Nevertheless, the normality or otherwise of someone’s motions do give useful information about what is going on inside. This month is IBS awareness month, a condition which it seems is rampant in our society – some studies suggest 10% of the population suffer from it, although different people experience it differently. Whilst for some the main problem is loose stools, for others it is constipation. Some alternate between the two. For others, the main symptom may be abdominal discomfort or bloating. Why such variation? Is the humble stool telling us something useful about ourselves, eloquently or otherwise?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it definitely is. Traditional acupuncturists, at least in the UK, don’t usually get to examine their patient’s stools, and most probably most of us are quite happy not to, but we are always interested in any divergence from normality, whether or not there is a diagnosis of IBS, or indeed whether or not the patient is coming for treatment with anything to do with the digestive system or not.
A key concept in TCM is ‘Qi’ Our stools depend on the Qi of our digestive tract; simplifying somewhat, we could say that if the Qi of the digestive system is weak or insufficient, there is liable to be looseness or diarrhoea. One of the functions of Qi is to hold, and if our Qi is weak we may tend, not to put too fine a point on it, to leak. If on the other hand our Qi is sufficient but not free flowing, we are liable to constipation; or perhaps constipation alternating with looseness, as the Qi gets stuck, frees up a bit, then gets stuck again, like a traffic jam that moves, stops, moves, stops etc.
Of course most of the time it is a bit more complex than this, but nevertheless perhaps we can begin to see how the quality of our stool is telling us something important about the Qi of our digestive system, and maybe about our Qi in general. Whether it is more eloquent than the pulse in this is another matter.