Constipation is not something people like to acknowledge but the chances of it affecting you in your life are high. While we use acupuncture and TCM to treat and prevent constipation, our first step is often to look into the lifestyle factors that contribute to it. By providing personalised lifestyle advice we are able to achieve great results for our patients who are struggling with constipation.
Signs and symptoms of constipation
Passing hard or lumpy stools
Less than 3 stools a week
Pain or bloating in the abdomen
Straining while passing stools
Still needing to go toilet after passing stool
What causes constipation?
From the Western perspective the following can cause constipation：
Pregnancy – because of less room in digestive system
IVF – is a common side effect of pessaries in the procedure
Stress – can change diet, exercise and sleep patterns which affect the bowels
Dehydration – making the faeces dried out and stuck
Aging – metabolism is slowing down
Medical conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), diabetes, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis etc.
TCM Diagnosis for Constipation
In TCM constipation is diagnosed as either：
The AcuNatural Touch
One of the first things we look at when a patient comes in to our clinic complaining of constipation is their lifestyle.
For most people we recommend:
Increase water intake
As dehydration is a major cause of constipation. Aim for at least 2 liters of water a day.
Exercise and general movement will speed up the progression of food in your large intestine allowing it to flow better. Walking or aerobic activities are recommended.
Don’t rush going to the toilet
Straining doesn’t help as it weakens muscles, and can cause haemorrhoids or hernias. Instead try scheduling time or building a routine so that you are not rushing to be done with the toilet.
Don’t ignore signs of needing to go to the toilet
These cues will eventually go away which increases the chance of constipation. Listen to your body and don’t wait until you are busting.
Pay attention to your diet
What you put in your body largely impacts what and how it comes out. In particular focus on your fibre intake.
Fibre and Constipation
Dietary Fibre is the parts of whole foods such as fruits and veggies that we cannot digest.
There is soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre slows down digestion so the gut can absorb nutrients. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to stools so they can hold moisture and more easily pass through the system.
Constipation occurs when the digestive system absorbs too much moisture leaving stools too hard to pass.
There are studies that show 77% of people see improvement from constipation as a result of eating more fibre.
Please note that too much fibre can also cause issues. The average recommended daily amount of fibre is 28g for women and 38g men. If you are eating the recommended amount of fibre then it’s likely not the cause of your constipation. Increasing your intake in this circumstance can worsen symptoms.
Tips to improve fibre intake
Some good examples of food to increase fibre intake and help constipation are：
Prunes – contain 3.1g fibre (1.8g insoluble) plus the sugar alcohol sorbitol which is a natural laxative
Lentils – highest in fibre of all foods (7.8g and 4.5g insoluble per ½ cup)
Black beans – 6.9g fibre (3.1g insoluble)
Pear with skin – 5.5g fibre (4.4g insoluble)
Sunflower seeds – 3.0 (1.9g insoluble)
Kale, chopped and cooked – 2.6g (1.8 insoluble)
Focusing on gut health is important for avoiding constipation. Dietary changes, like increasing fibre intake, are one way of achieving this. A gut detox is also a good option. For more information about our gut detox see our blog post on it.
If lifestyle changes don’t help then acupuncture and TCM can step in. Read part 2 of our blog to find out how we use Traditional Chinese Medicine to help relieve and prevent constipation.