Constipation according to Chinese Medicine

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Constipation can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like constipation here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here constipation is often associated with dizziness, dry mouth and night sweats in the pattern “Kidney Yin Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause constipation.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of constipation we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat constipation.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause constipation

In Chinese Medicine constipation is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Kidney Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Empty (Xu), Floating (Fu)

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Tongue shape: Cracked

Kidney Yin Deficiency causes false Heat symptoms, such as night sweats, thirst and five palm heat. These signs are from a depletion of Body Fluids and Essence. It can be caused by prolonged overwork, excessive sexual activity, chronic long term illnesses, consumption of Body Fluids by Heat, prolonged blood loss, overdosage of Kidney Yang tonics herbs, smoking and Kidney depleting foods such as coffee, alcohol, sugar, and fruit juices.

In addition to constipation, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yin Deficiency include dizziness, dry mouth and night sweats.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney Yin Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Menopausal Syndrome, Prolonged Periods or Irregular Menstruation.

Kidney Yin Deficiency is often treated with Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Liu Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nutritive tonic for the Liver and Kidney Yin Essence (nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system)".

Read more about Kidney Yin Deficiency here

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red)

When Liver Qi does not flow smoothly or regularly, it becomes Stagnant and in Excess. This leads to Heat accumulating in the Liver. The feeling of ‘Distension’ (zhang 胀) is the main symptom of Liver Qi Stagnation.

In addition to constipation, other symptoms associated with Liver Qi Stagnation include fever, irritability and depression.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Liver Qi Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Mastitis or Breast Engorgement.

Liver Qi Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Liver Qi Stagnation here

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Stomach Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Floating (Fu)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Stomach Yin Deficiency causes Dryness and Heat, which harms the Organ's ability of receiving and ripening foods and drinks. It is the result of prolonged unbalanced diet and irregular eating habits.

In addition to constipation, other symptoms associated with Stomach Yin Deficiency include dry mouth, dry throat and poor appetite.

Stomach Yin Deficiency is often treated with Mai Men Dong Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Dwarf Lilyturf Roots - Mai Dong - as a key herb). Mai Men Dong Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that enrich yin and moisten dryness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nourishes the Stomach".

Read more about Stomach Yin Deficiency here

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Stomach Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to constipation, other symptoms associated with Stomach Deficiency include dry mouth, poor appetite and depression.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Stomach Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Morning Sickness.

Stomach Deficiency is often treated with Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 9 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dispel phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Spleen and Stomach Qi".

Read more about Stomach Deficiency here

The Large Intestine is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine

Dryness in Large Intestine

Pulse type(s): Fine (Xi)

Tongue color: Pale, Red

In addition to constipation, other symptoms associated with Dryness in Large Intestine include dizziness, dry mouth and dry throat.

Dryness in Large Intestine is often treated with Zeng Ye Tang, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including Ningpo Figwort Roots - Xuan Shen - as a key herb). Zeng Ye Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that enrich yin and moisten dryness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nourishes Yin and Essence".

Read more about Dryness in Large Intestine here

Five herbal formulas that might help with constipation

Dang Gui Di Huang Yin

Source date: 1640 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Blood. Tonifies Kidney and Liver Yin. Regulates the menstrual cycle.

Why might Dang Gui Di Huang Yin help with constipation?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Yin Deficiency' of which constipation is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney Yin Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Menopausal Syndrome.

Read more about Dang Gui Di Huang Yin here

Gua Lou San

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Remove breast carbuncle (mastitis) after birth giving.

Why might Gua Lou San help with constipation?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Qi Stagnation' of which constipation is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Liver Qi Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Mastitis.

Read more about Gua Lou San here

Mai Men Dong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes the Stomach. Generates Body Fluids. Directs Rebellious Qi downward.

Why might Mai Men Dong Tang help with constipation?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stomach Deficiency' of which constipation is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Stomach Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Morning Sickness.

Read more about Mai Men Dong Tang here

Yi Wei Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Strengthen the Stomach. Creates Body Fluids.

Why might Yi Wei Tang help with constipation?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stomach Yin Deficiency' of which constipation is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Stomach Yin Deficiency include dry mouth, dry throat and poor appetite.

Read more about Yi Wei Tang here

Zeng Ye Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Yin and Essence. Lubricates Dryness.

Why might Zeng Ye Tang help with constipation?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Dryness in Large Intestine' of which constipation is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Dryness In Large Intestine include dizziness, dry mouth and dry throat.

Read more about Zeng Ye Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat constipation

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with constipation?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat constipation and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat constipation as a symptom (such as Dang Gui Di Huang Yin for instance).

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might Dwarf Lilyturf Root (Mai Dong) help with constipation?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat constipation and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat constipation as a symptom (such as Mai Men Dong Tang for instance).

Dwarf Lilyturf Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Replenishes Yin Essence and promotes secretions. Lubricates and nourishes the Stomach. Soothes the Lung. Nourishes the Heart.

Read more about Dwarf Lilyturf Roots here

Why might Ningpo Figwort Root (Xuan Shen) help with constipation?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat constipation and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat constipation as a symptom (such as Zeng Ye Tang for instance).

Ningpo Figwort Roots is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Stomach, the Large intestine and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Expels true or Internal Heat and cools the Blood. Tonifies the Yin. Reduces inflammations and drains Fire toxicity. Reduces hard nodules, especially associated with the lymph.

Read more about Ningpo Figwort Roots here

Why might Snake Gourd (Gua Lou) help with constipation?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat constipation and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat constipation as a symptom (such as Gua Lou San for instance).

Snake Gourds is a Cold herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Stomach, the Large intestine and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Clears Phlegm-Heat conditions with thick difficult to expectorate sputum. Regulates the Qi of the chest and relieves constriction and swellings of the chest and Lungs. Lubricates the Intestines.

Read more about Snake Gourds here

Why might Biota Seed (Bai Zi Ren) help with constipation?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat constipation and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat constipation as a symptom (such as Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan for instance).

Biota Seeds is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Large intestine.

Its main actions are: Nourishes the Heart and calms the Spirit. Moistens the Intestines and relieves constipation.

Read more about Biota Seeds here