Problems which occur in the upper digestion can lead to problems lower down, causing diarrhoea or constipation. Often stress, greasy foods or alcohol generate heat which dry out the colon leading to Constipation. A normal regular bowel cycle, should be 1 to 2 bowel movements per day. Anything less and there is a problem in the digestion which needs to be addressed. Also, your bowel movements shouldn’t have a strong smell, if they do, it’s another indicator of a dietary issue. As amusing as the adjacent image is, what comes out into the toilet bowl says a lot about your inner health.
How do you know if you are suffering from constipation? An immediate indicator is a change to the frequency of your bowel movements. Your bowels should move daily, without straining or pain. If you find your bowels are only moving every few days or longer, then you could be developing constipation. It can be normal for your bowels to skip a day every now and then, if you haven’t been eating a huge amount or have had little fibre. If though its several days or longer between bowel movements, then you are constipated. I have seen many patients with severe constipation who’s bowels only move once a week or even only monthly. Prolonged constipation can lead to an impacted bowel, which will require medical intervention. Similarly a bowel obstruction can be a cause of sudden severe constipation. If you have concerns I suggest to see your GP immediately. Other than the irregularity of your bowels, other symptoms you can be feeling include:
- Feeling Sluggish and fatigued
- Abdominal bloating
- Lower abdominal pain and discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Back problems (lower back pain)
- Trapped wind and flatulence
- Acne and skin rashes
Reasons for Constipation
In clinic I find there’s several presentations which occur depending on your age. People in there 20s and 30s with constipation I find are caused by dryness resulting from stress or poor diet. Both of these factors can result in fluids drying up in the bowel causing the stool to harden. This can result in painful bowel movements, as the body wants to move the stool, but the dryness causes friction and discomfort. Being very physically active, especially for women can result in very low body fat, which deregulates the menstrual cycle. This can lead to ‘blood deficiency’, which in Chinese Medicine, the blood plays a key role in lubricating the bowel.
Clients I see in their 40s and 50s often have constipation due to a lack of fluid production in the body, which causes the stools to dry up. Notice how the end result is the same, but the pathology behind both are quite different. Often middle aged clients have also been using laxatives for many years (such as movicol) which means the smooth muscle in the bowel has forgotten how to function properly. As you age too your Qi (vita energy) becomes weak, so you an also lack enough energy to move the stool. This is how Chinese Medicine links constipation and asthma, as not only are the Lung and Colon organs paired, but your Lung Governs your Qi and the ‘water passages’. So if the Lung Qi is weak, then the Colon can lack the Qi needed to push the stool as well as the fluid needed to lubricate the bowel.
An interesting early research paper showed electroacupuncture was able to heal constipation in a group of middle aged women. They believe the acupuncture helped the autonomic nervous system which aided in bowel movements.
Excess alcohol and coffee, though moving in Chinese Medicine are also drying and hot, this can cause your bowl to dehydrate. Similarly too much hot and spicy food, like curries and chilli can also dry out your bowel. Insufficient fibre in the diet can prevent stool from forming properly, hence each plenty of broccoli and high fibre foods to help keep your bowels moving. Ensure you have 1.5L of water a day, as the first place our body’s absorb extra fluid from is our intestines. Drinking prune juice is a natural laxative which can help lubricate your bowels if you are feeling blocked up.
How Acupuncture can Regulate your Bowels
As stated above, Acupuncture can help retrain lazy bowel muscles to restore a normal bowel movement. The goal of treatment it to remove the root cause, which is often a combination of heat, dryness and lack of fluids. I select Acupuncture points based on your unique diagnosis to help remove these blockages, and restore moisture to your bowel. This will slowly help your bowels move more freely and regularly. As normal bowel movements are restored, you will notice an improvement in all the secondary symptoms as well.
Causes of Diarrhoea
Frequent diarrhoea occurs when the digestion is not able to control the amount of water flowing through it, sending an excess amount to the colon causing the stool to become loose. A gastrointestinal virus is a classic example of acute diarrhoea, this should self-resolve though in a matter of days. Many patients I see with chronic diarrhoea have suffered an illness whilst travelling overseas from which the body has never fully recovered. Others have been long time sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and many foods such as lactose and eggs act as a trigger. Aside from illness; chronic stress or poor diet can also lead to this. Both though are issues which need to be resolved as left unchecked can cause more complicated ailments.
In Chinese Medicine your Spleen energy is responsible for transforming and transporting fluids and nutrients from the food broken down by the stomach. If we are stressed, the Liver can over control the digestion through enzyme/bile secretion and cause the Spleen to become weak. This causes too much fluid to be sent to the bowel. Similarly poor diet through too much oily, sweet or fatty foods, which are hard to digest also weaken the Spleen. Chronic diarrhoea can weaken the Spleen so much that it fails to nourish your Kidney essence, which is the source of all your vital energy. This combined Spleen/Kidney weakness is a common cause of bowel problems in the elderly.
Though the loose bowels seem quite an obvious symptom of diarrhoea, there are many associated symptoms which can help find the root cause of your frequent bowel movements.
- Are the bowel movements urgent or painful?
- Is there blood or mucous in the stool?
- Are the stools only soft or very watery?
- Do your bowel movements smell?
- Is there undigested food in the stool?
- Does the diarrhoea only occur at a certain time of day or after certain foods?
Though not pleasant things to look for or think about. These are all important diagnostic elements to uncovering the root cause. Other symptoms can include:
- Bloating and Nausea
- Loss of appetite
- Thirst but no desire to drink
Additional Symptoms that require Investigation
Loose stools which contain blood or mucous can also be indicators for Diverticulitis, Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. All 3 are treatable with Acupuncture, but its important you first consult your GP if you have these symptoms for a prolonged period of time.
How Acupuncture can Relieve Diarrhoea
I use Acupuncture to help boost your digestive health which works on strengthening the Spleen’s energy to properly break down food and fluids. This puts a stop the excess fluids being sent down to the bowel. By harmonising the relationship between the Liver and the Spleen we can prevent the pains and twinges which can accompany the bowel movements. Chronic diarrhoea can also respond well, but you need to allow several months of treatment, as the deficiencies have spread to other organs, so we need time to strengthen you as a whole.
Like with any chronic condition, it can greatly affect your quality of life and slowly damage your overall health. As your digestion is so critical to your health and longevity, I see correcting these problems as more than just relieving uncomfortable symptoms. They are signs of a greater problem going on underneath which can impact on every corner of your health. By having a well functioning digestion, you will also enjoy more vitality, stronger immunity and improved overall health. Which is key to a long life.