The Elements of IBS

It is calculated that around 1 in 5 Australians experience what is known as irritable bowel syndrome. It is a condition marked by various symptoms and can take the joy out of eating and outings, which let’s be honest, there must be very few things worse than getting no joy from food!

Though prevalent in both men and women, women are much more likely to report symptoms associated with IBS:

  • Bloating
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Feeling gassy
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea or constipation

The reason why women experience IBS symptoms more commonly than men is undefined, but much research suggests that menstrual cycles and hormones play a role in this.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, this would align with the five-element theory; specifically harmony between the Wood and Earth element. The centuries-old theory describes the Wood element to govern our menstrual cycles and the Earth element our digestive systems. According to the nature of these elements, Wood should hold the Earth and give it its bounds much like the roots of a tree soaks up the moisture and nutrients of the earth whilst giving earth structure and firmness. When this balance is disrupted however, Wood can begin to require too much of the Earth, like those monster weeds in your backyard that eat up all the soil’s good nutrients much too quickly and grow out of control. Wood/hormonal and menstrual cycles are thrown out of control by many different factors such as inadequate nutrition or stress. The signs of this could manifest as:

  • PMS
  • Dysmenorrhea
  • Amenorrhea
  • Metrorrhagia
  • Irregular cycles
  • Endometriosis
  • PCOS

A weakened Earth/digestion will give rise to many digestive issues such as bloating, distention, discomfort, nausea and bowel motion irregularities, i.e. many symptoms similar to that of IBS.

Rebalancing these elements involve strengthening the Earth and calming Wood.

General techniques in calming wood:

Stress relief – there are many ways one might relieve stress; it could be a hobby, exercise, meditation, a good old chat with a friend, a relaxation massage or a well-deserved break in the middle of the mountains. The key is to incorporate stress relievers within your weekly routine to vent stress and allow your Wood element to relax.

Circulation – Keeping Wood happy is to keep the energy in our bodies moving. This means incorporating movement for a good amount of time every day and breathing in fresh air for a good amount of the day.

Green foods – the Wood element loves greenery in your diet, as would be intuitive. Greens like sprouts, broccoli, spinach and silver beet would give Wood the TLC it needs.

General tips for tonifying the Earth:

Warmth – our digestive systems love warmth. Foods that keep our warmth glowing include ginger, cinnamon and foods that are cooked and warm in temperature. It is also suggested to keep our tummies covered to maintain that warmth from the outside in.

Timing – our digestion loves a good routine. Eating at the same time every day for meals allows it to know when to produce its digestive juices and precious enzymes.

Extra help – it is possible that our tummies need a little extra boost when it comes to IBS. Supplements like L-glutamine, zinc, magnesium or probiotics can all be helpful to support gut health and integrity. We suggest speaking to a qualified health professional before adding these supplements to your diet.

Additionally, Chinese Medicine acupuncture and herbal medicine seek to harmonize elemental imbalances like between Wood and Earth in this instance. If you are experiencing digestive symptoms related to your period or menstrual cycles, we would love to help you find balance between your elements and assisting you to enjoy food without discomfort.


Dr Ivana