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Chinese Herbs for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

January 5, 2010 by  

Chinese Herbs for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects more than 37 million Americans today. That’s approximately 18 percent of U.S. citizens, most of them in their 20s and 30s. IBS presents either as diarrhea or constipation and there are both mental-emotional components and food components to the syndrome.

The theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hold that there are several “patterns of imbalance” that can cause IBS. These patterns are differentiated by sets of symptoms and are thus treated with different patent herbal formulas.

In terms of the mental-emotional causes of IBS, TCM distinguishes several syndromes. “Liver qi stagnation” is among the most common cause wherein the stress or emotional upset “stagnates” the liver energy, slowing the release of blood and overheating the spleen and stomach.

This imbalance is made worse with emotions and stress, and its symptoms include alternating diarrhea and constipation, irritability, depression, mood swings, tension and spasm in the neck and upper back, epigastric pain, abdominal pain and/or bloating, hypochondriac pain, cold fingers and toes.

An effective Chinese patent herbal formula for this type of problem is Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan (Bupleurum Soothe Liver Teapills).

Another syndrome is known as “liver qi invading the spleen.” With this syndrome there is a marked emotional component that worsens with stress and emotional upset.

Symptoms include abdominal pain and cramping, irritability, anger, moodiness, depression and recurrent, explosive diarrhea. The diarrhea here is a physiological response of the body to prolonged, repeated or severe emotional and psychological stress. After the diarrhea episode the person usually feels better, if only temporarily.

A strong herbal formula for this is known as Tong Xie Yao Feng Wan (Calm Wind Teapills).

Another form of IBS—predominate diarrhea type—is known as “liver qi stagnation with food or damp stagnation in the intestines.” This syndrome presents with indigestion, flatulence, belching, acid reflux, abdominal distension and pain, tendency to constipation, sluggish bowels or alternating bowel habits.

This type of IBS is typical among office workers who are habitually stressed, overworked and sedentary, leading to a slowing down of peristalsis due to hyper tonicity in the gastrointestinal system. Chinese herbs, such as Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan (Saussurea Qi Promoting Pills), help this syndrome.

The dietary side of IBS is two-fold, concerning both what you do and do not eat. A diet that is high in sugar, alcohol, caffeine, dairy and fatty foods and low in water, fiber and alkaline foods will cause constipation by drying and food and damp stagnation in the stomach and intestines.

Thirty grams of dietary fiber, 2 quarts of water and plenty of green leafy vegetables every day should re-balance the problem. But you must also slow down on and ideally discontinue the intake of foods and beverages that dehydrate and also cause dampness (phlegm-rheum) in the body.

If you have access to a TCM practitioner or acupuncturist, a proper diagnosis can be made and the proper syndrome-specific herbs can be advised. If not, then consider IBS as a syndrome composed of a set of symptoms and see which from the above you fit best into. Then search herbal formulas on the Internet to read more about their actions and any possible side effects.

Whether you choose the Chinese herbal approach or not, dietary changes are a must. IBS is a concern that is intimately connected to the foods we eat and forget to eat. And a little change can go a long way!

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley

is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. The Wiley Method provides a revolutionary way of providing recovery and prevention of chronic pain, illness and disease. Grab your FREE COPY of Dr. Mark Wiley's "The 3 Secrets to Optimal Health" HERE.

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  • So

    I suffered with IBS for 10 years. No Dr. could give me any answers and basically I was told to keep the Pepto nearby. It was getting so bad, I was having a hard time leaving the house. If I had an appointment during the day, I couldn’t eat before hands. I spent a large amount of time in the bathroom.
    I hadn’t had a formed stool in 10 years.
    Finally, after many Dr. visits, I decided to try a colon cleansing.
    I went to my nearby health food store and bought a good brand for the 30 day cleanse. One capsule in the am and one in the pm. I drank OJ with them with a healing teaspoon of Metamucil stirred in.
    On the fifth day, I had a normal movement and have been normal for the past 5 years.
    Now I make sure I take probiotics, digestive enzymes and eat a brand of yogurt w/o artificial sugars and I am back to normal. I also make sure I don’t ingest any fake sugars or corn syrup.

  • http://none Christine Smith

    IBS symptoms can be same as Celiac symptoms. Important to distinguish.

    • Pat


      What is Celiac? Which symptoms are the same? Are Colitis and IBS related? Six months ago I was hospitilized with Colitis and a lot of bleeding. Been ok since, but I have had loose stools for 25 years which causes extreme weakness that lasts for hours. Doctor doesn’t know why.

      • Dr. Mark Wiley

        Greetings, Pat.
        To help your understanding of Western diagnosis, here are some basic definitions.

        Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is found mainly in foods but may also be found in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, and lip balms.

        Colitis is the term used to described inflammation of the colon There are a variety of causes of colitis including infections, poor blood supply, and autoimmune reactions.

        Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder of the large bowel, meaning the bowel doesn’t work, or function, correctly. IBS is not a disease, but a group of symptoms. The main symptoms of IBS are: pain or discomfort in the abdomen, often relieved by a bowel movement; chronic diarrhea, constipation, or both; whitish mucus in the stool; a swollen or bloated abdomen; the feeling that you have not finished a bowel movement.

        Chinese medicine does not drill down to the specific name of a disease, as such. It rather works from a syndrome perspective. So differentiating between celiac, crones and IBS is not as important as is choosing herbs that can help balance the body… and this is based on set of overall symptoms.

        In either case, it is always advisable to either see an herbalist or physician for a thorough diagnosis prior to choosing which path to follow.

        • jenna w

          I have been diagnosed since I was in early 20′s with Crohn’s, colitis, & ileitis. I was often sick with stomach pain as a child and diagnosed with Ameba by a doctor who seemed to stand alone from other doctors in that day. He said if I didn’t get treatment, by the time I was 21, I would be dead. I was too young for his coal oil treaments at the time. He put me on sulfa pills and had my mother give me enemas everyday. This resulted in giving me more pain and sickness. I begged to stop and I got better, at least for brief times. Graduated from college but had IBS thruout and by the time I was 21, teaching school in my 2nd year, everything came to a head. I was first diagnosed with 5 ulcers in my stomach. Dr. said my colon looked like that of a 90 yr. old because of scar tissue. Had my first major surgery in which at least a foot of colon was removed. I nearly died from blockage pain and was in many hospitals before the surgery decision was made. I had tried every kind of food, including alovera, went to feet therapists, and chiropractors. Nothing would last more than a day. Then surgery! Following a year after surgery I began to have fistulas. Drs. poked on me internally, actually aggrevating the fistula more. Finally about 10 yrs. of living with horrible pain, I met a Dr. who said a colostomy was the answer and that I would be reconnected in 6 wks. It lasted 4 1/2 yrs. But a miracle took place. I became pregnant and the fistula healed. 1st baby was born and colon was reconnected. I was on ACTH in yrs. of my 20,s because it was like a miracle drug. I felt better and ate better. But over the yrs. I have continued with these diseases and have even had another temporary colostomy. Changing drs. numerous times and then eventually was put on a low dose of prednisone. My insides and body just don’t function without it. (extreme pain all over) Have been told my adrenalin gland will not function without the steroids because of the period of time I was on it. Have been on 2 mg of prednisone for about 10 yrs. Can’t get it down below that without extreme pain all over, from blockage to arthritis. My Gastroenterologist has had me on Pentasa over the yrs. It doesn’t seem to be the answer. One end of colon works against the other it seems. QUESTION: What treatment and foods do you suggest because I don’t do well with ruffage. The green veg. cause gas even when pureed. I have problems with constipation one day or many days in a row or the opposite. This sounds like I’m living on borrowed time. It is by the grace of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that I’m alive. Have had 2 more children. I keep on trying and praying for an answer. I am 67 yrs. old and I hope I won’t be written off as too late. I believe God can heal me thru bringing people across my path to help me. Thank you for your time and suggestions.

          • Dr. Mark Wiley

            Greetings, Jenna. I am sorry to hear about your suffering throughout your lifetime. Never give up, there is always a way! I think a first step is to not let yourself be burdened by the past and your previous treatments. They are over and it is easier to only focus on what and how you are feeling now, and to see what can be done about it. That will help you feel less “helpless” and allow hope for recovery to shine through.

            From what I gather from your post, you are looking for two things: 1) what can you eat in replace of green leafy veggies; and 2) how can you balance your bowels to some form of normalcy.

            As for diet, can you eat bananas and/or drink or take spirulena capsules? These are both nutrient dense foods that will help nourish your body.

            As for the alternating diarrhea and constipation, there are very good Chinese herbal formula for just this problem. Which one to use, is based on whether your bowel issues are predominantly constipation or diarrhea. Yes, they alternative but one is generally predominant. Here are the two formula names, look them up on the internet and read to see which is more appropriate for your case.

            Tong Xie Yao Feng Wan (aka, Calm Wind Teapills)
            Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan (no American name)

            Best of luck, and you will need to give them 6 weeks (1 bottle = 8 days). If your symptoms worsen, stop the one formula and try to other. So you may want to purchase 1 bottle of each as a test, if you are not sure which one best addresses your symptoms.

  • Emma Leeth

    My 98 year old aunt suffers from diarrhea all the time. I have been looking for something for her. Do you think your medicine will help her? Please advise!

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      Greetings, Emma. There are many Chinese herbal formulas for diarrhea. However, the correct formula cannot be determined without knowing the additional symptoms that exist, such as muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, chronic or acute, hot or cold diarrhea, etc. Diarrhea is one in a number of symptoms she is experiencing because of an underlying syndrome of imbalance. Only addressing the diarrhea will not change the condition. Here are a few formulas to look at online, and see which one addresses most of the symptoms your aunt is experiencing in addition to the diarrhea.

      Huo Hsiang Cheng Chi Pien
      Ge Gen Wan
      Shen Ling Bai Zhu Wan
      Tong Xie Yao Feng Wan

      Go ahead and “copy and paste” each name into search bar and read up on the formulas. The one that most closely relates to your aunt’s experiences is probably the one best suited to her. additionally, consuming less juice, salads and cold meals will also help.

  • Joe Pesch

    I have a bowel movement each morning and feel fine. I have oat meal or two eggs for breakfast, coffee and toast. I feel fine for a few hours and have lunch, generally tuna and spinach leaves. About 3 to 4 hours after that, I begin to have gas and feeling I have to go but its mostly gas with white to yellow mucus. I have talapia, chicken, and occasional redmeat for dinner with pasta. What in your opinion is causing all this gas and mucus every day. My stools are soft but not diarrea. I’m 81 years old and have been treated for prostate cancer a few years ago(radiation). I have permanent gold implants in my prostate. Could that be the problem?

  • Dr. Mark Wiley

    Hello, Joe. I don’t have a solid answer for you. It could be that the residual stress from the treatments is irritating your colon, causing it to form mucus for protection. It could also be stress in general. Additionally, many people find it difficult to process wheat and oatmeal as they age, and these could be a cause of irritation and gas. You might also be allergic to something you are eating.

    If feel up to it, go ahead and look at the herb list from above comment and see which one might best address your symptoms.

  • Janet M

    After over 20 years of suffering with autoimmune problems and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I was finally diagnosed with Celiac disease a couple of years ago. The long-term damage to my system was so pronounced that I have also developed allergies to casein and nuts. Needless to say, I’ve been desperate to find something that will help me “normalize” my system (to the greatest extent it can be), and cleanse it as well.

    The Dr Max Powers 15 Day Cleanse was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Excellent, effective, and allergen-free. Two-a-day along with an allergen-free diet and my IBS is a thing of the past. Best of all–no prescription medication needed now! The price is pretty great, too.


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