Last week I wrote about constipation. This week I’ll go over the fact that treating constipation is not always a simple matter of eating more fiber and vegetables. The science of Chinese medicine proposes the theory that there are many causes of constipation and that it’s not simply a lack of fiber. Some of the more common causes are blood deficiency (anemia) and poor circulation, cold in your abdomen, among others.
We speak of blood deficiency in Chinese medicine – this is what western medicine calls anemia. There are varying degrees of blood deficiency, and symptoms can appear before blood work shows low levels. Blood deficiency can be caused by surgery and traumas (even those without outward signs of bleeding), through poor absorption in your digestive tract, and many other ways.
Poor circulation is a close cousin to blood deficiency. Not enough blood means your circulation is not optimal, and not as efficient in taking vital nutrients and oxygen to feed all of your cells. Poor circulation, alone or in combination with blood deficiency, can also lead to constipation. When you don’t have enough blood or proper circulation there is not enough “water to float the boat,” an old and common saying in oriental medicine meaning that there is not enough circulation to carry the poo – the “boat” – out.
Cold in your body, specifically in your abdomen, is a theory that doesn’t have a clear correlation in western medicine. Cold in your abdomen, from the perspective of Chinese medicine, is a fairly common occurrence, especially in women. (It’s especially common in those who swam a lot or sat on cold grounds or concrete at sporting events.) Eating a lot of cold or raw foods, and/or drinking a lot of iced drinks can slow down the whole digestive process. Similar to what happens to traffic when the weather turns cold and snowy, your body’s functions slow to a crawl when you are cold. You can help yourself by eating more cooked meals, reducing the frequency of frozen drinks (for example, smoothies), and drinking beverages at room temperature or hotter. Using a heating pad on your abdomen can also begin to warm up your core.
While cold in the body is relatively easy to rectify, what we don’t account for in western medicine is the difficulty you may experience in recovering from surgery. For some it is quite difficult to recover from C-Sections, abdominal surgeries, or hysterectomies, as well as other traumas that are not directly linked to the abdomen. It can be difficult to get back to healthy blood levels or clear circulation. It is a frequent occurrence to hear, “I’ve never been the same since that surgery/baby/accident.”
In addition to changing your diet to address blood deficiency and warming your core, adding rhubarb to your diet can help (it’s often used in formulas to help move the “boat”). And, as usual, Chinese herbs and acupuncture can help to get your body back to that healthy balance. Once back in balance, your symptoms are relieved.