Digestive Disorders and Chinese Medicine
by Clark and Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.
It is estimated that approximately 62 million Americans experience digestive problems on an ongoing basis. This is due to the harmful repercussions of the standard American diet on our population coupled with the high level of stress that the average American experiences. Digestive problems can range from minor annoyances, such as gas and bloating, to life-threatening illnesses, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, unremitting diarrhea, and various cancers that target digestive organs. Whatever the case, it is always worth being proactive about our digestive health. The information contained in this article on acupuncture and natural therapies should definitely get you going in the right direction, not only with your digestion but also with your health in general. Let’s take a look at a few common disorders and what can be done about them.
1. Constipation: The standard American diet can easily lead to chronic constipation. This diet is low in fiber and antioxidants and high in difficult to digest additives and refined ingredients. Many, many people are constipated and they don’t even know it. They may have regular bowel movements, but they are still not flushing their systems thoroughly, which creates intestinal toxicity. Intestinal cleansing is often a top priority in healing numerous chronic health problems. There are several natural herbal remedies and nutritional supplements that can relieve constipation and heal the underlying imbalances.
- Chinese herbal formulas such as ma zi ren wan and run chang wan are gentle laxatives that are not habit forming.
- Aloe vera juice reduces inflammation and promotes peristalsis (smooth muscle contraction in the bowel).
- Triphala is an Ayurvedic herbal complex that gently eases constipation and removes stagnant waste from the intestines.
- Psyllium husk is a high fiber product that alleviates constipation.
- Flax meal and seed are excellent high fiber sources for constipation.
- Senna leaf is useful for severe constipation.
2. Diarrhea: Chronic diarrhea can be dangerous for your health. It is still one of the leading causes of death in the world. Diarrhea is related to spleen weakness or intestinal inflammation. It is always a top treatment priority to heal this condition. Stress and anxiety can trigger regular bouts of diarrhea, as can processed and refined foods. Here are a few basic remedies for diarrhea:
Chinese herbal formulas such as bu zhong yi qi tang (ginseng and astragalus), si jun qi tang (4 Gentlemen), liu jun zi tang (6 Gentlemen), and jin gui shen qi tang (rehmannia 8) are helpful for alleviating diarrhea due to deficiency. Tong xie yao feng, Isatis Cooling, and jia wei xiao yao wan are helpful for diarrhea due to heat and inflammation.
Western herbs such as slippery elm, chamomile, peppermint, and ginger harmonize and soothe the stomach to stop diarrhea.
Probiotics such as acidophilus are useful as long-term adjuncts in treating diarrhea.
3. Bloating and gas: These symptoms tend to arise from eating too much or too fast, excessive stress, refined foods, coffee and alcohol, and sugar. Aside from slowing down and eating less of these foods, here are a few herbal suggestions:
- Chai hu shu gan wan — the quintessential Chinese formula for the combination of stress and gas.
- Xiao yao wan — Excellent for digestive problems that arise during menses and excessive stress.
- Liu jun zi tang — Strengthens the spleen and takes phlegm out of the gut, which is often related to gas and bloating.
- Acidophilus and bifidus — Bloating and gas can be related to candida overgrowth, which is a pathological yeast that causes an array of physical and emotional imbalances.
4. Irritable bowel Syndrome: IBS is a very common problem that affects millions of Americans. Doctors will often diagnose IBS when the patient’s symptoms don’t seem to match up with anything else, so they call it irritable bowel. This disorder is characterized by bowels fluctuating from constipation to diarrhea with intermittent abdominal pain or distention. People with IBS tend to be sensitive to a variety of foods including high fiber foods, refined sugar, wheat, and gluten products. Symptoms can continue indefinitely and can be resistant to conventional treatments. We have treated several patients with IBS, usually with very positive results. Acupuncture theory asserts that IBS typically involves a disharmony between the liver and the spleen. The liver becomes hyperactive due to stress, anger, and frustration, which causes it to weaken the spleen, causing loose bowels and fatigue. Treatment involves relaxing the liver and strengthening the spleen.
In general, we recommend committing to weekly acupuncture and herbal treatment for 4-8 visits, depending upon the severity and duration of your symptoms.
Acidophilus and bifidus can be helpful, as many people with IBS also have candida.
Chamomile and peppermint have a soothing effect on the gut and can reduce irritation.
Most digestive disorders respond very well to consistent acupuncture and herbal treatment. Making dietary changes that restore and detoxify the gut also enhances treatment progress. Digestion is one of the main reference points for gauging one’s overall health. If there are weaknesses or imbalances here, it is likely that one’s overall health is compromised. Maintaining healthy digestion is an essential component in our quest for optimal health.
I should mention that for those of you suffering from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer, it is definitely best to seek out professional alternative and allopathic medical treatment. These diseases are simply too involved to offer blanket solutions in this article. There are many powerful natural remedies for these diseases, but their application is specific to your unique needs.