Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks









Anxiety, IBS, and Coffee
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is an author of international renown and public speaker. He is currently writing his book Chinese Medicine: A Practical Guide to Optimal Healing. Brian practices acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in sunny San Diego, California.

Question: I have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and I have a problem when I drink coffee (with caffeine), and sometimes even sodas, which also contain caffeine. Problem is that many times I need to jumpstart my day with some extra energy like when I am tired, etc.
But the caffeine boosts my anxiety, makes me very uneasy, and many times makes me run to the bathroom whereupon I have diarrhea. Is there any healthy alternative I can take instead of caffeine to keep myself awake? No, I am not a coffee drinker (actually I dislike the stuff very much) but I sometimes drink it to give myself a wake up call in the morning when I am half awake.


In Chinese medicine, IBS can be several different patterns, but often it is an alternation of attacks by the Liver qi. (NOTE: Chinese medicine has its own concepts of organ-systems with similar names to western anatomical organs. I am not talking about your anatomical organs.)

Liver Qi Stagnation Attacking Other Organs

The Liver qi is responsible for the free flow of qi throughout the body, and when it stagnates, many problems can occur- it can attack the Lung, causing breathing problems or cough, the Spleen, causing loose stool, the Stomach, causing hiccups, reflux, nausea or vomiting, or the Large Intestine, causing constipation

Liver qi stagnates for a number of reasons - stress is the number one cause... Liver blood deficiency is another, and in fact, anxiety is often a Heart blood deficiency that begins with Liver blood deficiency. Coffee may temporarily move the Liver qi and give you energy, but it also depletes the Liver blood, leading to further Liver qi stagnation later on when the coffee wears off. The Liver blood and qi have a yin and yang balanced relationship- if one is deficient or excess, the other is adversely affected.

Coffee, IBS, Heat, and Anxiety

Coffee is a short-term solution that worsens the Liver qi stagnation problem. It also adds heat to the Liver. In the long run, heat and blood deficiency can lead to yin deficiency, a more serious problem that manifests as feeling hotter at night and sweating while sleeping. If the yin is deficient, the Heart becomes anxious, and this is one cause of insomnia.

An Energy Boost Without Side Effects

You need an energy boost that doesn't make you anxious. But is your digestion good enough to handle an energy boost without your Liver qi stagnating? If you have (even alternating) loose stool, low appetite, and tiredness, then you have what is called Spleen qi deficiency. That means you’d have trouble digesting things, and might get tired after meals. It sounds like you may have Liver qi stagnation, Spleen qi deficiency, and Heart blood deficiency. Of course, I can't diagnose you long distance, and you should see a Chinese medicine practitioner one-on-one to be sure.

Herbal Solutions

Chinese ginseng is good for Spleen qi deficiency. American ginseng might be even better for you, since it boosts the qi and the yin, and blood belongs to yin. Korean ginseng is hot, and would probably affect you like coffee does. Another good herb for yin deficiency is rehmannia root, but it’s hard to digest with Spleen deficiency. For Liver qi stagnation, the lifestyle answers are exercise and expressing your emotions, but for herbs you'd have to see a Chinese herbalist. Really, that would be the best bet for all the herbs you need, because you'd end up with just one formula based on all your patterns of imbalance.

Neat, simple, and comprehensive.

Spleen Qi Deficiency Diet

People with Spleen deficiency should eat simple foods. Rice is a good example. Chicken noodle soup is nice, too. In fact, we have a whole article on what Spleen deficient people should eat.

Hope that helps, and let me know how it goes!

Join the PulseMed mailing list
About The PULSE
All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International, Brian Carter, MSci, LAc, Editor