The digestive system consists of the ‘alimentary canal’ and associated organs: liver, gall-bladder, pancreas. Controlled by a sophisticated nervous network, it takes care of the breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients.
In such a complex system it’s no wonder that sometimes things go wrong. Simple complaints include indigestion, heartburn or reflux, wind and bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. Most of these can be easily addressed by making simple dietary changes; dietary advice forms part of most complementary therapists’ work. Many people think they are suffering from food allergies – food intolerances are more common and relatively easy to detect with simple, short, restriction diets (it’s not a good idea to restrict your diet for lengthy periods without expert supervision).
More complex and sometimes serious disorders include things like inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), peptic/gastric ulcer, diverticular disease and diverticulitis or rarely bowel cancer. Conditions such as gall-stones, cholecystitis (inflammation of the gall-bladder), pancreatitis, and diabetes also have an impact on digestive function.
Any problem which does not quickly resolve, or causes severe pain or bleeding from mouth or back passage, should be quickly and expertly investigated. Qualified complementary therapists know when it’s necessary to refer you to a doctor.
Acupuncture has been used over many years by people with a wide range of digestive disorders.
Chinese Medicine (of which acupuncture is a part) considers the digestive system as being vulnerable to emotional strain, stress, unsuitable dietary habits, and lifestyle issues which can in both the short and long term cause imbalance within our system. Signs and symptoms are seen as a sign of energetic disharmony and Chinese Medicine has its own diagnostic system through which to understand an individual’s imbalance.
This additional perspective is a valuable part of the Acupuncture process, and together with a western understanding of health and disease enables the Acupuncturist to provide a truly individual treatment. Acupuncture treatments are directed both at reducing symptoms and also resolving the underlying imbalance for a more lasting effect.
Acupuncture can be used alongside conventional medicine and is suitable for people of all ages including women in pregnancy.
The basic guidelines of Chinese medicine in relation to our eating habits, include:
- Enjoy your food and relax while you are eating
- Chew well and eat slowly
- Keep eating and drinking separate to avoid “drowning“ your food
- Eat a variety of food which is fresh and unrefined, and stop before you are full
- Avoid iced drinks and foods which can chill the digestive system
Fact sheets can be found on the British Acupuncture Council website www.acupuncture.org.uk including those about Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders, Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS), Nausea and Vomiting, Chronic pain, Stress, Type-2 Diabetes, Anxiety
Digestive problems often respond very well to herbal medicine, perhaps because the body recognises herbs as akin to food, and processes them in a similar way. Herbal medicine can be quite sophisticated, offering actions which calm, relax, stimulate or soothe as needed.
With simple complaints, often a bit of advice and an over-the-counter remedy will suffice, but more complex problems may be addressed with a full consultation and individual herbal treatment plan.
Your herbalist will take a full history and complete an assessment which includes dietary analysis and will always advise about diet as well as prescribing herbs, which may be in the form of tinctures, teas, tablets or capsules. Sometimes powders are given to be mixed into water or sprinkled on food.
As with other types of complaint, herbalists treat the person rather than the condition, so two people with the same kind of problem may be treated in completely different ways, depending on what has caused their problems in the first place.