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An Australian Controlled Clinical Study Proves the Effectiveness of Chinese Herbal Medicine in the Treatment of IBS

The JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) recently published an Australian study that lends strong scientific validity to the treatment of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) using traditional Chinese herbs. The study’s authors think that they were the first to rigorously record Chinese herbal medicine efficacy in IBS treatment. They also believe that they were the first to integrate traditional Chinese diagnosis and treatment procedures for IBS into a tightly controlled, traditional study model.

A total of 116 IBS patients participated in this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study. They were patients taken from various private gastroenterology practices and hospitals in Sydney, Australia. Using conventional western diagnostic methods, gastroenterologists first diagnosed these patients, who were then treated based on the principles of Chinese medicine by Chinese herbalists.

Randomly selected for a standard Chinese herbal formula, 43 patients were given a formula that was known to help improve and regulate bowel function. Customized herbal remedies were given to 38 patients and placebo treatment designed to be almost Impossible to differentiate from the herbal treatments were given to 35 patients. All herbal treatments were in capsule form. Individualized therapies were uniquely-created by the herbalists. They likewise oversaw treatment during the course of the study. For the duration of the study each subject worked with just one herbalist. After eight weeks, the outcomes were analyzed by gastroenterologists, which were then repeated at the end of the four-month treatment period.

In the relief of IBS symptoms, both the individualized and standard herbal formula treatments were considerably more effective than placebo. The researchers concluded that besides being superior to placebo, Chinese herbal therapy also had benefits that lasted longer especially among patients who were treated with individualized formulas than the patients who were given the standard formula. In four out of five key outcome measures, the subjects treated with herbal formulas showed vastly better scores. According to patient assessments, 44% of the patients treated with the standard formula got better and according to doctor evaluations 59%of those treated with individualized therapies improved by 40% and 42%, which was much better than the 19% and 22% improvements in the placebo-treated subjects.

In the study, neither the herbal contents of the individualized formulas were described nor the herbs in the standard formula used (which was made up of 20 Chinese herbs), were identified. In the standard formula the herbs in the highest proportions were yin chen (13%), dang shen (7%), yi yi ren (7%), and wu wei tsi (7%).

Because of adverse effects associated with the herbal therapy (headache and gastrointestinal discomfort), a couple of patients dropped out of the study. No other significant negative side effects were reported.

In the United States, there are about 36 million people or 10% of the population suffering from IBS. This condition is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by bloating, stomach pain, and issues in the function of the bowel alternating from diarrhea to constipation. The study’s authors stated that no one therapy can provide reliable resolution or relief of the condition. In the doctors’ analysis of this study, 50% of the subjects given individualized formulas improved during treatment, while 78% of the subjects given the standard Chinese herbal formula got better compared to only 30% of patients treated with placebo.

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