The term constipation refers to the slow movement of the bowel and could also imply small hard stools. The following are examples of constipation in Chinese Medicine: bowel movements, which do not occur daily, dry stools, difficult defecation and abnormal shape of stools. Views on what constipation is vary widely. However, now it is believed that a bowel movement two or three times a day is normal. The bowels should open every day and the stools should be light in color and roughly cylindrical and a few inches long. Some people believe that it should come out the shape of the colon to be really healthy.
In Chinese Medicine there a five pathologies to look at that influence the bowel. To begin with “Diet”plays an important role. Excessive consumption of hot spicy foods dry up the fluid in the body thereby drying up the stool. Excessive consumption of cold foods may block the Spleen’s ability to transport the stool and move downwards. Aside from what is eaten, the lack of sufficient fiber may cause constipation in the western diet. The second important item is “ Emotional Stress.” In Chinese Medicine the bowel movements are affected through the Liver and the Spleen. The Liver energy is problems of anger, resentment, or frustration over a long period off time. This creates Liver-Qi stagnation and thereby obstructs the smooth flow of the Lower-Burner, which is the lower half of the body. Also excessive mental work and over thinking affects the Spleen energy, which in turns damages the smooth flow of the bowel going downward. Liver constipation is one of excess while the Spleen constipation is one of deficiency.
The third reason for constipation is “ Lack of Exercise”, which is very important in western society. The exercise stimulates the peristalsis of the Large Intestines and the lack of exercise weakens the Spleen energy. Over a long period of time the Qi becomes deficient and cannot move the stool through the intestines. The fourth reason for constipation is “overwork and childbirth.” Excessive overwork weakens the Spleen and the Large Intestines as well as injures the muscles, which is related to Spleen energy. Also a similar thing happens in childbirth where it could damage the Spleen and cause a deficiency. Overwork with long hours weakens the Kidney energy and can cause dryness as well as constipation. This also can lead to a syndrome called internal cold since the kidneys are in charge of the fire gate which accounts for the warmth in the lower half of the body.
The last reason for constipation is “Febrile disease.” When someone gets ill it is sometimes caused by external heat, which enters the body and turns to internal heat. This heat is responsible for burning up the fluid in the body and can affect the Lungs and the Stomach channels. It can cause fever, perfuse sweating, a red tongue, and a rapid pulse. This type of heat dries up the stools quickly thus causing constipation. In Chinese Medicine the treatment principle would be to cool down the system and move things downwards. When the stomach channel is hot it causes energy to go up rather than down. The same thing occurs with the Spleen energy as well. Both like to be warm and both like to descend.
Three months ago I had a 45-year-old female patient come into my office who literally went to the bathroom once every five days and it had been an age-old problem for her. In treating her she not only had constipation but also had acid reflux and pains in her stomach. In her diet she never ate vegetables and in her job she had a great deal of responsibility and drove an hour to work and back. As mentioned earlier she had a combination of Stomach heat, Spleen deficiency and Liver Qi stagnation. We got her on a Chinese formula which helped with the acid reflux, got her to start eating vegetables, and soothed her Liver energy with some herbs as well. She was given two different detox programs during this time as well as an acupuncture treatment once per week. When she first came to my office she had very red skin on her face, red and glassy eyes and also looked very tired. After three months of treatment she is now regular and has no redness on her face, has energy, and the glassy quality in her eyes has completely disappeared. She no longer has any acid reflux and has no stomach pain at all. Her western doctor told her that she would never get better. It is so important for everyone to be regular since this also gets rid of all the toxins in your body and the waste. Chinese Medicine is able to split these pathologies up into organ systems and thereby create a more long-term change. There are many examples of healing that occur when the system begins to function properly. This is the idea of true health.