Dominated By Bowels & Bathroom Availability.
Do you have digestive issues? Or have you been told you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome? If you're among those finding yourself avoiding intimacy, skipping meals, doing military style recon on the bathroom situation at work or social events; read on!
Learn about some causes of IBS from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective and how to treat IBS naturally.
Doing Battle With Your Bowels.
Let’s be real. Most people are not thrilled to talk about their pooping status, passing wind or what seem to be the deafening, bubbling roars their stomach is making. But these are symptoms. And symptoms should never be ignored! This is how your body talks to you to let you know what’s up. These tummy topics might be embarrassing for some but discussing them, understanding what’s causing them and getting educated about your options are the first steps toward relieving IBS. Be freed from the rule of the porcelain throne!
What is IBS?
For the 10-15% of Americans (mostly women) that have to endure this syndrome with unknown causes, life can become a juggling act. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a catch all phrase for a group of symptoms that range in severity including alternating diarrhea and constipation, flatulence, bloating and nausea. The important thing to remember is that if you have irritable bowel syndrome, or any gastrointestinal issues, you are definitely not alone and there are positive things you can do for relief and resolve. I came across this article in The Atlantic written by Anne McGovern; a woman brave enough to share her story that I think perfectly captures the struggle.
We need to talk. Relationship Problems.
Do your intestines ever get all twisted when you are really nervous for an interview? Or have you ever had an upset stomach after a stressful encounter with a parent, significant other or bestie? How about feeling depressed and chocolate seems to be the anecdote for a sad mood? None of this is coincidence thanks to intertwined relationships within our bodies.
There aren’t structural issues present with irritable bowel syndrome. There are also no infections or chemical imbalances contributing to this diagnosis. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine it is all about moderation and balance. Your diet, environment and lifestyle may contribute to the worsening of irritable bowel syndrome but positive changes in these areas may hold the key to calming your symptoms.
FUN FACT ALERT!
The Brain-Gut Relationship
Also called the Mind-Body connection, this is actually a fantastically interesting and majorly complicated relationship that directly impacts your physical/digestive and mental health. The Brain-Gut relationship can even get in the way of your sexual health as explained by Dr. Catalano in this HUFFPOST article.
To super oversimplify, it is kind of like having two computers connected by an ethernet cable in your body. The brain in your head is part of the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the “brain” in your gut is part of the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and they communicate via the Vagus Nerve sending messages in either direction. For instance, you can think about or smell something yummy cooking and your stomach will automatically start producing digestive juices before food ever gets to your mouth. Or you can be really upset and get a stomach ache. I encourage you to check this video out by Dr. Candace Pert; the amazing doctor who started to figure this all out.
What we eat can alter our mood, our mood can bring on cravings and our emotions can play games with our guts.
The Liver & Spleen Relationship
The concept of organs and their functions in Western Medicine differ In Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Yin organs, liver and spleen, and their energy pathways as well as their Yang pairs (Gall Bladder and Stomach respectively) have an important relationship in proper digestion. The Spleen governs and transforms food into Qi and blood and helps to remove dampness. The Liver ensures the smooth flow of emotions, Qi and blood in the body. A weakness/deficiency or dominance/excess in either system can result in improper digestion and produce symptoms such as found with IBS. While a Liver/Spleen disharmony is quite common for those with IBS, deeper conflicts of TCM patterns may be present.
Sleep & Stress Relationship
Too much anxiety, worry, anger, stress and fatigue can all physically and energetically interfere with the spleen/liver functions therefore hindering their jobs in digestion.
It is a love hate relationship really. Inadequate sleep can increase stress, stress increases cortisol levels and if the stress response doesn’t shut off it makes it hard to sleep. Fatigue during the day may have you grasping for sugar and caffeine...it is a downward spiral aggravating IBS symptoms.
Diet & Lifestyle Relationship
The composition of particular foods may be harsh on your digestive tract. Food allergies and intolerances contribute to IBS symptoms as well. How, when and what you eat can play a major role in your stress, sleep quality and emotions. Defined TCM properties of foods can alter the liver/spleen function and can irritate your bowels. You can watch our video explaining TCM nutrition! Having a TCM practitioner properly evaluate you and help identify the right individualized diet is key.
Lifestyle also needs to be addressed. Movement of your body helps your digestive tract move, keeps blood flowing and can help nutrients absorb more effectively. Physical activity, what mechanisms and tools you have in place to process stress, your routines throughout the day and your interactions with the world around you all ultimately relate to your overall health on a macro and micro level.
Relationships are complicated.
How your Diet, Nervous System and Energetic Pathways Overlap.
Nutritional counseling is an important part of any Traditional Chinese Medicine protocol. It is not just about “eating healthy” but rather eating the right foods, at the right times, that are right for the individualized patterns presenting for you. A few simple examples...Overwhelming your body with dampness for instance (such as dairy products are categorized) can bog down the spleen and cause digestive issues. When you weaken the spleen, the liver may over act on the spleen relationship and further cause digestive issues. So foods that are spicy or damp, meals that are too big and eaten at the wrong time, or foods that are cold are some examples of nutrition that you might be consuming that are making digestion and elimination difficult.
Foods are categorized by properties and those properties can hinder, repair or rejuvenate organ systems, effectively making food a form of medicine.
Every organ in TCM is classified in an element group and also associated with different properties. Some of these properties include things like an emotion, sound, color, taste, time & season. For instance, the Liver emotions are anger/irritability and the Spleen emotions are overthinking/worry. The fact that anxiety and stress play a role in digestion is not a surprise in Chinese Medicine.
Foods you eat can trigger certain emotions by calming or stimulating neurotransmitters in the gut. Did you know that almost all the chemicals associated with emotions (or their receptors) located in the brain are also located in the gut? This includes neurotransmitters that may be familiar to you such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and a source of benzodiazepines (which are found in xanax).
What you can do about it.
To round this up, your diet, emotions and lifestyle totally matter for IBS! Putting undue stress on your gut and making your digestion an extra thing your body has to deal with will strain your immune system making it easier to get sick or not recover as quickly.
Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes acupuncture, has shown to be effective at decreasing stress levels, improving sleep quality and managing IBS symptoms. Acupuncture not your thing? You may want to give meditation, yoga or relaxing massages a try. And good sleep hygiene is an absolute must. Establish a positive ritual around bedtime and shut off your phone! Also go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake at the same time everyday. (ahem... in the morning...don’t sleep til noon.) We highly recommend getting zen and catching some quality zzz’s.
10 Tips To Help Your Tummy & Ease IBS Symptoms
Actively Engage in Stress/Anxiety Relief. Click here for our 10 bonus tips for stress reduction!
Improve Sleep Quality & Sleep Habits.
Avoid Dairy, Caffeine, Alcohol and Cold/Raw Foods. (Ease up on the salads (which are cold and raw. Eat veggies but steam them!)
Drink Room Temperature Water and Stay Hydrated! Avoid cold and frozen beverages.
Get your body moving! Exercise might be a daunting term, so think outside of the box if the gym, yoga or running isn’t going to make it on your to do list. Jump rope, walk flights of stairs or ride a stationary bike! Many of us sit long hours at work. Try taking walking/stretching breaks if possible and perhaps stand while working.
Don’t Overeat and Don’t Eat Late at Night.
Take Extra Care in Chewing Your Food.
Pending The Advice of Your Health Practitioner, fermented foods and probiotics may be helpful in restoring good gut bacteria.
Keep A Daily Diary for 2 Weeks. Track your diet (what you eat and when), activities and emotions. You may notice triggers that worsen your symptoms and this will be helpful information for your health practitioner.
Garden Acupuncture regularly and successfully helps women and men of all ages address many digestive issues such as IBS, constipation (including opioid induced constipation), diarrhea and gas/bloating. Acupuncture is a wonderful modality to help decrease the effects of stress in the body as well as improve sleep quality. Live a more comfortable life and address your symptoms!