What is Constipation?
Constipation has different definitions, and individuals define it based on family and cultural influence and personal experience. Many people consider constipation if they have any one of:
- Stools that are difficult to pass
- Repeated unsatisfying bowel movements
- Infrequent bowel movements
According to the American College of Gastroenterology bowel movements of three per day to three per week are considered within the range of “normal”. However that seems to be a broad definition of ‘normal’ as it does not take into account the quite useful Bristol scale. Nor does the definition take into account the unquantifiable ‘satisfaction’ it brings.
It is important to understand what type of constipation a person is experiencing.
A dry hard constipation is often treated with osmotic products such as Miralax or magnesium. The occasional use of these products are safe, say for example when people travel. However frequent habitual use will only weaken the bowel and increase dependence on these osmotics. The ability to defecate properly depends on your external anal sphincter muscle. Chronic osmotic use or enemas can atrophy the muscles that support defecation and only worsen the constipation issue.
For people who have softer bowel movements without much form there may be too much ‘dampness’ in the system. The osmotic laxatives often do not work well since there is already enough fluid in the bowel. Sometimes people take the herb senna for this type of constipation but senna is an irritant to the bowel and repeated use can give to leaky gut.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Treat the Root
In Chinese Medicine we might further delineate the above two types into cold and hot as well as excess and deficient conditions. We would then provide formulas based on the Chinese medicine pattern. Three people may have seemingly the same types of constipation symptoms yet get three completely different effective formulas.
Acupuncture is also great for constipation – especially the type where motility is an issue. Acupuncture can help stimulate peristalsis and bring on a bowel movement. Treatment is to open up blockages typically on the lateral sides of the body or in the YangMing tube. It is quite effective.
A recent study compared electro acupuncture to mosapride which is a drug that stimulates the bowel to increase gastric emptying. Electro acupuncture was almost as effective as mosapride, but it offered less side effects and overall participants were more satisfied doing electro acupuncture than taking the medication Another study compared real acupuncture to so called ‘sham acupuncture’. It demonstrated that real acupuncture significantly improved constipation even weeks after treatment ended compared to sham. ( This is significant as there is no real sham acupuncture as it can have a beneficial effect. In light of this the NIH no longer funds any studies that use ‘sham acupuncture’.)
Before starting to rely on osmotics or irritating herbs to bring on regular bowel movements one should give Chinese Medicine and acupuncture a go. It will treat the underlying imbalance that is causing the constipation and thus make one feel a heck of a lot better in many ways.