Hong Ma (R.TCMP)
Registered  TCM Practitioner Registered Acupuncturist  
Over 10 Years Canadian Experience

Studied traditional Chinese medicine for a period of five years before graduating from Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. more

Controlling gastrointestinal disease with TCM

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal disorder causing a variety of symptoms, which may include cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and irregular bowels. Some people with IBS have diarrhea with frequent loose stools, while others have constipation causing infrequent bowel movements that are difficult to pass. Still other IBS patients will suffer from alternating diarrhea and constipation. Symptoms are frequently triggered by stress, emotional factors, or the ingestion of food. IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disease seen by general practitioners and makes up 30-50% of all referrals to GI specialists. Women are affected three times more than men, with the average age of onset being between 20 and 40.


IBS is described as a 'functional' illness -- the small and large intestines are not functioning appropriately although there is no structural damage found through diagnostic testing. No anatomic defect can be found in IBS patients, and the cause of the illness is not known. What is known is that there is a link between the onset of symptoms and emotional triggers. There are two major clinical types of IBS described in Western medicine: diarrhea-predominant IBS and constipation-predominant IBS. Diarrhea-predominant IBS is characterized by diarrhea, which occurs immediately after waking up or immediately after eating. Other common symptoms include pain, bloating, urgency, and urinary incontinence. Constipation-predominant (or 'spastic colon' type) IBS manifests with pain over at least one area of the colon and periodic constipation. This pain may be continuous or it may come in bouts, and is frequently relieved by moving the bowels. There may be constipation alternating with normal stools or constipation alternating with diarrhea. The stool often contains mucus. Associated symptoms include bloating, gas, nausea and dyspepsia. Eating can commonly trigger these symptoms. Western medicine treats IBS with anti-spasmodic or anti-diarrhea medication, diet modification and stress reduction techniques.

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine? Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a holistic medical system which combines the use of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, nutrition, massage, and movement exercises (known as Tai Chi or Qi Gong) to bring the body into balance. Whereas Western medicine looks closely at a symptom and tries to find an underlying cause, TCM looks at the body as a whole. Each symptom is looked at in relationship to all other presenting symptoms. The goal of the TCM practitioner is to assess the entire constitution of the patient -- considering both physiological and psychological aspects. The practitioner first observes the general characteristics of the patient, and then tries to discern a relationship between symptoms in order to establish what is called a "pattern of disharmony." Treatment is aimed at restoring harmony and bringing the body into balance. The fundamental TCM theory used to determine the pattern of disharmony is the theory of "Yin and Yang." Yin and Yang are terms used to describe two polar opposites. Each body part, each organ, and even each symptom in the body can be described in terms of Yin and Yang. Levels of Yin and Yang are constantly changing in the body and there are four possible states of imbalance:
Excess of Yin
Excess of Yang
Deficiency of Yin
Deficiency of Yang
It is rare for one of these states of imbalance to exist by itself. Excesses and deficiencies of Yin and Yang almost always appear in combination. For example, in IBS, the symptom of loose stools shows an excess of yin, but if the patient feels a burning sensation along with the loose stools, this indicates an additional excess of yang. In treating the overall pattern of disharmony, the TCM practitioner uses acupuncture and Chinese herbs to address all imbalances of yin and yang. To look at the body as an integrated whole, one also looks at the theory of the 'Internal Organs.' The TCM definition of an Internal Organ is very different from the Western concept. In Western medicine, an organ is a material-anatomical structure. In Chinese medicine, each Internal Organ encompasses much more. There can be an anatomical structure, but there is also a corresponding emotion, tissue, sensory organ, color, and element. In addition, twelve of the Internal Organs correspond to the twelve main acupuncture meridians (or channels) that run through the body. There is qi (or energy) flowing through each meridian. If an Internal Organ is out of balance, the qi of that organ will be damaged. Therefore, the Chinese Large Intestine (which is capitalized to distinguish it as the Chinese organ) should not be equated with the Western organ. IBS affects the large and small intestines in Western medicine, but in Chinese medicine, the Spleen, Liver, Kidney, and Large Intestine can all play a role in the pattern of disharmony.

Research on IBS & Chinese Herbs

An Australian study published in 1998 in the Journal of the American Medical Association lends strong scientific support to treating IBS with Chinese herbs. In this double-blind study, 116 patients with IBS were divided into three groups. One group was given a standard Chinese herbal preparation, a second group was given customized herbal formulas (individually written for each patient), and a third group was given a placebo. Each patient had regular consultations with both a Chinese herbal-medicine practitioner and a gastroenterologist. Both groups taking the Chinese herbs showed significant improvement over the patients taking the placebo. Positive results were reported by both the patients themselves and the gastroenterologists. Although there was improvement in both groups of patients taking herbs, it is important to note that the positive effects were shown to last longer in the group that was given individualized formulas. Only these patients had maintained improvement on a follow-up consultation 14 weeks after completing the treatment. This study clearly shows that Chinese herbalism is most effective when each patient is treated not only for their condition, but also for their bodily constitution and other presenting symptoms. According to the principles of Chinese medicine, each patient must be treated as an individual. Optimal results will be obtained with both herbs and acupuncture when specific treatments are customized for each patient.

Look for an acupuncturist with formal training and experience in the treatment of gastrointestinal disease. About Hong Ma

Controlling gastrointestinal disease with TCM
Acupuncture and Infertility
Migraine and Headache Sufferers --Acupuncture Can Help
Acupuncture and Depression ---A new hope for relief
Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom -- Creating Physical and Emotional Health with Acupuncture
Weight Loss for this summer
Chinese Medicine as an adjunctive therapy for cancer treatment