Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of common intestinal symptoms that occur together, including abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements. The symptoms can vary from minor to severe, and may significantly impact quality of life. People with IBS may experience continuous symptoms, or certain symptoms may come and go over time. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. There is no test to diagnose IBS, so tracking symptoms is important. Many people find relief from IBS symptoms through improving diet and nutrition, making lifestyle changes to reduce stress, and seeking natural treatments, including acupuncture. Let’s take a look at how a series of acupuncture sessions may help you find relief from IBS symptoms.
Understanding the Mechanisms of IBS
While the causes of IBS are varied and not entirely understood, having an overly sensitive colon or immune system may play a role. Some people develop IBS after having a bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal tract. As a result, the colon may slow or move spastically, leading to painful cramping sensations. The colon may develop abnormal serotonin levels, which affects the frequency of bowel movements. Some people with IBS may be able to identify specific triggers, such as stress, anxiety, or various foods, and develop ways to avoid them. For many patients, avoiding foods like dairy, fried foods, and sugars can offer some much-needed relief.
IBS, Stress and Anxiety
A growing body of research shows that emotional stress is an important factor in the development of IBS. Digestion is controlled by the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) side of the nervous system. Stress and anxiety can cause the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system to take over, hijacking energy away from digestion and other basic body functions. While the acute stress response is necessary for survival, if it goes on for too long or is triggered too often, it can deplete the body and cause chronic imbalances, including IBS symptoms.
Western Treatments for IBS
As the linkage of IBS with anxiety and stress is increasingly understood, Western pharmaceutical treatment has moved towards prescribing antidepressants and other psychoactive medications, as well as medicines to manage symptoms of abdominal spasm, pain and irregular bowel movement. Unfortunately, these medications can carry unwanted side effects, leading to new symptoms or exacerbating current ones.
Doctors may recommend lifestyle or dietary changes before turning to medication. However, many physicians continue to recommend a pharmaceutical approach for managing IBS symptoms.
Acupuncture For IBS: What the Research Says
Although more comprehensive research into the efficacy of acupuncture on IBS symptoms needs to be conducted, current data indicates that this treatment option holds promise. One meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials concluded that “acupuncture improves the symptoms of IBS, including abdominal pain and distention, sensation of incomplete defecation, times of defecation per day, and state of stool.” One of the studies posited that acupuncture might relieve IBS pain by modulating serotonin pathways. Another study of 531 IBS patients found that acupuncture offered more effective and long-lasting treatment for symptoms than an oral supplement of PEG 4000.
Acupuncture, Stress and Mental Health
A variety of findings suggest that acupuncture can have a beneficial impact on mental and emotional functioning, by helping to regulate neurotransmitters and modulate nervous system responses. Acupuncture can help manage anxiety by shifting the body towards parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) response, helping to prevent the circumstances that lead to IBS symptoms. If you are looking for a natural way to relieve painful IBS symptoms, consider the benefits of acupuncture treatment sessions.
Inner Works Acupuncture offers personalized acupuncture therapy for clients throughout the Portland area. Call (503) 227-2127 today to schedule an appointment.