Using Chinese Medicine to Treat Constipation By Dr Sandra Wu
Although most people don’t talk about it, a lot of patients present at our clinic with constipation. While this may not be their primary complaint, moving their bowels will often help in their overall treatment and with their general health.
A combination of the modern diet, along with chronic dehydration, lack of physical activity and high stress loads can all contribute to constipation.
In the short-term you can get the bowels moving by using herbs and supplements. However, long-term use of bowel-moving herbs and supplements can make the bowel lazy and create a dependency.
In these cases, I find the best approach is to use herbs or supplements to retrain bowel movements in the short-term, followed by teaching the patient long-term strategies to keep them moving without an aid.
Clinically, I see three pattern types. These are Chinese medicine patterns.
- Dry-type – thin, ‘dry’ people (dry mouth, dry skin, thirsty). Your practitioner may moisten your bowels to get the stool to move using appropriate herbs.
- Wet-type – overweight, ‘fluidy’ people with swelling, sinus problems and who feel ‘heavy’. Your practitioner may use bowel moving herbs to clear your inflammation and fluid retention.
- Weak-type – pale, sallow, thin and tired people. Your practitioner may use tonics to move your bowel and boost peristalsis (the movement of stool).
In the long-term I find the best approach is to train patients to manage constipation on their own. Ways to do this include:
- Eating a stewed apple each day (green apples are best, but you can use any type of apple). The fructose in the apple attracts water to your bowel to aid the passage of stool. If this doesn’t work, then consider adding stewed rhubarb. In Chinese medicine rhubarb is a powerful bowel moving herb. But be careful how much you use! You should try the apple alone at first and if this doesn’t work gradually introduce stewed rhubarb as well.
- Eat more seeds. Any seeds, including pumpkin seeds will help stimulate bowel movements.
- Introduce daily psyllium husk into your diet. You can take Metamucil (which is generally easier to consume) however it usually contains added sugar. The easiest way to consume raw psyllium husk is to simply add it to food when cooking.
- Part of the problem is that most people don’t move or exercise enough to encourage stool movement. Simply do more exercise. There are also specific yoga moves designed to improve bowel motions which can be helpful.
- Massage your own abdomen. To do this massage in a clockwise direction for a few minutes in the morning and in the evening. Apply firm pressure and start at the bottom right of the abdomen to follow the natural passage of the digestive tract.
As a last resort consider drinking senna tea. Senna tea can be used in the long term in consultation with your Chinese Medicine practitioner. Senna tea usually comes in leaf form; however, a powdered form is better if you can find it.
If you suffer from constipation, a visit to your ATMS accredited Chinese Medicine practitioner can help retrain your bowel and help you to avoid future constipation.
Dr Sandra Wu (Chinese Medicine)