Herbal Medicines Effective for GI Disorders

Herbal Medicines Effective for GI Disorders

As practitioners of so-called ‘alternative medicine’ it sometimes seems that we are constantly on trial.  Whereas newly approved medications, with their often multiple and harmful side effects, are deemed to be ‘proven’ successful, a treatment like acupuncture or herbal medicine, which merely boasts thousands of years of history and millions of successful patients, is considered “unproven”.

It is for this reason that we so often report on research that supports what we already know – that treatments like acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine work.

A recent case in point is an article published in the journal Neurogastroenterology and Motility.  They report research which reviewed data on Japanese herbal medicines and found them – surprise, surprise – to be highly effective in reducing the symptoms of GI disorders such as functional dyspepsia (indigestion), constipation, and postoperative ileus (disruption of normal bowel movements).

The researchers looked at several commonly used Japanese herbal medicines including Rikkunshi-to, Dai-Kenchu-to, and Hangeshashin-to.  The findings were:

  • Rikkunshi-to (a preparation of eight crude herbs), was effective in reducing discomfort caused by functional dyspepsia.
  • Dai-Kenchu-to (a combination of ginseng, ginger, and zanthoxylum fruit) was effective in relieving constipation in children, and helped post-operative patients to have normal bowel movements.
  • Hangeshashin-to was effective in reducing both the severity and the frequency of diarrhea induced by anti-cancer drugs.

In contrast, many of the drugs typically prescribed to treat these GI disorders are ineffective or have unwanted side effects.

Looking at this report as a practitioner, I would have to add that the Japanese herbal medicines that they discuss in the article are standardized classical Chinese Herbal medicine formulas that we commonly use in our practice.

However, experience shows that that they work even better when they are fine-tuned for each individual.  Thus, rather than simply using the standardized formulas, we customize them to best treat each patient’s specific case.

As the lead researcher, Hidekazu Suzuki, Associate Professor at the Keio University School of Medicine, concluded: “Our review of the world medical literature reveals that herbal medicines serve a valuable role in the management of patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders.”

Reference: Suzuki, H., Inadomi, J.M. and Hibi, T.; Japanese Herbal Medicine in Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders; Neurogastroenterology and Motility (2009); DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2009.01290.x

Author
Adam Learner, L Ac. Adam Learner, LAc, provides functional medicine and acupuncture for the residents of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at Family Acupuncture & Wellness. In his practice, he uses a holistic approach to medicine and emphasizes addressing causes, not symptoms.

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