Swimsuit season is upon us, and there’s nothing worse than feeling bloated when you’re at the beach. As a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner who specializes in digestive health, I am very excited to write to you about acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome. Western medicine has largely failed on this front, but Chinese medicine has the diagnostic ability and the customizable treatment protocol to help people overcome problematic digestion. This should be welcome news to those of you who have struggled silently—or felt ignored by your doctor. And if you feel like nothing will help, since nothing has before, I encourage you to give Chinese medicine a try—you might be very surprised!
Today, we’re handing over the reins to my patient Caroline, who has suffered with a pretty textbook case of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), swinging between constipation and loose-stool episodes, bloating, aches and pains. But just because it was textbook doesn’t mean it was easy to live with! For more than a decade, she struggled with the uncertainty of what would set her off and send her into an episode—and that’s no way to experience life! Today we’re getting a look inside what her experience was like. Then in our next post, we’ll discuss how I diagnosed her specifically and what we did to treat her, and some parting thoughts from Caroline.
What was the problem you came into Healing InSight with? What symptoms were you experiencing?
I was dealing with constant stomach aches/bloating after eating and trouble having consistent bowel movements. I had irritable bowel symptoms since my teenage years (almost 15 years!) and had tried going to a traditional doctor, tried different prescriptions and remedies, but nothing had worked.
How were these symptoms affecting your life?
I never knew when I would have stomach pain and I never knew if something I ate would upset my stomach for the rest of the day or ruin pre-existing plans.
Was there anything that seemed to have caused it? Anything that made it worse or better?
I had a hard time pinpointing what was causing the issues. I kept a food diary and thought it was related to wheat or gluten, so I tried self-diagnosing myself—that really didn’t help. But once I started treatment with Senia, I learned how to identify the food groups that were causing more issues.
What did you try before you tried acupuncture, if anything?
I went to a traditional doctor and had X-rays and scans, but nothing was conclusive. I had my stool analyzed, but still nothing. They said maybe I had irritable bowel syndrome. The Western medicine response was to take Metamucil, which only made my bowel movements inconsistent and didn’t help the stomachaches.
How did you feel by the time you came to Healing InSight? How did you decide to try Traditional Chinese Medicine?
I literally felt like I had nothing to lose. I had tried everything I felt I could on my own, and was willing to try acupuncture for IBS, even though I had never done it before. My mom actually saw an article about Senia in Minnesota Monthly and saw that she specialized in digestive issues. Since I had been struggling with this for years, my mom suggested I give it a try. I wasn’t sure what to expect, which was good since I went in with an open mind. Like I said, I had tried everything and this was kind of a last resort. The whole experience exceeded my expectations and I have been extremely happy with the results.
How long have you been treated and what has happened as a result? Were there any breakthrough or important moments during that time? What did your treatment look and feel like?
I started working with Senia in September doing acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome, so it has been about six months. I had mini breakthroughs almost instantly, but really saw a 100 percent turnaround within three to four months. I was visiting the clinic once a week in the beginning and now I’m at once every 3 weeks. I was a bit nervous about the needles in the beginning, but it doesn’t hurt at all and is so relaxing. Your body almost feels heavy and I fall asleep almost every time. I look forward to my treatments and having time to calm my body. During the treatments, I could instantly feel my stomach and digestive tract moving—it was kind of crazy at first, but the minute the needles went in, I could feel changes.
Have you made significant changes to your lifestyle? What?
Every time I meet with Senia, I learn something new. Even if it is not related to my digestive issues, there is a tidbit that can help live a better life. One of the first things Senia taught me was about damp and dry foods. I started eliminating or limiting the dampening foods and instantly felt better. I still wasn’t 100 percent, but this made a big difference. I also started to meditate, which helps me channel stress.
And now, a little from me about what was happening with Caroline and her IBS.
The three things I could see happening with Caroline are the core three categories I see over and over again with irritable bowel syndrome:
Qi stagnation: When digestion gets stuck that means things aren’t moving through your abdomen, which means your Qi has stagnated. It shows up as constipation, bloating because you’re holding on to air or water, cramping or urgency, or belching. Secondary signs? Cold hands and feet, lump in the throat, irritability.
Dampness: Dampness is fluid that is settling into some part of your body. You may not be able to see it, but you can sure feel it. This explains the heavy feeling in Caroline’s abdomen: She felt bloated and her legs felt super heavy. This is always worse with eating bread and dairy, because both groups cause your body to hold onto a lot of fluid, especially if you have proclivity to it . Other symptoms: frontal headaches, sinus infections, and excessive fatigue/sleep patterns. Spring is a Damp time of year, so symptoms can be exacerbated now.
Qi deficiency: Everything was difficult to pass. Caroline’s bowel movements would feel incomplete, as though she couldn’t expel it all. This is because the Qi doesn’t have the force to expel stool. The Qi deficiency is also responsible for the diarrhea: Things move too quickly because there’s not enough Qi present for proper digestion.
In Caroline’s case, acupuncture was a great treatment, because we primarily use that to re-regulate and strengthen digestion and and help it to flow smoothly. This will help digestion not be so susceptible to stress, food changes, or travel—or whatever outside forces might cause your digestion to wobble off-track. After Caroline made some food changes and we started with the acupuncture for IBS, we also ramped up with herbs.
We kicked off treatment with weekly acupuncture. As soon as needles went in, things started to shift, and I could tell this was really gratifying for her. After treatment, she appeared super-relaxed, so it had the added bonus of resetting her nervous system. At first, she would have good bowel movements for a few days after treatment, from two days, then three days, and then five days in a row after continued treatments.
One of the challenging things with your changing diet when you have IBS, is that eating differently doesn’t make you feel better right away, so it’s hard to stick to it. By doing acupuncture while changing her diet, Caroline started feeling better—and if she ate something that made her feel worse, she would feel it. Getting feedback from body about what is good food and what was bad food was key. Looking at a list of no-nos on the internet doesn’t necessarily help you when you have IBS, you have to be able to test them out and get feedback from your body, which acupuncture helps with.
I recommended a Dampness-eliminating diet, which limits bread and dairy and encourages eating more meat and vegetables. I also had Caroline make the switch from coffee to tea, because coffee is a stimulant, but tea is a gentle diuretic, which will clear fluid and dampness. I also suggested eating more protein throughout the day, since her energy was low.
After a course of treatment, everything started healing faster: She experienced less heaviness, more formed stool, and she needed less sleep. Most importantly, she wasn’t experiencing as many food triggers, and she stopped craving as many sweets. That’s also key, because sweets and wheat tend to make IBS worse. I don’t tell patients to quit the sweets at first, but as we work together, you stop wanting it, so you don’t need a huge amount of willpower in order to stop eating sweets. And the success propels you forward to make more changes.
After about two months, Caroline reported she was starting to feel a lot better. After a work trip set off some of her old symptoms, we added in herbs to help her get back on the fast track to wellness. I added our old friend Free and Easy Wanderer to help with the Qi stagnation, plus a few other herbs to help urgency, cramping, and incomplete movements. With the herbs, we were able to fine-tune her body and rid her of the last symptoms she had.
IBS can be very straightforward to diagnose and treat, but it takes, time to re-regulate the way your body has been stuck moving, especially in a case where you have something from when you were a teen. You have to remind digestion how to move and work again.
Now, we’ve really made a significant difference so Caroline doesn’t have to suffer so much. She can live a life where her body is less sensitized!
Caroline’s Final Thoughts
“I now have a better understanding of what triggers digestive issues for me. I feel more in control of my body, and know how to listen to the signs. If I have a vacation or weekend where I indulge a bit more in damp foods, I know how to get my body and digestive system back to normal.
“I am a HUGE fan of Senia’s practice and acupuncture in general. When I started, my fiancé was very skeptical of the whole process, but after seeing the changes himself, he is more open to the idea. I never thought he would get on board, but he can’t deny the fact that my stomachaches are gone and my digestive system is moving regularly. I was surprised how fast my digestion improved. I started feeling better instantly, but have continued to improve with each successive treatment. It’s made it easy to make changes and respond to the feedback my body is giving me. I feel empowered! I can’t believe how bad I used to feel.”
What about you?
If you suffer from IBS, or suspect you do, give us a call or book an appointment online. There’s no reason you need to live with it! I’ve helped tons of people like you return to a normal life—many of them people who gave up on Western medicine because it wasn’t helping them. IBS is so disruptive to your life, and it doesn’t have to be. Acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome can help!