According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), alternating constipation and diarrhea is a common symptom of Liver Qi Stagnation, which basically means your energy isn't flowing properly. An important Liver function (according to TCM) is to move energy (Qi) smoothly through the body. When the Liver becomes imbalanced, due to anger, frustration, resentment, stress, unfulfilled desires and/or improper diet or eating schedule, then the Qi doesn't flow smoothly and you can have symptoms such as:
- Neck and shoulder tension
- Tight chest
- Chronic sighing
- Premenstrual breast tenderness and lower abdominal or lower back cramping
- Irregular bowel movements
That last symptom is the topic of today's post.
IBS can show up differently for each person. Some people have chronic constipation, others chronic loose stools or diarrhea, and others have both. Stress usually accompanies these symptoms or can make them worse. IBS rarely happens without the concurrence of stress. Any symptom that is worse with stress is always due to Liver Qi Stagnation.
How do I fix this in the most natural way possible?
1. Regular life habits. The body likes to be on a schedule, which includes eating at regular intervals and at more or less the same time every day. Regular exercise that is moderate in nature (not too strenuous, but getting the body moving) is important to keep the Qi flowing well. You need adequate clean water intake, which is about half your body weight in ounces, more if you sweat a lot. Finally stress management using acupuncture, exercise, yoga, mediation, talk therapy, tai chi, etc.; there are many possibilities.
2. Speak your mind. When you "hold your tongue" you are preventing the free flow of energy and can build up as resentment, which will stagnate the Liver Qi. When resentment explodes outward (like when you lose your temper), it is a sudden release of that stagnation; you feel better but only temporarily, and often at the expense of others, leaving you with regret. Diarrhea behaves in this way, a sudden explosion. I'm not recommending that you be hurtful or rude when speaking your mind, just say what is true for you, whether out loud or in a journal. I find that writing letters to people can be very cathartic. These are letters that you don't send, but by writing down all of your feelings, whatever is making you angry, resentful, sad or hurt, you can process the feelings and let them go. When they fester, they cause problems, usually physical problems (see above list of symptoms). When you free yourself of these feelings, it encourages proper Qi flow and you feel better. With constipation, it is representation of one's inability to process and let things go.
3. To quote Michael Pollan from his book Food Rules, "eat food, mostly plants, not too much." When you eat actual food that is cultivated on a farm or found in the wild, you will be nourishing your body, giving it sustenance and nutritional building blocks to function properly. When you eat food-like substances that were created in a laboratory (like all packaged, processed "foods"), your brain and body doesn't receive the nutrients it needs to work right and you get irregular bowel movements, as well as other symptoms (e.g. weight gain, depression, ADHD, brain fog, lack of energy, irritability). Eating mostly plant foods with some meat and animal products (organic pasture-raised of course) will keep your bowels moving properly. Eating at regular, predictable times helps your body regulate itself. Fermented foods, like miso, saurkraut, pickled beets (pickled in brine, not vinegar), kimchee, kombucha, etc., are a great source of probiotics that can help regulate your bowel movments, for both constipation and diarrhea. If you can't see yourself eating ferments regularly, a good probiotic supplement can be helpful. Look for one that is enteric coated so that it will get to your intestines before breaking down. Each person has different requirements so play with your dosage and find what feels right for you. Alternatively see you local naturopath or functional medical doctor for some guidance. Some great bowel movers are chia seeds, prunes, figs, green leafy vegetables and healthy fats (olive or coconut oil, avocado, etc).
4. Abdominal self-massage can be an easy way to self treat. Lie down and place your palm on your belly. If you have diarrhea, you are going to rub your palm against your belly in a counter-clockwise direction, going against the natural flow of the Large Intestines. For constipation, go clockwise. It is a gentle superficial rubbing that you can do 30-60 times, multiple times a day. It feels good and can be very calming. Works great for bloating too (clockwise).
5. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help you both manage your stress and your bowel movments. There is no "one size fits all" with TCM, your acupuncturist will do a complete health history to determine how best to treat your specific condition. Each treatment will be tailor made to fit you, not just your IBS. Typically you will feel better within 4-6 treatments, but the more chronic the condition, the longer it may take. Regular maintenance treatments (1-2 times per month) are often recommended to keep you feeling your best.
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