‘IBS‘ – it’s no fun. After first getting symptoms when I was 15 and getting diagnosed when I was 21, it’s been something that interfered with my daily life for a significant amount of time. After trying everything in the book (aka Google) to try fix it, I finally found something that worked – acupuncture. This miracle cure (not even being dramatic here!) has helped my IBS so much, I couldn’t not share it with you guys. Not only did it heal my gut and stop my IBS, but I’ve seen a huge increase in my mood, energy levels, sleeping pattern and overall wellbeing since starting acupuncture. So… are you sold yet?
Standing for ‘irritable bowel syndrome‘ – sexy, I know – it’s the large medical umbrella you get dumped under when you’re officially ruled out of other stomach issues. This means if you’ve had tests that show you don’t have Crones, any specific intolerances such as coeliacs, or any other identifiable illness, you’re usually classified as having IBS. Due to broad diagnosis, IBS sufferers can actually have a huge spectrum of symptoms; some can’t go to the loo for weeks, some pretty much live there. As well as a breadth of symptoms, the intensity varies hugely – from person to person, as well as for the individual themselves.
How it started
When I was 15, I had my first IBS episode – I’d been in a gluttonous mood, and consumed a full tub of Ben & Jerry’s to myself. We’ve all done it, right? Although undeniably greedy, I wasn’t immediately aware of just how much trouble those two boys were about to get me into. Cue the most intense pain of my entire life, lasting for multiple hours, and what I can only imagine makes childbirth seem like an enjoyable activity. this ‘attack’ was so bad I ended up passing out, going an off shade of blue and feeling like I’d just been possessed by Satan himself. 0/10, would not recommend. Baffled, and feeling a good 10lbs lighter (every cloud and all that) I went to the doctors to try see if they could shed some light on the situation. Negative.
I didn’t have another attack for a year or so, but the same process followed – doctors appointment, no answers, tried to move on with my life. It didn’t seem to make any sense what was causing the attacks – I could eat ice cream, chocolate and foods like that 99% of the time with no repercussions, so these IBS attack seemed totally random. I continued having these episodes every once in a blue moon, until around 2017 when it got really bad. Instead of one-off attacks, I was in a permanent state of discomfort, where anything and everything would make me bloat like crazy and cause painful cramps. As a huge foodie, as well as a normal human being who requires food to survive, it’s clear to see this was a bit of an issue.
After a long process of various test and appointments, I was finally diagnosed with IBS. After this, I was put on a 6 month waiting list, and finally told I was being offered treatment… therapy. Huh? While I understand some people’s IBS could be linked to stress/psychological issues, I knew mine wasn’t, so this seemed an odd choice of treatment. Nonetheless, I went to one of these therapy sessions, and as my inner pessimist expected – it was absolute rubbish. I already knew the basics: avoid fizzy drinks, alcohol, deep fried foods, etc. My IBS had been so bad I’d spent all my free time researching ways to help it. Any diet, supplement, or ‘secret hack’, I can guarantee I’ve tried it, and it didn’t work.
Ugh. Was I really going to be stuck with this my whole life? I yearned for the days I could chow down on a bowl of Mac & Cheese without feeling like I was being disembowelled. Is that really so much for a girl to ask? I was getting seriously desperate. So desperate that when a family member suggested acupuncture, I barely even hesitated. Don’t get me wrong – I thought it’d be complete and utter bullshit, but I was so determined to find a solution I’d have tried pretty much anything if it was going to work.
Trying out acupuncture
So off I went, £80 in hand, ready to pay for some stranger to poke me with needles for an hour – eek. In the initial session, the acupuncturist asks for details about your IBS: what your symptoms are, how often, what food tends to cause it, etc etc. After a long run through of events, she concluded that my IBS is trigged by overeating (binges, specifically) where my body struggles to cope with the overload of food and consequently sends my body into shock. This made total sense. I’ve never been able to eat big portions as I get full really easily, but I’m also a sucker for food and often can’t resist pigging out on delicious goodies. Both of these factors don’t go so well together.
My acupuncturist also told me how my IBS would be made worse by specific foods, such as ice cream (the coldness, and the high amount of dairy), sugary chocolate, spicy foods, etc – anything that is a bit too intense for my stomach to handle. This was similar to advice I’d found online, which I’d already been putting this into practice, but it was still helpful to hear this again to make me more conscious of what I’m eating going forwards. This diagnosis was so helpful and informative, more useful advice than I’d had from any doctor along the way. My acupuncturist was confident she could sort this, and that through this treatment we could ‘fix my gut’ from the previous stress and damage I’d subject it to.
For the treatment itself, she applies the fine acupuncture needles at certain points of the body based on the diagnosis. I have them near my elbows, above my ankle, toes, belly, centre of my ribs and forehead, although this varies slightly each session based on how I’ve been feeling. This is to release Qi (pronounced chee), as Chinese medicine believes that when Qi isn’t flowing freely through the body, illness can occur. Through the process of acupuncture, Qi is dispersed through the body which is similar to a release of endorphins, improving negative symptoms. Once the needles are in, you relax for around half an hour, and let them do their magic. After this time, the acupuncturist removes the needles and concludes the session. The sensation isn’t pain, just more of a slight cramp/electric current – it’s tricky to describe, but it’s not painful, and typically fades away after a few moments.
I absolutely felt an improvement in how my stomach felt after the first session, but tried not to get excited too quickly incase it was purely psychological – I wanted to make sure it had actually worked. Now this is so odd to actually be writing down, but there was one key difference acupuncture made to my IBS; for my entire life, I couldn’t burp. I could hiccup, and my throat would make weird growling noises (lol) but I could not actually burp, no matter how hard I tried. Part of my IBS symptom was horrific cramps, feeling like I was being stabbed all over. These pains wouldn’t ease either – I found the best way to manage them was curling in foetal position with a hot water bottle, but this only dulled the pain slightly. I kid you not, the DAY after my first acupuncture session, I burped. While I can totally appreciate the hilarity and bizarreness of this, I am still to this day so baffled how acupuncture did this, but I am grateful – I’ve had NO bad stomach cramps since. Seriously. A strange one, that’s for sure – but undoubtedly a result of my acupuncture treatment. Hooray!
Despite sounding very un-relaxing, acupuncture always leaves me feeling incredibly calm and rested. The day of, and a couple days after each acupuncture session, I always have the deepest sleep. I find myself waking up at 5:30am on the dot, when it’s just getting light outside. Instead of wanting to go back to sleep, I almost leap out of bed. It’s confusing as hell – I have so much energy and feel so vibrant and awake, despite having a couple hours less sleep each night. Each acupuncture session seems to ‘reset’ my sleep schedule so I wake up earlier in the mornings and don’t require as much sleep, yet I’m even more energetic despite this. This is another great benefit of acupuncture – I never had problems going to sleep/waking up, but I definitely noticed a positive difference in my sleep habits after my treatment.
To my surprise and complete delight, I have not had one single IBS episode since I started getting acupuncture. As far as I’m concerned, it’s virtually cured my IBS. Now I’m sure that my healthy eating offered a helping hand with this, but I’m still convinced that acupuncture is largely behind this incredible change in my health.
For the amount of treatments, I did one session every 2 weeks for 2 months (so 4 in total), and now I’ll book in when I want to. This isn’t even just for IBS anymore; after acupuncture, I feel a significant rise in my mood, energy levels and general wellbeing. Could it be partly psychological? Sure. But does it still work anyway? Absofuckenlutely.
I really am so incredibly glad I gave acupuncture a whirl, as I very nearly didn’t. The fact I went into it expecting it not to work, makes it even more impressive that it did – despite my pessimism, I couldn’t deny the amazing effect it had on my health. It’s definitely taught me to be more open to alternative practices, such as meditation, yoga, positive affirmations, etc. Things that I used to class as ‘a bit cringe’ and ‘hippy’, but now I’ve learnt are so important for your health and wellbeing.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions about acupuncture, IBS or even just fancy a chat – drop a comment in the section below.