The digestive system of the body has a very important and responsible job – that is turning all that you eat; all those important nutrients into energy for your body to operate at its best. When traditional Chinese medicine doctors look at disease and speak of internal imbalances that cause one’s ‘qi’ or energy or the blood to stagnate, they will look at digestion; they will check your stomach, your liver, and your spleen to make their diagnosis.
These ancient philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine have much to offer; unique insights into how the digestive system works – they know the secret to keeping such an important system in tip-top condition. They know that the stomach and the spleen are what drive the function of the digestive system.
How it works
The food we consume is processed by the stomach organ-meridian, according to this ancient medical theory (OM). It is then separated into its pure and impure components. The beneficial components are sent to the spleen organ-meridian system, where they are converted into nutrients, energy (Qi), blood, and fluids that our bodies require. The impure material travels down to the small intestines, then to the large intestines, where it is expelled.
According to TCM, when you experience indigestion as well as reflux conditions, the Stomach Qi is moving upwards rather than going downwards. Specific Chinese herbs are indicated to regulate this movement and to restore the downwards flow of Qi. These specific herbs are Magnolia Bark, Pinellia, and Evodia.
Heaps of gastrointestinal problems can be attributed to disharmony in the digestive system which can lead to nasty symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, bloating, burping, constipation, abdominal pain, and loose bowel movements. With traditional Chinese medicine, these symptoms will usually be treated with digestive tonic herbs. Some more of these amazing plants from Nature will include Chinese Yam (also known as Mountain Yam), Wild Cardamom, Atractylodes, and Codonopsis. These all work together to soothe and bring harmony to the digestive system.
Research done on the effectiveness and safety study of Chinese Herbal Medicine for Functional Constipation by NIH stated that, “by combining the actions of these herbs, MZRW (MaZiRenWan) can moisten the Intestines, drain heat, promote the movement of Qi and unblock the bowel. Although previous studies show that MZRW has purgative and laxative effects and may be useful for functional constipation (FC), there are significant methodological weaknesses.”
Heat and Damp digestion problems
If all the above organ meridians aren’t working in balance, you are going to experience bowel problems like diarrhea, flatulence, and abdominal pain. If there is too much heat in the system, you could experience dry stools or constipation – this is a result of the intestinal fluids being dried up by the Heat. On the other hand, if you have excess Damp which often occurs when the liver is sluggish, you may experience loose bowel movements.
Now we are going to give you diet and lifestyle tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine to help you greatly with digestive health. Eating the right diet will also depend on the constitution you have. For instance, if your metabolism is slow and you feel lethargic, you would benefit from eating a lot of spicy foods. That same type of diet would make a hotter person with a hotter, faster constitution feel agitated, and irritated. Can you see how balance is required?
You should choose cooling foods such as salads when it’s hot and humid and warm, hearty foods when it’s cold.
You need to go easy on dairy foods, fatty foods, and refined flours because they all contribute to excess Dampness in the body, which contributes to a sluggish liver.
Stick to a regular eating schedule, without skipping meals or eating more than you should. When you overeat, it makes it difficult for the digestive system organs to digest the food effectively and to transport it around your body. Infrequent meals, too, as you see on fad diets and detox plans often contribute to constipation because they reduce the intestinal water levels.
Don’t eat when you feel all stressed out and agitated – make mealtimes pleasurable and calm.
Traditional Chinese Medical principles say that a balanced diet consists of five flavors:
Sweet foods such as honey provide nourishment and they have moistening properties which are so beneficial when dryness is present. That is a sign of constipation.
Sour foods such as lemons have drying properties. They will promote contraction in your digestive tract, and can, therefore, be beneficial, in small quantities, when there are excess fluids present. They will help to remove excess fluids from soft stools.
Hot, pungent foods like garlic, or ginger, or chilies: These have warming properties that stimulate the appetite, promoting blood circulation and Qi in the body.
Bitter foods like kale, rocket and green tea will have a cooling effect on the body and help to dry up Dampness. They do an excellent job of stimulating the gut, being particularly beneficial when the liver is sluggish.
Salty foods like pork, prawns, and seaweed, for example, are considered to be lubricators to the intestines and will help in removing accumulated wastes.
Do you need more yin or more yang?
Balance is a very important principle of Taoist philosophy, the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. When you eat a balance of cooling Yin and heating Yang, both of them work in harmony to maintain the flow of qi in your body. It is these that contribute towards good health.
You need to adjust your intake of yin and yang foods according to exactly what your body needs. So if your body is experiencing nausea, watery stools, and diarrhea, that’s a sign of too much dampness or yin in the stomach. And to dispel the dampness and cold, add heat to your body, by trying to eat plenty of warming-up foods like ginger, oats, millet, carrots, and turnips.
Avoid cold foods like dairy, sugar, ice cream, sushi, and iced drinks – they can all tax the spleen because of so much yin. On the other hand, constipation is a sign of too much heat (Yang) and so you might have heartburn and the urge to just eat. Turn to cool foods like tofu, lettuce, citrus, cucumber, and apple. Rather avoid spicy foods, salty foods, and alcohol – they all can irritate your stomach and cause you to have a digestive fire.
Here are some key foods from TCM for digestion
Rice is so easy to digest, gently warming the body by draining the dampness. Cinnamon bark: or rou gui warms the stomach. Some cinnamon with a touch of honey added and drunk with some warm water aids digestion because it strengthens the spleen.
Hawthorn berry tea bolsters the spleen, promoting blood flow and even helping w with weight loss. Hawthorn berry also lowers cholesterol, strengthens the cardiovascular system, and widens blood vessels. All you need to do is simmer a tablespoon of dried hawthorn berries in two cups of water for 15 minutes.
Orange or tangerine peel is packed with vitamin c and it kind of drains away any dampness, making it good for those who suffer from vomiting, and loose stools.
Ginger is an ancient perennial herb native to Asia. Some professional Chinese cooks even keep small pieces of ginger root in their mouth to prevent nausea from prolonged exposure to cooking odors! And in China, some of the poorer classes of people will test food by tossing a slice of fresh ginger into their cooking pot. They claim that if the root turns a dark color, then the food is not good.
Here is a wonderful ginger recipe for healthful digestion
Ginger holds a very high position in Chinese traditional medicines. Here is a secret Chinese formula reported to be outstanding for restoring strength to the stomach and promoting healthy digestion:
Step one: Place half-cup white rice in a flat bowl. Pour in enough water to just cover the rice. Let this stand overnight so that the water gets completely absorbed by the rice. In the morning, if there is any water still left, drain it off. Put the rice in a dry frying pan and let it gradually heat until the pan is very hot. Using a spatula, keep turning the rice slowly so it doesn’t burn. When the rice is parched dry and is a golden-brown color, put it in a glass jar and cap it tightly so no moisture can get in.
Step two: Bring a cup of water to the boil and add one teaspoon of the parched rice and a small piece of ginger too. Boil this for one minute. Then turn off the burner and let it stand for five minutes before straining it.
Take one teacupful once or twice a day. The Chinese claim that this remedy is very good during cold weather as it has a warming and comforting effect on the stomach and is felt throughout the entire system.