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The following article was published in Your Health Magazine. Our mission is to empower people to live healthier.
Debra Wu, ND, LAc
Digestion and Chinese Medicine
A Natural Alternative

Digestion and Chinese Medicine

Almost 38 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic digestive problem, such as constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, and nausea. In Chinese medicine the two organs most responsible for proper digestion are the spleen and stomach.
The stomach is like a holding vat that receives and contains food. It is the organ that separates the usable part of food from the less usable part. The spleen is responsible for transforming food into Qi/vital energy and blood. The functions of the spleen include those of the pancreas and include the many enzymatic processes of the pancreas.
A diagnosis of spleen Qi deficiency and dampness is commonly seen in people with digestive symptoms. When the spleen lacks the energy to transform food into Qi, the food stagnates in the stomach and becomes a type of “dampness”. One can liken this process to a compost pile where food and other plant material slowly ferments and rots. In the case of the compost pile, the damp, fermenting food and plant material is useful but in the case of digestion, the dampness creates health problems.
This dampness can manifest in different ways. It often manifests as diarrhea/loose stools or a full/stuffy sensation in the stomach area after eating even a small meal. Dampness can also block the free flow of Qi in the stomach. As stomach Qi is an energy that normally moves downwards, any obstruction to the flow of Qi can make stomach Qi rebel upwards. This manifests as nausea and/or vomiting.
The liver is also of primary importance in digestion because it is the organ that “drives” Qi. It is the general that directs the army of Qi and blood to move. The liver has a very close relationship with the spleen and stomach. It has a “controlling relationship” with the spleen and stomach according to five element theory in acupuncture. So if the liver Qi is stagnant, which is often the result of long standing stress, then the liver Qi will “overact” or “bully” the spleen and stomach, causing symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea or heartburn.
Whether using acupuncture or herbal therapy, treating digestive problems requires looking carefully at dietary influences. Cold, raw and greasy foods are considered to be harmful to the spleen and stomach when eaten in excess.
The strength of a persons digestion will dictate how much of these foods one can tolerate without symptoms. There may be times in our life when our digestion is relatively strong and we can indulge in these foods without apparent effects. At other times, as we experience more stress, our bodies may be less able to handle the effects of poor dietary habits. This is when symptoms appear.
As humans, our bodies are always in a state of flux and it changes with our environment. Chinese medicine can help us to better cope with these stresses by regulating the flow of liver Qi and also the functions of the spleen and stomach.

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