Acupuncture is used for an extremely wide range of conditions, but in some ways the most important ones are those of a more preventative nature than those involving a last ditch effort. Paying attention to your colon health through analyzing bowel movements, among other signs, is one such area that is often overlooked. Constipation is a quite familiar problem to many, but yet as it is so common it is far too easy to avoid giving it much thought until it becomes a major problem or leads to other health issues.
Chinese Medicine, both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, is regularly used to treat both the symptoms and, more importantly, the causal factors of constipation. In Chinese Medicine there are many possible underlying diagnoses that can all lead to constipation. In broad terms you have what we call kidney yin deficiency (see “My Kidneys are What?” for general info) which essentially leads to a lack of the fluid/cooling functions of the body leading to dryness in the bowels and perhaps other symptoms such as night sweats, palpitations, anxiety, etc. Then you have more stress related variants, what we might call spleen qi deficiency with liver qi stagnation, as an example (“My liver is what?“, “My spleen is what?“). This variant is constipation from overheating the system from poor diet, possibly things like alcohol, etc., and irregular heating and sleeping patterns – along with it you can have any variety of mild to moderate mood disorders, fatigue, cold hands and feet, possibly headaches among other issues. And, of course, there are many other possible diagnoses from a Chinese Medicine perspective.
LI 11 reduces heat in the body, not just in the bowels, but it also has applications for hot skin conditions such as hives and fevers in general. Because of the heat reducing functions it can also be used for certain types of diarrhea as well as constipation.
ST 37 is used for more acute issues with the colon and the digestive organs in general. So beyond constipation this point may be useful for abdominal pain, bloating. Additionally, as with LI 11, this point may equally be applicable to certain types of diarrhea as well as constipation.
Obviously these types of systemic functions of the points (i.e. treating equally well either diarrhea or constipation with the correct usage) leds itself well to the treatment of conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, as an example.
With the general background out of the way, researchers in the study that I am writing about today utilized a rat model to figure out exactly what these points are doing in relation to constipation in biochemical and functional terms. In their study they divided the constipation induced rats into 4 groups – a control, a LI 11 only group, a ST 37 only group, and a LI 11 and ST 37 treatment group. Electroacupuncture was used on the points, although the results would generally be applicable to regular acupuncture and possibly even acupressure based on what other studies have shown.
Their research indicated that there was no significant difference between LI 11 and ST 37 within the constraints of this study. That is, both individually, and even collectively, brought about positive reductions in constipation relatively equally. All treated rats has significant improvements in GI transit times, frequency of bowel movements and water content.
On a biochemical level they found that these points increased both TPH and 5-HT expression which are markers for healthy bowel function. 5-HT (serotonin) is a particularly important marker for health of the bowels and ultimately overall health of the body as well as mood. These biochemical markers alone begin to explain why Chinese Medicine never separates the body from the mind and why many acupuncture points end up having such broad systemic responses.