Chinese Medicine and Digestion



Within the Chinese traditional medicine view, the gut is the center–the organizational nexus–of bodily life and social relations. The Chinese greeting, “Ni hao ma?” translates literally as “Have you eaten yet today?”. The industrialization of food production, along with the mechanization and acceleration of cooking and eating, have profoundly altered a primal pattern of behavior, interrupting ritual preparation and ceremonial meal times.

As is commonly assumed, but rarely acknowledged, good feeling, both toward oneself and others, as well as a sense of optimism and clarity, are affected by and dependent upon good digestion, with its consequent feelings of hardiness, contentment, and conviviality. The opposite, indigestion, induces a plethora of discomforts: bloating, heartburn, cramps, irritability, lethargy, and melancholy.

The source of indigestion lies in the disruption of the Digestive Network, governed by the Stomach and Spleen. This network is responsible for the processing of food and nutrients that form the basis of the body constituents — Qi, Moisture and Blood. It is also responsible for distributing these constituents, upward and downward through the abdominal region, and outwardly to the four limbs. When these essential activities are impeded by over-consumption of food, or weakened by under-nutrition, the vigorous, rhythmic, contractile waves of the gut become deranged. This leads to inefficient transformation, diminished absorption, the formation of gas, and the retention of undigested material.

These conditions lead to the syndrome of Qi Stagnation and Food Accumulation, producing symptoms of lingering hunger and uneasiness after eating, distention and aching of the abdomen, belching and flatulence, heartburn and reflux, irregular bowel movements, and a loss of the ability to discriminate between unreasonable cravings and true hunger. Indulging cravings, as well as eating too quickly or too much, leads to fleeting relief and persistent discontent, while satisfying true hunger produces deep feelings of pleasure, affirming the soundness of the body’s instinctual intelligence. Chinese herbs as well as acupuncture can increase the efficiency of the digestive system, which in turn enriches vitality and resilience.

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