Many digestive issues including Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s are commonly treated with Chinese Medicine.  The process may take anywhere from a few months to a year or more to resolve these issues completely .  Generally a combination of techniques including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and/or medical qi gong are part of the healing process.  With dietary change and other lifestyle habits also being a part of whether a person will get satisfactory results from treatment – although those alone are not often enough to bring the body back in balance as many have found before seeking help from their acupuncturist.

The first step in treating IBS is to obtain your diagnosis with Chinese Medicine parameters (See “What Does Acupuncture Treat?“, to better understand treating patterns/causes and not symptoms/issues).  Your TCM diagnosis is generally obtained by your practitioner going through your detailed medical and health history, asking questions, looking at your and checking your , among other techniques.

Some common TCM diagnoses for IBS would be (there are others):

In this article we will talk a little more about the liver attacking the spleen diagnosis and an herbal formula that is often used to remedy that particular diagnosis.

To better understand what we mean by the “spleen”, I recommend you read “My Spleen is What?“.

The Chinese herbal medicine formula, Tong Xie Yao Fang Wan is explored in the study that I am writing about today.  All formulas are grouped through various functional mechanisms and this TCM formula falls within the “Regulate and Harmonize the Liver and Spleen” functional grouping.  From a Chinese Medicine treatment perspective, if your “liver” is “attacking your spleen” (leading to IBS symptoms) – you want to “harmonize the “liver” and strengthen the “spleen”.  Within acupuncture you might use points such as LV 3 (which harmonizes the liver) and CV 12 (which strengthens the spleen) – as examples.

But in the case of an herbal formula, what is really happening under the hood so to speak when we say we are using Tong Xie Yao Fang Wan to “harmonize the liver” and “strengthen the spleen”.  Well a group of researchers from the digestive disease diagnosis and treatment center within the Beijing Chinese Medicine Hospital set out to find out.

Using a rat population, researchers created a IBS (stress w/diarrhea predominant issues) model and divided them into 2 treatment groups – and herbal formula treatment group and a control.  They found that the formula inhibited colonic contractions in the stress model, thus aiding overall symptoms.  They felt that this was due to “activation of specific potassium channels and inhibition of extracellular calcium internal flow”.  Another study had evaluated this up-regulation of calcium channels as an underlying mechanism of IBS.

Now of course this is just one aspect of what the formula is doing and comprehensive treatment would involve much deeper change in the body.  But even though the words used within Chinese Medicine may at times seem colorful, they lead to very specific scientifically explorable changes in the body.  And this isn’t limited to herbal medicine – although that might seem more scientific than acupuncture to some.  Another IBS related study utilized electro-acupuncture and concluded that it could decrease 5-hydroxytrptamine and calcitonin gene-related peptide and increase neoru-peptied Y in the brain-gut axis (again using rate models).  These are all markers that would be involved in stress related IBS symptoms.

It looks like “harmonizing your liver” isn’t just a nice Chinese Medicine concept, but something that is used to direct practitioners towards a number of valid formulas and/or acupuncture points to lead to true internal change.