Don’t get stuck in a rut with your digestion. Regular bowel movements are a crucial part of whole-body health, yet many of us ignore our bowel patterns or fail to recognize when things get out of whack.
The truth is, our bowel movements say a lot about our internal health. The size, shape, consistency, frequency, and ease of our movements all lend clues to how our digestive system is functioning. It doesn’t stop there…our bowel movements also help diagnose our overall health. A trained practitioner could guess the quality of your sleep, energy, and stress all by the quality of your bowel movements.
So, what would your stool say about you? If you tend to dry, hard stools or often feel constipated, it’s time to pay a little extra attention to your bowels. Read on to find out how to improve your digestion and keep yourself regular – the natural way.
What is Constipation?
Most of us have been constipated at one point in our lives. It can occur from dietary changes, illnesses, stress, or other potential factors. Some people have a tendency to become constipated or have fewer bowel movements than others. Our digestive systems vary widely, and what we consider a “normal” bowel movement can also vary.
So, what exactly is constipation? When do variations in bowel behavior signal a potential health issue?
You may be considered constipated if you have less than three bowel movements per week. Constipation also often involves hard, dry, and difficult-to-pass stools. Sometimes bowel movements occur regularly, but are incomplete and small, never fully voiding. When your system is backed up, you may experience stomachache, bloating, abdominal pain, sluggishness, and even other systems of toxicity like headaches, poor sleep, or breakouts.
Why Manage Constipation?
Constipation is usually harmless and can pass with the right lifestyle and diet changes. However, in some cases constipation becomes a chronic condition that weakens the body’s healing processes and can prevent you from reaching optimal health. In even more severe conditions, a blocked bowel can be an emergency situation that requires medical intervention. Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to our digestive health! With proper gut health and self-care, you can keep your bowels moving regularly and fully.
Your gut is the basis of your overall health. Regular, complete, comfortable bowel movements are the best way to keep your system functioning and that your body is efficiently removing waste and toxins.
Lifestyle Factors that Worsen Constipation
Gut health conditions like constipation are often heavily influenced by lifestyle factors. Diet, medications, exercise schedule, stress load, and daily habits are all potential factors that could worsen – or help – the health of your digestive system. Here are the main lifestyle factors that prevent healthy bowel movements:
- Eating processed and “junk” foods low in fiber
- Dehydration, not drinking enough water
- Sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise
- Long periods of sitting or lying
- Ignoring the urge to use the toilet, anxiety about public restrooms, “holding it”
- Changes in diet or daily routine (including travel)
- Medication side-effects
- Stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional factors
How Does Chinese Medicine Treat Constipation?
Chinese medicine sees many potential causes and underlying factors when it comes to constipation. In most cases, there is either a lack of nourishment to the bowel (preventing the smooth flow of waste through the Large Intestine) or a hard, excess blockage in the intestine.
Deficiency-type constipation: This occurs with yin and blood deficiency. In this type of constipation, there is not enough nourishment or moisture in the stool and the intestines themselves to move the excrement forward and out. Stool is often dry, pebbly, lumpy, and hard and bowel movements are infrequent. It is often difficult to pass and may require straining. There will likely be other signs of dryness, such as dry skin, dry mouth, thirst, and brittle hair and nails. There could also be a lack of energy (qi) to complete a bowel movement. With a qi deficiency, there will also be fatigue, light-headedness, and general malaise.
Excess, blocked-type constipation: This type of constipation often occurs with Liver qi stagnation or excess heat in the body. The stool gets stuck in the bowel due to a lack of flow in the body’s systems. There may also be incomplete bowel movements, abdominal bloating, irritability, belching and flatulence, PMS, or headaches. If heat is also a factor, the urine may become hot or scanty.
Depending on your type of constipation, different methods and herbal medicines should be used. Many medicinals work to soften the stool, increase moisture, and supplement the body. Others will help reduce blockage, improve flow, and cool heat or irritation. See our list of top herbal remedies for different types of constipation below.
What are the Key Herbs to Consider for Constipation?
Chinese medicine makes use of many natural herbs and medicinals that not only move the bowels, but fix the underlying issues causing the constipation. Many of these medicinals are nourishing, oily, moving, or clearing in nature. In addition to finding these herbs in the following recommended herbal formulas, you can also add some of these to your diet.
Huo Ma Ren: Hemp Seeds
These tiny seeds have big potential when it comes to smoothing bowel movements. Hemp seeds, known as huo ma ren in Chinese medicine, are used in formulas to help improve constipation that is dry or weak in nature. These seeds moisten the bowels, increase energy, and promote the smooth discharge of stool. Sprinkle hemp seeds into smoothies, salads, oatmeal, or other foods to help keep your bowels moving daily.
Hei Zi Ma: Black Sesame Seeds
Black sesames seeds are great for tonifying blood and yin. They enrich the fluids of the body and encourage normal, smooth bowel movements. The natural oils in the seeds help to nourish the intestines and soften the stool for hard, dry, or pellet-like stool.
Xing Ren: Apricot Kernel
Apricot kernels are a popular herb used in many Chinese formulas for both Lung and Large Intestine issues. In Chinese medicine, the Lung and Large Intestine are paired organs and often suffer illness together. Apricot kernels moisten and reduce blockages, making it a perfect herb for constipation.
Bo He: Peppermint
Peppermint is a great daily tea for those who fall under the stagnation and blockage category. Not only does the warmth of the tea help to warm, loosen, and activate the bowels, but it also helps to reduce stress, increase qi flow, and reduce irritability.
Sheng Jiang: Fresh Ginger
Fresh ginger is not specifically a bowel-moving herb, but it’s aromatic, warming, and energy-boosting properties make it helpful for increasing the activity in the stomach and large intestine and enhancing the entire digestive process. Add to foods or drink steeped in tea.
Fan Xie Ye: Senna Leaf
Senna leaf is often seen as an herbal remedy tea. While this herb can be easily found in herbal stores and some grocery stores, it can be strong and is best used in conjunction with a Chinese medicinal formula.
Top Best Chinese Medicine Formulas to Treat Constipation
Best Chinese Medicine stocks several classic and modern formulas to help improve digestion and encourage healthy bowel movements. Here are some of our favorite products to help you get moving.
Run Chang Wan: For Chronic Constipation
Run Chang Wan is a classic formula for chronic, dry constipation. This type of constipation often occurs in older people or those who are very fatigued, when there is less energy to keep the bowel movements moving regularly. This is also a great choice for new mothers who experience constipation after delivery.
Bao He Wan: Blocked or Upset Bowels
Bao He Wan is a fantastic herbal formula to keep on hand. Use it for blocked bowels due to stagnation, changes in diet, or stress. This formula is best used when constipation is accompanied by abdominal distention, belching, heaviness in the stomach, or acid regurgitation.
Zhi Gan Cao Wan: Overall Body Balance
Zhi Gan Cao Wan is an overall health tonic, helping you to supplement all systems of the body. It is the perfect remedy for those who experience occasional constipation along with feelings of fatigue, poor sleep, stress, anxiety, and dryness.
Slippery Elm Bark Tincture: Smooth Relief
Slippery Elm is known for its ability to relive many gastro-intestinal complaints, including constipation. This liquid tincture can be used during bouts of constipation or digestive upset.
Shun Qi Wan: Abdominal Relief
If you experience heavy bloating, gas, belching, cramping, or pain with constipation, Shun Qi Wan is a good choice for you. The aromatic herbal blend helps to break through stagnation and blockages to open the digestive tract and set a normal digestive pace.
Treat Your Constipation at Home
Like most things, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to constipation. There are so many natural remedies and lifestyle adjustments that you can make at home start feeling comfortable today.
Along with incorporating one or more of the above formulas, consider increasing the fiber content of your diet. Choose bright, leafy greens, whole grains, and hydrating fruits. Probiotics can be a game changer when it comes to boosting your gut health and keeping you regular. Increase the amount of fermented foods you eat such as kimchi, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and raw cheeses.
Don’t forget about stress reduction. Stress can put everything into slow motion – or worse, just stuck. If you experience constipation regularly, take time to relax and move. Walk or exercise daily, meditate, laugh, dance, journal, or do whatever you enjoy to help you feel more free.
Are you ready to get moving again? Bring life back to your digestive system with our range of digestive herbal products.