Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the commonest of the bowel disorders we see in the clinic and can be treated by either acupuncture and herbal medicine or sometimes both together.
An Australian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association lends strong scientific support to the traditional use of Chinese herbs in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The authors believe theirs is the first clinical study to rigorously document the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in the treatment of IBS - and the first to incorporate traditional Chinese diagnosis and treatment methods for IBS into a strictly controlled, conventional study model [Bensoussan et al., 1998].
The randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study involved 116 people with active IBS recruited from hospitals and private gastroenterology practices in Sydney, Australia. Patients were diagnosed first by gastroenterologists using standard western diagnostic methods, and then by Chinese herbalists according to the principles of Chinese medicine.
Forty-three subjects were randomized to receive a standard Chinese herbal formula "considered to regulate and strengthen bowel function," 38 took individualized herbal formulas, and 35 received a placebo deemed to be indistinguishable from the herbal treatments. Treatments were administered by capsule. Individualized treatments were custom-designed by the Chinese herbalists, who also supervised treatment during the course of the trial. Each subject worked with only one herbalist for the duration of the study. Results were evaluated by gastroenterologists after eight weeks and again at the end of the 16-week treatment period.
Both the standard herbal formula and the individualized treatments were significantly more effective than placebo in relieving IBS symptoms. Not only did Chinese herbal therapy prove superior to placebo, the researchers concluded that treatment benefits were more sustained in patients who took individualized formulas than in those who took the standard formula. Patients receiving the herbal formulas had significantly better scores in four out of five key outcome measures. Those taking the standard formula improved by 44 percent (according to patient assessments) and 59 percent (according to physician assessments) and those receiving individualized treatments improved by 42 percent and 40 percent, compared to 22 percent and 19 percent improvements in subjects taking placebo.
Two patients withdrew from the study because of adverse effects related to the herbal treatment (gastrointestinal discomfort and headache). No other major adverse effects were reported.
According to physician assessments in this study, 78 percent of patients taking the standard Chinese herbal formula and 50 percent of those receiving individualized formulas improved during treatment, compared with 30 percent of those taking placebo.
Bensoussan A, Talley NJ, Hing M, Menzies R, Guo A, Ngu M. Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with Chinese herbal medicine. JAMA 1998; 280(18): 1585-1589
A German review of Medline-cited literature for controlled clinical trials looked at the evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment in gastrointestinal diseases. Four trials fitted their criteria of random controlled design, two were irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) trials and two inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) trials (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis). In all four trials, quality of life (QoL) was found to improve significantly, independently of whether the acupuncture was real or sham. Real acupuncture was significantly superior to sham acupuncture with regard to disease activity scores in the IBD trials.
Acupuncture treatment in gastrointestinal diseases: a systematic review. World J Gastroenterol. 2007 Jul 7;13(25):3417-24.
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