Constipated? Get things moving with Chinese medicine

Constipation is a common digestive symptom that unfortunately affects most people at some point. Ideally, you should be passing a stool once or twice a day without straining. Other signs of constipation include:


~ Irregular bowel motions

~ Hard, dry and small stools

~ A feeling of incomplete evacuation

~ Taking longer than a few minutes to pass a stool

~ Abdominal pain

~ Bloating and excess gas

~ Straining to pass a stool


These symptoms suggest a digestive imbalance and shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re struggling with constipation, or things aren’t as easy as they should be, Chinese medicine and acupuncture can help get things moving.


Passing a stool is one of the ways that our body eliminates waste; a lack of regular bowel motions can lead to a toxic build up of those waste products. Constipation can also lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria in our gut. Good gut health and a balance of good gut bacteria are also essential for supporting immune function, regulating inflammation and even good mental health.


Stress, travel, illness or medication can cause a temporary change in bowel habits that usually resolves on its own. Constipation is also common in pregnancy, or at certain times in your menstrual cycle. Chronic constipation can indicate an underlying problem that can affect your health and quality of life.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) functional digestive disorder that may include bowel changes (constipation, diarrhoea or both) abdominal pain, bloating and gas. People with IBS might also be experiencing anxiety or depression, fatigue and headaches. Irritable bowel disease (IBD) is a more serious diagnosis that includes, Crohns disease, ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis, and involves inflammatory or autoimmune reactions in the gut.


Stress is a common cause of digestive irregularities. Our autonomic nervous system has 2 branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. These divisions work in opposition to each other, regulating the unconscious actions of the body and maintaining balance or homeostastis. The sympathetic nervous system controls our response to stress, the “fight or flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our digestion and healing, or “rest and digest” functions. The frenetic pace of modern life can mean that our bodies spend too much time in “fight or flight” mode, diverting energy away from healing and normal digestion.


Scientific studies have suggested that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for constipation. A small systematic review found that treatments improved weekly spontaneous bowel movements, quality of life scores and other associated symptoms.   A separate study found that application of electrical stimulation (TENS) to acupuncture points activates the parasympathetic nervous system in women with constipation. Another trial examined acupuncture and moxibustion, a medicinal herb burned over acupuncture points, and found improvements in a range of clinical indications of constipation including abdominal pain, defecation time and difficulty of defecation, as well as overall quality of life.


Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help to switch your body back to parasympathetic mode, supporting proper digestive function and promoting healing. Diet and lifestyle changes can also help to regulate your bowels, restore a healthy gut flora and support your overall wellbeing.