East Asian Medicine & Chronic Constipation

Irritable bowel syndrome or irritable bowel disorder is a functional disorder of the GI tract that significantly alters normal bowel movement patterns and reduces quality of life. It has no known cause, although some cases occur after a severe illness. The disorder can present predominately with diarrhea, constipation, or both. Today we will look at how Chinese medicine can help with patients who have the constipation form of this disorder (IBS-C), and save the others for different weeks.

Acupuncture is a very effective front-line therapy for management of chronic constipation. As I’ve mentioned before, acupuncture activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is involved in promoting digestion and nutrient absorption. So by it’s very nature, acupuncture helps stimulate the movement of food through the GI tract. Beyond this, acupuncture can help with the secondary symptoms common to IBS – abdominal pain & bloating, anxiety or depression, GERD, or muscle pain.

Even though acupuncture is great for promoting stool passage, it is not the best long-term therapy compared to the other two options below. Herbal medicine and dietary changes allow for daily therapy, whereas acupuncture’s benefits may not carry through the week depending on the patient’s health background.

Dietary changes
There is currently no recommended diet for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome with chronic constipation. Simply eating more fiber or nuts doesn’t always do the trick.

However, changing one’s diet based on the recommendations of Chinese medicine can help quicken the resolution of any health problem, and prevent minor issues from turning into major ones. A Chinese herbalist can recommend dietary changes that support any acupuncture or herbal medicine based approach, and these changes are needed to ensure that any gains made in resolving constipation aren’t lost 2-3 months down the road when life takes another turn. These dietary recommendations will be unique to each individual because the Chinese medical diagnosis for each person will be different.

Herbal medicine
Herbal medicine is, hands down, the best method to resolve chronic constipation. Herbs are taken directly into the GI tract where they can do their work. They are taken daily, just as food is. And when prescribed properly, they can do the same work to promote the sympathetic nervous system, just as acupuncture does.

As good as taking herbs can be, they are not appropriate for some patients right away, such as those who are require very regular doses of laxatives or who poorly absorb nutrients from their food. For these patients, herbs won’t get absorbed into the bloodstream and thus never get a chance to work. In these cases acupuncture & dietary changes must come first, and then herbs can be introduced as progress is seen.

Effective management and resolution of IBS-C is possible with Chinese medicine. Patients can expect to see gradual but steady progress, with a full course of treatment taking at least three to five months.