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Chinese Medicine Microbiome: The Digestive System

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As a health practitioner, I talk to patients all the time about digestion and find myself sharing with them one principle over and over again and that’s what I wanted to share with you.

This article is designed to help you understand the gut from a Chinese medicine perspective and my huge tip at the end will help you regulate your digestion and give you more energy. Now understand that you can eat the best quality food like food grown on the side of the Himalayas or foods picked out at the vernal equinox but if your digestion is weak, you can’t absorb all the nutrients and energy it has to offer.

The benefits of having good digestion include:

  • Decrease in upper G.I. issues like acid reflux, belching, bad breath
  • Decrease in lower G.I. issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation
  • Decrease in skin irritation – our skin is our largest organ and so if there’s something going on in your gut, it’s going to show up on your skin.
  • More energy
  • Better sleep 
  • Proper weight
  • Improved infertility

So from a Chinese medicine perspective, good digestion is the cornerstone of health. It helps our body produce all the things it needs that go on at the cellular level all the time forever. In the West, we talk a lot about the microbiome, which was kind of like a buzzy word for a few years, and in the East, we talk about the spleen.

So I want to introduce it to the five elements and these elements represent the transformation that occurs in the environment. They are metaphors for describing how things interrelate and connect with each other and our body, if nothing else, is an internal system where everything is connected and interrelated.

The five elements are:

  • Wood
  • Fire
  • Earth
  • Metal
  • Water

Each of these elements is present all the time and this is what makes up our constitution; it’s kind of like our genetic makeup. When the elements are in harmony, we experience great health, and when they are out of balance, not so much. The elements are interconnected and because they are connected the way they are, it creates a system of checks and balances, which is great because the body’s amazing.

In each of these elements are organ systems or channels called meridians in Chinese medicine. So the earth element is in charge of the stomach and the spleen. We all know the stomach takes in the food, helps decompose it and helps turns it up. The spleen in Chinese medicine is responsible for transformation and it’s probably the most crucial element in digestion because it assimilates the food to create the Chi, the blood and the fluids we need to make our body run smoothly.

So when the spleen is not running so smoothly or is weak, cold or just doesn’t have enough energy, we start to see symptoms such as:

Chi level

Belching, nausea, some fatigue, acid reflux, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, pale tongue

Fluid level

Poor appetite, lack of thirst, heavy sensation, excessive vagina discharge, bladder and bowel issues, incontinence, chronic diarrhea,

Blood level

Dry eyes, dry skin and scalp, tight muscles, bleed/bruise easily and menstrual changes.

Symptoms at the Chi level can be easily corrected; the fluid and the blood level, we need to do a little bit more to correct the imbalance. When the digestive system gets cold and doesn’t have enough and is leaking, that cold can shift to other organs. So in the fluid level, when the cold shifts to the bladder for large intestine, we can get diarrhea, incontinence or a lot of frequent urination.

When the cold gets into the blood level, we can experience things like bruising easily and issues with menstruation, reproductive and fertility. A lot of people say, “Well, what does my digestion have to do with fertility?” Well, in order to be a healthy fertile man or woman, you need warm blood flow to your reproductive organs.

In Chinese medicine, cold reproductive organs is actually one of the things that we commonly treat for infertility. Here is the big tip and all Chinese medicine practitioners know this and it is that raw or undercooked food is not the best for everybody all the time.

Let’s use the analogy of rice in a pot because rice, in its original form, is difficult to digest. It needs to be cooked and softened in order for us to absorb its energy. I want you to think of your spleen and your stomach as your body’s kitchen.

These organs prepare the meal for the rest of your body’s energy. I wanted to think about your spleen as the flame. The spleen is the organ that provides energy for the transformation of the food to take place. So imagine that this flame is teeny tiny and that it’s just barely visible and then you’re dumping a lot of cold, raw fibrous vegetables into the pot.

So with barely any flame to heat it, soften it, cook it and transform it, it’s going to tax your digestive system. It’s going to take longer and require more energy to get any nutrients out of those foods because it doesn’t have enough energy to do what it’s supposed to do. To make it easily digestible, food that is raw, cold and uncooked needs to be partially cooked or prepared.

If your digestion is already weak or if you’re having any of those symptoms mentioned a while ago in this article, you need to eat more warm foods. If your digestive system doesn’t have enough energy to do with it takes to do, it’ll pull from the other systems, which is kind of significant if you’re needing a lot of energy for something else, like you’re training for a marathon or you’re trying to have a baby, etc.

People who suffer from pre-existing digestive issues or chronic fatigue would do well to eat little or no raw food for a while. I’m not saying you can’t have salad ever again but just unburden your digestive system little by little and that can help a lot. So opt for cooked veggies over raw produce, at soups, stews, casseroles over raw salads.

We just want to make sure that you do not douse your digestive fire since it’s so important to your health and well-being.

How to eat for a happy healthy spleen?

  1. Steam or saute veggies instead of eating them raw – stir fries are great. Also crock-pot, and insta-pot among others.
  2. Drink cool or room temperature water.
  3. Don’t eat things that will make you feel bad.

You can start to see why the spleen is so important and how it can get easily overburdened and snuff out our digestive fire. Hopefully, this will help you and your other body symptoms too. In general, that’s how eating better and gentler can help increase your energy overall and just support the health of your entire body, your holistic self.

Amy-SuiQun Lui, L.Ac.
Asian Health Center
27059 Grand Army of the Republic Hwy
Cleveland, OH 44143
Tel: (440) 833-0983

Written by Valerie

April 16th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Acupuncture

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