A recent hot topic in medical research is the gut microbiome (our gut’s ecosystem comprised of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria) and the gut-brain axis. These areas are particularly important in conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is said to affect approximately 1 in 5 Australians. While the cause of the syndrome is multifactorial, it is widely known that stress can trigger or aggravate this disorder. This manifests as changes to bowel motions (diarrhoea, constipation or both), bloating, abdominal pain and nausea.
From a biomedical perspective chronic stress and anxiety stimulates our nervous system triggering flight/fight adrenaline mode. This takes away the blood supply to our vital organs (stomach and intestines) and pushes it to the peripheries, therefore reducing the effectiveness of our digestion.
However, medical research is also demonstrating that the state of our gut also has an affect on mood via the gut-brain axis. The ratio of good and bad bacteria in our gut has been shown to increase inflammation that predisposes us to stress and anxiety. This highlights that the communication between our digestive system and brain is bi-directional, I.E. your gut could be worsening your stress! This results in a vicious cycle in which your stress is causing your digestive complaints and your poor digestion is contributing to stress!
In Chinese Medicine, the digestive system including the spleen and stomach work to ferment food to provide energy or Qi to the rest of the body. Failure of these digestive organs to do this therefore effects all aspects of
health. This weakness also makes it easier for emotions such as anger and worry to influence our digestion leading to symptoms often experienced in IBS.
Acupuncture can improve symptoms related to IBS by lowering stress and its related hormones in our body and improving blood supply to the gut. It is also may be effective in reducing severity of bloating and abdominal pain.
In addition, Chinese herbs can strengthen our digestive system and help control irregular bowel motions, which in turn will improve overall mood. In addition, studies have shown that Chinese herbs may influence our gut ecology. Herbal medicine may also make it easier for the digestive system to deal with foods that may otherwise aggravate digestion.
This holistic approach of simultaneously lowering stress and improving digestive function with acupuncture and herbs is multi-targeted to better help conditions such as IBS. If you suffer from IBS and want to see if Chinese medicine can help you, please visit our Balmain clinic (97 Beattie St). Bookings are available online or call (02) 8018 8339.