  • TCM Chinese Herbal formula: Decoction of Pueraria, Scutellaria and Coptis with additional ingredients:
    • Radix Scutellariae 10 gram
    • Rhizoma Coptidis 10 gram
    • Flos Lonicerae 30 gram
    • Radix Pulsatillae 15 gram
    • Semen Plantaginis 10 gram
    • Radix Aurantii 10 gram
  • Acupuncture treatment: Apply reduce method to acupuncture point: Yinlingquan (Sp. 9), Hegu (L.I. 4), Tainshu (St 25), Dachangshu (U.B. 25).

3) Insufficiency of the Spleen and Stomach –

  • Signs and Symptoms: Gassy diarrhea with undigested food in the stool, stuffiness in the abdomen, fatigue, anorexia.
  • TCM Tongue Observation: Pale colour with whitish fur.
  • Pulse: Deep and weak
  • TCM Treatment Principle: Apply reinforcing method to  spleen and the stomach.
  • TCM Chinese formula – Modified Power of Ginseng, Poris and Bighead Astractylodes:
    • Radix Codonopsis Pilosulae 15 gram   Semen Coisis 15 gram
    • Semen Nelumbinis 12 gram Rhizoma Dioscoreae 12 gram
    • Rhizoma Astractylodis Macroce phalae 12 gram
    • Pericarpium Citri Reticulatae 10 gram
    • Radix Glycyrrhizae Praeparata 6 gram
    • Acupuncture treatment: Apply reinforce method with Moxibustion to Zhongwan (Ren 12), Qihai (Ren 6 ).

4) Insufficiency of the Spleen and Kidney Yang –

  • Signs and Symptoms: Early morning diarrhea, cold limbs, soreness and weakness of the loins, paleness.
  • TCM Tongue Observation: pale and tender; whitish fur coating. Pulse: Deep thready and weak.
  • TCM Treatment Principle: Warming and tonifying the spleen and kidney yang.
  • TCM Chinese herbal formula: Four Miraculous Drugs with additional ingredients:
    • Fructus Psoraleae 10 gram   Semen Myristicae 10 gram
    • Fructus Schisandrae 10 gram Fructus Evodiae 10 gram
    • Radix Aconiti Praeparata 10 gram
    • Radix Codonopsis Pilosulae 12 gram
    • Rhizoma Atractylodis Macroe phalae 12 gram
    • Halloysitum Rubrum 30 gram
    • Radix Glycyrrhizae Praeparata 6 gram
  • Acupuncture treatment: Apply reinforce method with moxibustion to acupuncture point: Shenshu (U.B. 23), Mingmen Du  4), TaiXi (K 3 ). Guanyan (Ren 4 , Baihui (Du 20 ), Baihui (U.B 20), Taixi (K3), Zhongwan (Ren 12). Zhangmen (Liv. 13 ) Note: This is the Eight Influential points dominating the Zang organs.

In Summary

  • This is a very difficult disease to treat – I often teach or/and incorporate meditation training such as “Qigong”  to my patients. The victims must train daily.
  • Diet advice: hot porridge such as millet porridge is also recommend for daily diet (contact me for the recipe).
  • Cold drink and cold food must be avoided.
  • Avoid a stressful lifestyle.

Sufferers of IBS and colitis must find a good TCM practitioner and acupuncturist who is highly trained and experienced. The above information on herbal formulas and acupuncture treatments are general guidelines; during treatment there may be adjustments needed to suit the individual case. Mild to moderate IBS and colitis can be treated by a special diet, along with herbs and acupuncture. Advanced cases may require surgery to remove the part of the colon most likely to progress to cancer. See your  doctor if you have any persistent change in bowel habits or symptoms. These could also be the signs of colon cancer!

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