In the final months of working with Tao of Wellness, I was working on a book that was eventually going to be something of a collaboration with Dr. Dao about both Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I did a whole lot of research, which was synthesized and processed in the computer upstairs to produce a handful of virtual pages that will—in all probability—never be published.
Nonetheless, like a few of the other blog posts I’ve put on this site, I feel that they may be of interest to someone, so I am going to be posting them here.
This is strictly all for your information, and I hope to continue to learn about these complex conditions the more that I treat them.
Below you will find the Introduction. Enjoy.
The aim of this book is to help you, the reader, understand how traditional Chinese medicine, (or TCM) can help you overcome IBS and IBD. While both conditions occur in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract—or gut—it is important to understand the differences between the two. First, each of these are broad categories of illness. This means that when we say that someone is suffering from either IBS or IBD, we have a general idea of the process that is occurring, but not the specific set of potential symptoms that one is experiencing. For example, one person might have IBS, but s/he tends to have constipation instead of diarrhea. Second, what do these terms mean?
IBS is an acronym for irritable bowel syndrome. It is considered to be a functional disorder of the bowel—meaning that the bowels aren’t moving in a normal manner—as opposed to having a structural or organic problem like an ulcer or some other change in the tissue wall. An even simpler way of thinking about a functional condition versus an organic one: if your doctor looks inside your gut using a camera, or some other imaging device, and finds something like a hole, then it is organic; if nothing if discovered, then it is functional.
With this in mind, we come to the organic disorder IBD, which stands for inflammatory bowel disease. As the name indicates, bowel tissue inflammation is the key presentation, and this inflammation is chronic—meaning it persists for 3 months or more. We have to remember that inflammation is usually a normal response in the presence of both infection and injury, and is a healthy way for the body’s defenses to protect itself.
The typical story for a healthy inflammatory response sounds a bit like this: You’re riding your bike and fall and hit your knee, scraping the skin; the affected area becomes swollen, hot and red; the blood vessels in the immediate vicinity of the injury dilate (get wider) and the tissue walls become more permeable, which allows cells from your immune system to have easier access to the injured site to fight off any potential bacterial infection; you spend the afternoon on the couch with your knee elevated, an ice pack on it to help with the pain, watching Netflix; and you’re back on the bike in a few days with some mild knee soreness and the discoloration of a left-over bruise.
The real problems start to occur when this inflammation persists beyond the presence of infection or injury. A prolonged inflammatory response goes from helping the body heal and fight off infection to damaging tissues and causing both persistent pain and dysfunction. In the case of IBD, the effects can vary from abdominal pain and bowel movement irregularities to causing the accumulation of pus in the abdomen that can burst and cause sepsis, or life-threatening infection. (We will dive into the presentations of both IBS and IBD in later chapters.)
Another important distinction that should be made is found in the names of these two sets of illnesses: syndrome versus disease. A syndrome is defined by a collection of symptoms that tend to occur together and therefore form a recognizable pattern. A disease, on the other hand, is a more specific type of illness that may be structural or functional, but is more specific in both location in the body and symptomatic presentation. Does this mean that we should take one more seriously than another? Not necessarily. The conventional medications used for IBD tend to be more extreme than those used for IBS, and IBD can have life-threatening consequences, but both conditions poorly affect quality of life such that we must approach each with an equal amount of seriousness and consideration.