Constipation and Bowel Disorders.
Roisin Golding B.AcMBAcC for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate © 1999
Please note that this article was written for distribution to a world-wide audience ten years ago. Constipation has many causes. Acupuncture treatment for constipation will necessarily be tailor made for each individual.
Britain is number one in lacking number ones, number ones being a very British euphemism for bowel movements. Britain has many euphemisms for its number ones. And many comedians survive by exploiting their embarrassment at the mention of these. “Pooh pooh,” is guaranteed to have half a dozen adult men double over in embarrassed laughter.
A recent study suggesting that Britain was the most constipated nation in the world partly explains this preoccupation. After all, in good health presumably one never thinks about it, but go several days without a good bowel movement and it is easy to become obsessed.
For such a basic bodily function there is a lot of confusion. What’s normal? Those practitioners who specialise in treating bowel dysfunction, especially constipation, claim that optimum transit time for imbibed food should be 24 hours. Research undertaken in Cambridge found that the average time in the UK is now 70 hours. The researchers believe there may be a correlation between this and the increased incidence of colon cancer (the UK has the highest incidence of bowel cancer in the world) possibly due to the increased time irritants remain in the bowel.
The bowel is actually very simple to understand, having only three main functions. It reabsorbs approximately 80% of water and electrolytes before passing the stool for expulsion (otherwise we would feel constantly thirsty.) It provides a home for bacteria which in turn synthesise B vitamins. And it stores faeces until it is ready to expel them.
If the faecal matter remains too long in the colon, too much water is reabsorbed and the stools become dry and hard. Taking a little sea salt or bio-salt (from celery and other vegetable sources) can help keep the stool moist. Taking honey in a glass of hot water every morning on an empty stomach also helps to lubricate the stool, as can taking a glass of warm salt water.
Like a road digger mixing cement, the colon churns and rolls its contents. Like a road digger leaning on his spade, the colon also waits idly for long periods of time. It is stimulated into activity by eating, but never more vigorously than straight after breakfast. The Chinese have said for thousands of years that the colon has its peak energy between 5.00 and 7.00 am, but then the Chinese were early risers.
When children are being toilet trained they are really being taught to be aware of and to listen to their body. For this reason it is unhelpful not to respond fairly immediately to the child’s natural urges, even if it is inconvenient to find a toilet in the middle of a shopping expedition. Children thrive on routine. Regular meal times, regular toilet times. Our colon retains this need for routine throughout life and it is vital that we remain aware and responsive to its call. If you are having difficulties you can assist your colon by treating it like a two year old, that is by giving it routine and being responsive to its needs.
Laziness is in the colon’s nature. It will move but if you ignore it, it will not protest. It will down tools and try again later. “Mañana,” is its favourite expression. Taking laxatives are not a help in the long run as it makes colons lazier and less responsive to the normal distension caused by food intake. Fruits, vegetables and whole grain cereals provide all the water, fibre, as well as some of the B vitamins necessary for good gastro-intestinal functioning. If you must take something extra then psyllium, which is obtainable in most health food shops, has a normalising effect. It helps with both constipation and diarrhoea.
If all else fails one can try colon hydrotherapy, or colonic irrigation. Dr. Milo Siewert is a very lively 80 year old who has been treating constipation using colonic irrigation for almost thirty years. Judging by how difficult it was to get hold of him I think they are right about the constipated Brits. One article about him in a Sunday newspaper elicited 2,000 calls of enquiry.
Colonic hydrotherapy involves the insertion of two tubes into the rectum to gently wash the contents of the entire 5 feet of colon, (unlike enemas which uses twice as much water pressure to empty the last 2/3rds of the descending colon.) In 20 seconds the water washes into the secum, the junction of the colon with the small intestine. When one tube has finished washing another tube takes over and collects the waste. This is all done by a machine, with the patient’s modesty preserved at all times. The process is repeated thirty times, one session lasting for about half an hour.
Dr. Siewert claims that colonic hydrotherapy can improve the tone of the colon by using alternating warm and cold water. The effect of alternating distension and relaxation also strengthens the muscles and helps normalise the colon’s functioning, which has often become over distended and unresponsive after years of neglect and laxative abuse. One generally needs six treatments to cure chronic constipation.
Other uncomfortable symptoms that can be helped by this method (when associated with dysfunctional bowels) are headaches, bloated and distended abdomen, and gas. Poor skin condition is also associated with toxic material left to rot in our gut. Dr. Siewert claims that some debris can remain for months in a constipated colon.