The principal function of the large intestine consists of absorbing water and food residues and transforming them into waste. The lining of the large intestine secretes a mucus which lubricates the inside of the large intestine in order to facilitate the elimination process. The large intestine is responsible for the final transformative phase of the digestive process. Constipation is regarded as a difficulty or an impossibility to evacuate fecal matter. Instead, it stays in the large intestine for a longer period of time. Normally, one should eliminate feces once or twice a day.
In Chinese medicine, there are two imbalances to explain constipation – full constipation type and empty constipation type
In a full constipation type, the frequency of defecation is once every three to five days. This imbalance is explained by an improper transformation of fecal matter which creates a plug. The plug comes from a reduction of liquid in the fecal matter. The reduction of liquid is produced because the body temperature is too high creating a state of dehydration. Often the cause is food which is too spicy or too hot (as in foods which heat up the body and accelerate metabolic functions such as certain red meats, chocolate…). Or it can be caused by external high temperatures which reduce body fluids. Emotional problems can be a cause resulting in abdominal pain, frequent burps, loss of appetite and internal tension. Symptoms can be a high body temperature, a red face, thirst, attraction to cold liquids, and bad breath.
With empty constipation, the frequency of bowel movements is once every two days or more. The defecation is easier and the stools are smaller. The origin of this imbalance is a difficulty of the body to transport the waste, which is often explained by a general weakness of the person. The stools are normal, but when the intestine must push the waste, the movement of peristalsis slows and the waste stays longer in the large intestine. This form of constipation is often seen after a long illness, a major fatigue, a birth, and in older people. Other signs for this form are a dull complexion, pale nails, emotional fatigue, feelings of being cold and abdominal malaise.
Acupuncture can help to reestablish the correct hydration of the stools in a full constipation and facilitate the intestinal process in an empty constipation.
Certain dietary guidelines can help prevent the reappearance of this imbalance.
- Add healthy saturated fats to your diet such as olive oil or coconut oil
- Increase omega-3 essential fatty acids such as ground flax meal or avocado
- Eat small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals
- Increase your daily intake of water, especially between meals
- Avoid drinking cold water with meals, as this slows down the digestion of foods
- Slippery elm and psyllium can also be helpful
- Finally, daily exercise is important as it relaxes the bowel and helps it function more efficiently.