Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Digestive Warrior is a platform for information regarding digestive conditions in a more alternative fashion, while absolutely acknowledging science. My work represents the integration of two very sophisticated systems: Chinese and Functional Medicine. This is, by definition, East meets West. In my humble opinion, the integration of these two systems operates as the highest potential in the evolution of Medicine.
If you are seeking a ‘standard’ definition of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, best to visit Wikipedia or Mayo’s site. This is a different type of discussion and there are plenty of resources out there if you desire more Western information. I’m going to assume that if you are reading on my site that you are already well versed on such (relevant) material, no need for redundancy.
*Reading my ‘Root Cause’ article (that you will receive for free by subscribing to my site) is a crucial addition in understanding my approach to reversing IBS symptoms. It is very educational and defines my 4-step approach.
I believe in order for the discussion of IBS to take place in the context of these two systems, it is important to have an elementary understanding of each, as well as how they interact and enhance one another. This allows one to be as informed as possible in approaching their illness in a more alternative fashion, if one desires. This is not ‘new-age’ medicine…..this is 2,000 years of Traditional Chinese Medicine that is, as we speak, practiced alongside conventional medicine in all hospitals in China.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional Medicine (FM) is the study of functional relationships in the body. Simply put, FM is ‘contemporary science.’ FM believes in restoring function through the latest scientific research in how our genetics, environment, diet and lifestyle all interact. Through biochemistry and physiology, FM focuses on assessment and intervention at root levels of metabolic imbalance. It is an evolved version of the Western paradigm of medicine that better addresses needs of the 21st Century. In these modern day times, we have unprecedented epidemics’ of diseases- FM addresses the very core as to why this is so. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (and Crohn’s and Colitis) are increasing at an alarming rate; it is imperative we investigate the reasons behind this. Functional Medicine does just that.
There has been a 30% increase in the past year of MD’s acquiring FM certification, transitioning their practices into a more well-rounded, non-cookie-cutter approach. FM practitioners are not anti-pharmaceuticals etc; they are simply open to the exploration of natural treatment and preventative medicine, thereby potentially eliminating the harsh side-effects, toxicity or long-term repercussions of drugs. The greatest attribute of FM practitioners is that they are most interested in root cause of disease. They are detectives, determined to know the underlying reason(s) as to why patients are experiencing symptoms, rather than throwing a label and a drug at them. It is through the unraveling of such fundamental information that they, with precision, can address the patients’ individual needs in treatment.
The most significant commonality between FM and Chinese Medicine is that they recognize each patient as unique. This recognition is long over-due in the realm of orthodox medicine.
For a further look at functional medicine, its history, the institute and what they do, click here:
What is Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) encompasses how the body interacts with all aspects of life and the environment, seasons, weather, diet and emotional states. It is a system that emphasizes pattern recognition per each individual. It sees the key to health as the balanced functioning of the body, mind, spirit and holds that this balance depends on the unobstructed flow of Qi, or “life force” energy throughout the body along pathways known as ‘meridians.’ TCM practitioners see disease as the result of disruption in the circulation of Qi (in the very simplest of terms).
Chinese Medicine strongly identifies each person as very unique in their disease pattern. For example, if a Chinese practitioner had ten IBS patients standing before them, each might be diagnosed very differently. Now of course there may be some underlying diagnostic similarities among these ten people…….but they could perhaps each have different patterns in how the disease originally ensued. Each person is identified according to their individual constitution, each ones course of treatment (what herbs to prescribe and where to put needles) specific to their pattern of disharmony. Perhaps this is not too far off from Western Medicine- one person responds great to a biologic, another does not. Chinese Medicine is simply far more intricate. Point being- every person is vastly unique in regard to what their needs are for healing. This is the beauty of Chinese Medicine.
For a more in depth discussion of what Chinese herbs are and what exactly they do, please read my blog Why Chinese Herbs. It will quell your curiosity. Chinese herbal medicine is sophisticated alchemy……not hocus-pocus. For the aforementioned 10 patients, each one would receive a unique herbal prescription. Yes there would most likely be consistency in some of the primary herbs used. Of course it would depend on what the patients’ symptoms are at that moment as well, i.e. to stop bleeding vs stop pain (or both).
A Look at the Relationship between Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Functional Medicine (FM)
In modern TCM research it is possible to integrate syndrome differentiation with a biomedical diagnosis. Syndrome differentiation is one of the most important pieces in the practice of Chinese Medicine, and while it looks very different from conventional diagnostic methods, there is a cross-relationship. There is no ‘one to one’ correlation, however, in TCM to Western medicine.
A patient can suffer from 2 or more diseases at the same time, and each disease can show 2 or more TCM patterns of disharmony. Bottom line: In Chinese Medicine, syndrome differentiation is dynamic, with the diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome being no exception. In TCM, one pattern could be altered or resolved after treatment, requiring revision of treatment.
While the practice of TCM is becoming more widely used and accepted these days outside of China, scientists in the West have mostly focused on phyto-chemical aspects of Chinese Medicine (herbs). Unfortunately, they have no real understanding of the way a Chinese practitioner differentiates disease and syndromes.
The systems’ biology approach used in FM is very similar to the concepts of pattern differentiation in TCM. These principles can (and should be) used as a bridge between Eastern and Western medicine. The ‘correlation exploration’ studies between TCM pattern differentiation and biomedical disease diagnosis are very innovative studies and have the potential to offer profound intervention for patients, biologically. More and more clinical trials are taking place in China in the last decade in an attempt to correlate these two systems for a more comprehensive understanding. Published data is increasing in China from scientists, doctors’ and researchers to provide information due to the recognition of the efficacy in the integration of these two systems. Modern research development is on the rise in this arena, and I believe it is only a matter of time before an entirely new paradigm of medicine is born.
For an example: A double-blind, randomized clinical trial an enteric-coated capsule of Fu Fung Ku Shen was proven to be as effective and safe (if not safer) in the treatment of Ulcerative Colitis given the TCM diagnosis of damp-heat accumulation, compared to an enteric-coated capsule of mesalamine; it even showed a more positive effect specifically in the inflamed left hemi-colon area (Gong et al, 2011).
- For a look at Chinese herbal medicine trials and studies for IBS, check out my ‘Scientific Articles’ section
Cutting edge TCM research is also very interested in the pharmalogical evaluation of herbal formulas for drug discovery, as over 70% of drugs are derived from plants. In conventional medicine, prescribed drugs mostly consist of a single compound for the treatment of a specific disease. In TCM, multiple compounds are prescribed to restore health (a Chinese Herbal formula typically consists of 5-10 herbs). This ‘multiple compound’ approach, which addresses layered biological imbalances, could be dissected for new drug discovery…….and perhaps become a future pillar in pharmacology.
Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome according to Functional Medicine:
- Genetic Mutation
- Food Allergies
- Environmental Toxins/Triggers
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Oxidative Stress
- Poor Detoxification
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is linked to dysbiosis, an imbalance in the microbiota where the 80/20 ratio has been disturbed (good guys to bad guys). IBS has an infectious component (bacterial or fungal over-growth) and almost always involves food allergies. Studies have also recently linked IBS to an over-production of histamines; hence reducing histamine load could also potentially reduce symptoms. Nervous system disorders are sometimes suspected in IBS as well.
Long term disruption in the microbial balance results in a cascade of events......eventually this imbalace shows up symptomatically (gas, blaoting, pain, fogginess, diarrhea, constipation etc). IBS is often easily reversed by restoring the microbiome, hence restoring all over physiological function.
This is, in summary, is a look at Irritable Bowel Syndrome from a Functional Medicine perspective, taking into account microbiology. Now let’s change hats and look at it from a TCM perspective.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome According to Chinese Medicine
As stated above, differing constitutions of individuals will elicit a unique Chinese Medical diagnosis. I do know that Chinese theory will not make sense to most, but I find it important to at least offer the most common differential diagnosis in Chinse terms so that the reader can begin down the path of understanding their illness specific to their constitution. This differential diagnosis could also be a contributing factor as to why people respond differently to medications/supplements.
Chinese Differential Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Damp-heat Accumulation
- Spleen and Stomach Deficiency
- Liver overacting on Spleen Qi
- Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency
- Blood Stagnation
Damp-heat accumulation is almost always involved in Irritable Bowel Syndrome; it is just a question as to whether or not it is the primary pattern of disharmony or not. The Spleen Qi is usually affected, and in long- term, chronic cases of IBS the Yang of the Kidney’s is hindered. For those with remittent sharp, knife-like stabbing pain, blood stagnation is present.
It takes a skilled Chinese Practitioner to thoroughly interview a person, find out signs and symptoms and accurately diagnose according to Chinese medical theory. I certainly cannot offer all Chinese Formulas in my shop as there are hundreds. However, should we work together, I can investigate your case specifically and prescribe accordingly. Together we can discover which of the above patterns are dominant in your condition.
The Curing Pill formula is like gold for any IBS patient, symptomatically. I could not have gotten through my active Colitis days without this one- any time there’s pain (qi/blood stagnation) or gas/bloating (damp-heat), or when symptoms ensue after eating a meal, curing pills will do the trick. Of course dosage is key.
Often 2 Chinese Herbal formulas are needed- one to address the primary disharmony and another for the secondary pattern of disharmony. I will be writing further material on each disharmony so that individuals’ can become educated on the nuances of each.
Of course Chinese herbs are only a part of my approach in treating IBS, but they are a powerful adjunct to any regime aimed at resolving symptoms. Chinese herbs can energetically change the terrain; clear heat (inflammation). These formulas, combined with functional medicine strategies can be a powerful means of reversing even the most stubborn cases of IBS.