It is often asked how does acupuncture help for constipation. Many patients inquire isn’t that a dietary problem? Constipation can affect up to 30% of people to some degree and is generally referred to as a symptom as opposed to being an actual disease. Sometimes it may be a symptom of hypothyroidism or celiac disease. There has been a general trend to try treat constipation with dietary fiber but in Chinese medical terms there are a number of causes of constipation and having additional fiber could actually worsen the problem. Research in the past has confirmed the efficacy of acupuncture in treating the constipation associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Recent research has now demonstrated that acupuncture for constipation is effective. There are meridian lines for each major organ system in the body including the Large Intestine.
On this large intestine meridian there are acupuncture points which can be used for constipation. Other organ systems such as the stomach and liver also have specific acupuncture points that have been used for centuries to treat constipation. In modern medicine it is known that stress can influence the bowels and contribute to constipation. In Chinese medicine this is why sometimes liver acupuncture points are used to help the bowels because treating the liver can help reduce stress.
According to Chinese medicine, another cause of constipation is due to what is known as yin deficiency. This is where the internal body temperature regulation system has become unbalanced. This leads to chronic internal heat building up, which then dries out the large intestine causing constipation. This is the type of constipation where eating fiber could worsen the problem because fiber is dry and the bowel actually needs moistening type foods like black sesame seeds.
Another problem encountered with patients who have had chronic constipation is the damage they have caused from excess use of “natural” laxatives like senna leaf. Senna in Chinese herbal medicine is in fact classified as a strong purgative and should only be used in the acute flare ups of constipation. Long term use damages the energy and actually weakens peristaltic action. This is why these people need to keep taking senna in larger and larger doses to make it work and they become dependent on the herb.
Constipation is also common among the elderly because of lack of exercise. In Chinese medical theory, the lungs are connected and coupled up with the large intestine. You can now see the connection because lack of exercise means less oxygen is going into the lungs and therefore the lungs are not providing the large intestine with adequate energy.
A recent medical approach is to treat constipation by stimulating the sacral nerves. This is interesting because Chinese medical physicians have been using acupuncture points in the sacral foramen and hence stimulating the sacral nerves for over 2000 years.