Health Wellness

Moxibustion with herbal medicine can help with irritable bowel syndrome

Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that works by burning dried herbs or “moxa” on or very near the surface of the skin. Moxibustion is believed to invigorate the flow of qi in the body and dispel certain pathogenic influences. According to traditional practice, moxibustion is good for alleviating pain caused by injury or arthritis, treating gynecological and obstetrics-related conditions, and relieving all kinds of digestive problems.

In a study published in the journal Chinese Medicine, researchers from China and Malaysia systematically assessed the metabolic alterations caused by irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) and investigated the therapeutic effects of herb-partitioned moxibustion (HPM). They reported that HPM could reverse the metabolic alterations caused by IBS and restore intestinal homeostasis, making it an excellent natural treatment for diarrhea-predominant IBS.

HPM can restore order in the gut by re-normalizing metabolic changes

Modern medications may offer relief from IBS symptoms, but they also cause undesirable side effects. For instance, anti-diarrheal and anti-spasmodic agents are known to induce constipation. Meanwhile, laxatives can increase bowel gas and abdominal distention. Serotonergic drugs, on the other hand, can cause severe constipation and ischemic colitis. Serotonergic agents modify the effects of serotonin, an important signaling molecule that may be responsible for IBS symptoms.

According to previous studies, HPM is effective in ameliorating symptoms of IBS. However, the mechanism underlying its positive effects is still unknown. To address this, the researchers used a metabolomics approach and investigated the fecal and serum metabolome of a rat model of IBS-D with and without HPM treatment. They used an herbal powder formula consisting of bai zhu (Atractylodes macrocephala), bai shao (Paeonia lactiflora), chen pi (Citrus reticulata), and fang feng (Saposhnikovia divaricata) for HPM. These herbs are used to make a TCM prescription that has been widely adopted for the clinical treatment of IBS-D.

Using metabolomics, the researchers found that IBS induces metabolic alterations, such as higher levels of threonine and uridine diphosphate (UDP)-glucose, and lower levels of aspartate, ornithine, leucine, isoleucine, proline, 2-hydroxy butyrate, valine, lactate, ethanol, arginine, 2-oxoisovalerate and bile acids. The researchers believe that these altered metabolites are involved in the impairment of the gut secretory immune system, intestinal inflammation, nutrient malabsorption, and disordered metabolism of bile acids.

Meanwhile, HPM treatment normalized the fecal characteristics, fecal water content, plasma endotoxin levels, and other IBS-induced metabolic changes in the IBS-D rat model. This suggested that HPM is an effective therapy for IBS, particularly, IBS-D.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that HPM can be used to treat IBS-D as it can re-normalize IBS-induced metabolic changes.

Fast facts on irritable bowel syndrome

IBS is a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal distension (swelling), abnormal fecal character, altered elimination of waste, and stomachache. According to studies, the pathophysiology of IBS is wide and varied, and includes brain-gut dysfunctions, gut motility, an increase in intestinal permeability, mucosal micro-inflammation, psychosocial factors, and visceral hypersensitivity.

IBS can be classified into four subgroups: diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D), constipation-predominant IBS, mixed diarrhea and constipation IBS, and unspecific IBS. Despite having a very low mortality rate, IBS still poses considerable medical, social, and financial burden on people suffering from it. (Related: Research: IBS may be caused or worsened by lack of B vitamins.)

Modern-day treatments for IBS often focus on alleviating its symptoms. Medications commonly used to address IBS include anti-diarrheal, anti-spasmodic, and serotonergic or laxative agents. On the other hand, TCM also offers complementary and alternative treatments for IBS, and studies show that they are just as effective in improving IBS symptoms. HPM, in particular, has repeatedly shown promise and received good feedback from IBS patients.

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