The main function of the Colon or Large Intestine (*) is to absorb water from food residue, transforming the latter into feces. The lining of the bowel secretes lubricating mucus to ease evacuation. The Large Intestine is therefore responsible for the final phase of digestion.

Constipation refers to a difficulty or inability to evacuate fecal matter, which remains in the bowel for a more or less extended period. About 1-2 bowel movements per day is considered normal.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, there are two possible types of imbalances that can lead to constipation, i.e. excess constipation and deficiency constipation. For each of these two types, both the symptoms and the triggering factors will be different. In some cases both type may be present but there is only one that is predominant.

Excess Constipation

With excess constipation, bowel movements occur once every 3-5 days, and defecation is difficult.  This imbalance is due to inadequate formation of feces, which creates a blockage. This blockage tends to bring a disbalance in the fluids in the fecal matter and involve overheating and poor lubrication-hydration of the "Large Intestine system"(*). This phenomena can come from the interior causing heat that dries out the "Large Intestine system"(less fluid) or from the exterior (food and lifestyles). 

The causes of excess constipation are:

  • overly spicy and hot foods (generally invigorating and stimulating foods that overheat the body and speed up the metabolism, like certain red meats, chocolate, etc.)
  • exposure to excessive heat, which also depletes the body of fluids. The symptoms include a feeling of heat, red face, thirst, craving for cold drinks, and bad breath.
  • emotional disorders can also cause a fecal blockage, which causes stomach pain, frequent belching, loss of appetite, and internal discomfort.

Deficiency constipation

With deficiency constipation, bowel movements occur every two days or more frequently, defecation is easier, and stools are smaller.  This imbalance stems from the body's difficulty in evacuating so-called normal stools, which can be explained by a general lack of energy.  Stools are normal, but when it comes to excretion, peristalsis is slow and stool transit time longer.  This type of constipation is common after a long illness, major burnout, childbirth, and in elderly people.  Signs include dull complexion, pale nails, mental fatigue, feeling of cold, abdominal pain, and a need for heat.

Role of acupuncture

Acupuncture promotes free flow of Energy circulation and fluid distribution (hydration) (Yin Energies) to the stools and eases bowel transit. Dietary and TCM lifestyle advice are given in addition to treatments to help people with constipation and to prevent a new imbalance.

(*) Describe here the "Large Intestine system" according to traditional Chinese medicine, and not simply the bowel as an organ.

To learn more...
Contact an acupuncturist member of the Association of Acupuncturists of Québec (AAQ).

©Association des acupuncteurs du Québec - legal notes

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