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IBS due to Liver/Spleen disharmony
The Liver and Spleen disharmony, the most common cause of IBS that there is.
Liver/Spleen disharmony is really just using traditional Chinese medicine terms to describe what we in the west might refer to as a stress induced digestive disorder. That's the simple explanation. If you want, you can scroll down this page a bit to learn more about how this is treated. Or, you can read on and learn a little bit more about the specific condition and the logic behind the diagnosis of "Liver/Spleen disharmony."
In Chinese medicine the Liver is not the liver. Well in this case it really isn't. This Chinese concept of the Liver (with the capital "L") is more like the nervous system. The nervous system is very important for the proper workings of the digestion. It has been recently noted by the practitioners in the burgeoning Western medical field of gastro-neurology, that there are actually more neural connections made in the digestive system than there are in the brain. This is a rather amazing discovery, though perhaps about 2,000 years behind the times when compared to Chinese medicine, but enough of my soap box, let's talk about your digestion.
The Liver/Spleen disharmony tongue may not actually show any indications of problems. It could look totally normal. However, given time, it can develop a thick coating as the Spleen's function is compromised and gives rise to internal dampness. Or, if the Liver really starts to become a problem, it can begin to generate some heat which can manifest as the red dots on the left side of the illustration shown here.
Because the nervous system is designed to respond to danger, stressors in our lives will constantly be exciting our nerves. There are two basic nervous systems in our body. One is the conscious stuff like the nerves that make my fingers type this article. Then there is all the unconscious stuff like the beating of my heart, the glandular secretions to keep my eyes moist, the digestion that is currently wrestling with a overly marinated chicken sandwich from a deli on Melrose in West Hollywood.
Now this nervous system that works without our having to think about it is called the autonomic nervous system. And it too, is broken up into two components. One is called the sympathetic and the other is called the parasympathetic. The sympathetic doesn't make you kind to little birds, but it is sympathetic in its ability to read the environment correctly and get you up and running if you should perchance suddenly discover a lion stalking you. The sympathetic nervous system is among other things, our fight or flight response. It is all those things that activate those organ systems in charge of keeping us alive in the event of an emergency.
The other half of the autonomic nervous system is called the parasympathetic nervous system. It is the nervous system in charge of allowing us to be relaxed, doing everything that the sympathetic nervous system doesn't do and that includes digestion.
Usually, these two nervous systems get along just fine. But since our lives became more and more civilized and the modern world has become more and more emotionally stressful, the sympathetic nervous system is in a constant state of excitation. Our blood pressure is higher, our heart rate is higher, our incidence of insomnia is higher and we develop digestive disorders secondary to stress. The way that this works is simple.
The digestion is reliant upon the parasympathetic nervous system to do its job. If we're being chased by a bear in the forest, it would be prudent for our blood supply to be used for the muscles in the legs so that we can run away. So, in the event of over stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, blood and other factors are sent away from the digestive organs toward the organs that are needed in the case of an emergency.
When we are under stress, our body responds as if we're being chased by a bear and so the digestion shuts down until such time that we feel safe and we can begin to digest our food again.
Simply put, this is the stress induced digestive disorder. The Liver in Chinese medicine is that nervous system and the Spleen is the entire digestion. Or job in Chinese medicine is to calm the Liver and strengthen the Spleen. In fact, most stress induced or stress aggravated pathology are viewed in Chinese medicine as the Liver beating up on one organ or another. The Liver is called the angry organ in Chinese medicine. I guess we can all see why now.
So, IBS is what happens when you're Liver is responding to stress in your life. If the stress is associated with being chased by a tiger or something, then once the tiger is gone, you can relax a bit and eat in peace and more importantly you can digest your food in peace. But if you live in a state of constant stress where corporate tigers are hiding in every bush or whatever stressor may be effecting you, then the digestion never really gets a chance to do its job. The end result is IBS. The stress in your life may not be that great to begin with, but you may have begun this path with a deficient Spleen to begin with, in which case, it wouldn't take much stress to cause a problem anyway.
There are a few ways to handle this. Of course coming up with a better way to handle stress is the first thing and probably the last thing you'll want to look at. In between those two points, we'd look to acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines to really get this digestive problem under control.
Acupuncture is really good at treating anything that is stress induced. Acupuncture has a particular affinity for neurological conditions of any nature. That includes sedating the Liver as we say, or simply calming you down. On the other hand, there are herbal formulas that target this same problem from the inside out. One herbal formula often used as a base formula for further modification by a trained TCM herbalist is called Tong Xie Yao Fang. That translates to "Important Formula for Painful Diarrhea". Not a name that you'll likely find on any bottles in the English speaking world, but you gotta admit it certainly does get to the point.
This formula is made up of four herbs that have a particular relationship that strengthens the appropriate functions within them to both sedate the Liver (calm the stress) as well as firm up the stools by drying up the water and strengthening the digestion's ability to adequately digest the food.
Everybody is a little bit different and this formula is often times modified to treat the unique expressions of this condition within the individual.
Other symptoms of a Liver/Spleen disharmony include:
Here is a peer-reviewed meta-study of research done on Tong Xie Yao Fang
All of the formulas mentioned in this article are widely available at Chinese medicine pharmacies, though the so-called patent medicines that you'll find there aren't always as strong as they could be. These formulas come in a variety of different forms and strengths and your friendly neighborhood herbalist can assist you in obtaining them as is appropriate.
You can purchase any of the formulas mentioned in this article by simply clicking on their names. Another option is to obtain this formula modified for your unique situation from Beyond Well Being.