ImageMy bowel is giving me a lot of trouble. I have severe painful diarrhea, sometimes I am also constipated. It gets worse when I am stressed or tired. They say I have IBS, Can TCM Help?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or spastic colon is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain and alternating diarrhea and constipation, passage of mucous with stools, bloating and distention, not associated with any abnormalities seen during clinical testing. IBS symptoms sometimes present with more constipation or more diarrhea further complicating treatment options. Since IBS is a “functional” disorder dealing with the abnormalities in the movement of the bowel, the parasympathetic nervous system is thought to be involved in over stimulating the intestines. IBS is most often present in patients with history of stress, anxiety, abuse, and emotional problems. It is prevalent in the western cultures. The symptoms of IBS can show up unexpectedly and though not considered life threatening, can become debilitating affecting persons quality of life. Chinese medicine classifies IBS as stagnant liver Qi attacking the spleen and stomach. Irregular dietary habits injure the spleen energy over time making it vulnerable to attack. Stress and emotional disturbances then aggravate the Liver energy, which stagnates and attacks the spleen. In my clinic I have used herbal prescriptions to harmonize the intestines and regulate the bowel. I employ acupuncture treatments to harmonize and sooth the liver energy and to help stimulate movement of Qi. All my patients receive specific dietary and life style advice to help maintain a balanced bowel and to reduce stress. It is important to consult your physician if you experience fevers and unremitting diarrhea with excessive bleeding.

Dietary changes

A high-fiber diet helps move the bowel properly and balance the intestines. Eat more well cooked and tender vegetables such as potatoes, yams, beets, carrots, celery, cucumber, lettuce, mushrooms, green peppers, squash, zucchini spinach, Swiss chard, green peas and other dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds such as almonds, whole flaxseed and soy nuts are also beneficial. Drink plenty of water at room temperature (6-8 cups per day) and fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. Be sure to eat more often and in small quantities, and keep a diet diary to determine specific foods that might trigger the symptoms. And pay attention to labels, many foods contain chemicals and artificial sweeteners hidden in the content, which can irritate the intestinal linings and aggravate IBS. Cut down on meats as much as possible especially red meats, and restrict fats, refined sugars and chocolate. Avoid all dairy products as they contain lactose and produce mucous in the body. Avoid preservative rich foods and artificial coloring and flavoring. Spicy foods, alcohol and tobacco should be avoided as they irritate the intestinal lining. Do not eat when stressed, angry or depressed.

Herbal Remedies

• Cook one-cup rice with 6 cups of water adding ½ cup of lotus seeds and ½ cup pearl barley eat daily for diarrhea type IBS

• Make tea from three dried litchi fruits and six Chinese black dates drink daily for diarrhea type IBS

• Make mung bean soup and drink through out the day for diarrhea type IBS

• Drink a glass of lukewarm water with 2 tablespoons of honey on empty stomach for constipation type IBS

• Lightly steam beets and cabbage, blend and drink juice warm for constipation type IBS

• Eat lightly steamed asparagus and cabbage in the evening

• Boil ½ cup of Hawthorn berries and drink tea to help with the overall digestion.

• Boil licorice root (3 grams) and two slices of ginger and drink as tea to help detoxify and counteract toxins in the digestive tract.

• Apply a warming pad on the abdomen to alleviate pain and distention as needed.

Helpful Supplements

• 4-6 g daily of vitamin C can be a potent antioxidant to reduce free radical damage.

• 1.5-6g daily of Glutamine can help with irritations and act as antioxidant

• 20-30 grams of psyllium was shown in a study to provide relief in patients with constipation type IBS.

• 3-6 g per day of OMEga 3 and Omega 6 Fish oils have been clinically shown to decrease intestinal inflammation

• 30 mg daily of Coleus forskohlii supplements can help relax smooth muscle tissue

• 1-4 g per day of probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus bifidus (bifidobacteria) can dramatically increase the natural gut bacteria reducing inflammation and helping the healing process.

• 1-2g daily of peppermint oil can help with digestion and relieve symptoms

Some Herbal Remedies

• Chinese Herbal Formula for IBS contains the following herbs. Dry Fried Rhyzoma atractylodis, dry fried Radix Paeoniae, dry fried Pericarpium Citri, Radix Ledebouriellae
• Depending on the type of IBS, diarrhea or constipation type, individual herbs may be added.


Daily exercise perhaps one of the most effective treatments for staying fit and strengthening your muscles. Walking and swimming are best. Start your morning or end your day with a brisk 30-minute walk. Stress reduction meditations or Qi Gong exercises can also help. Here is a Dao In self-administered massage that can help with the abdominal pain and bowel irregularities. Perform the massage twice daily 15 minutes
1. While lying in bed on your back, bend your knees slightly to a comfortable position.
2. With both arms palms down with moderate pressure begin a circular rubbing massage of the abdomen, make small clockwise circles with the palms rubbing the abdomen from the right lower side
3. Slowly make a large circle around the umbilicus while rubbing the palms on the abdomen. Be sure to keep making small circles with the hands as your traverse the abdomen around the umbilicus.
4. When you reach the left lower abdomen lift your arms and begin the process again from the right lower abdomen. Repeat the massage for 10-15 minutes
5. You can apply a small amount of peppermint essence oil to your hands to warm stimulate blood flow.


• Caffeine, alcohol and sorbitol (an artificial sweetener) ahould be avoided or eliminated as these irritate the intestines
• Some anti-inflammatory drugs containing ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin and prescription drugs (including Naprosyn, Voltaren and Feldene) can erode the lining of the small intestine and colon.
• Dairy products contain lactose, which is hard to digest and irritates the bowel lining
• Stress and anxiety, It is known that stress continually stimulates our immune system
• Be watchful of your diet and keep a diet diary to determine specific foods that cause flare-ups in your particular case.