Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the United States, resulting in 2.5 million doctor visits annually. The condition involves stools that are hard and painful to pass, a frequent feeling of incomplete evacuation, or failing to pass stool for several days. Chronic diarrhea affects up to one in one hundred people and is defined as loose or watery stools that last for four or more weeks. While we may brush off diarrhea or constipation as not all that important, when persistent these issues can indicate more serious underlying conditions. They can also lead to malabsorption which in time points us down the path of chronic degenerative disease. Chronic diarrhea and constipation are red flags that need to be addressed!
The causes of constipation can be as simple as chronic dehydration and lack of movement, to more complex such as food sensitivities, or problems with bile production (bile salts play a key role in proper elimination). Certain foods often cause constipation, including gluten, dairy, white rice, bread, and pasta, as do certain medications such as antidepressants, narcotics, and iron pills. What about diarrhea? Food intolerances can also be a significant player, most typically dairy, as can conditions of fat malabsorption leading to loose and floating stools. Antibiotics, antacids, and blood pressure medications can alter the natural balance of gut flora, leading to diarrhea.
The most common cause of both constipation or diarrhea is irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. IBS affects up to 45 million Americans and commonly develops even years after a food poisoning incident. It indicates the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the small or large intestine (or both). Over time, these bacterial toxin insults can result in chronic inflammation that cause the spaces between the cells lining the gut to open and overwhelm the immune system lying beneath. In time, this can lead to various kinds of autoimmune conditions, including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis. With the epidemic of autoimmune conditions today, we need to be looking to the gut!
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that conventional medicine has to offer when it comes to healing the causes of constipation or diarrhea. (Using OTC meds like MiraLAX and Metamucil for constipation, or Imodium for diarrhea can help manage symptoms—but they do nothing to address the source.) This is partly because constipation and diarrhea can be surprisingly complex to treat, requiring a little detective work. Are there methods that are effective beyond “bandaid” medications? Yes!
At Vital Health, we are highly skilled in testing, identifying, and treating the causes of these conditions, using diet, targeted supplements, herbal therapies, and acupuncture to bring the body into balance. Why acupuncture? Clinical studies consistently reveal acupuncture to be an effective tool for relieving symptoms of diarrhea and constipation. A 2017 study, for example, divided sixty-one participants diagnosed with IBS-D (for diarrhea) into an acupuncture and a medication group—and the acupuncture group reported greater relief from symptoms, completely free of side effects!
©2023 Darcy Greenwald, M.S.O.M., L.Ac. and Vital Health