Digestive Health and Chinese Medicine

The cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and many other digestive disorders is not known and is not easily treated through western medicine. While the 'function' of digestion is obviously disrupted, there is no structural damage that can be found through testing. Chinese medicine can address digestive issues any number of ways depending on how the patterns responsible for the resulting imbalance present themselves. Some of the common patterns associated with digestive disorders include:


Spleen Qi Deficiency and Digestion


In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is one of the primary organ systems involved in digestion. Spleen Qi Deficiency is often associated with a poor diet that may include fried foods, sweets, refined foods, and an over consumption of raw foods and iced drinks. Over-thinking and worrying can also damage the Spleen function. Often, digestive problems related to Spleen Qi Deficiency will have elements of Dampness, including sticky stools. Also, abdominal pain relieved with pressure or warmth to the area is common when there is Spleen Qi Deficiency. 


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Liver Qi Stagnation Causing Digestive Issues

A common cause of digestive issues in Chinese medicine is Liver Qi Stagnation that has progressed and become more severe; the condition is sometimes referred to as the ‘Liver attacking, or overacting on the Large Intestine’. This type of digestive disruption would likely become more active with emotional stress. Liver Qi stagnation is seen in patterns with pain just below the ribs, agitation, insomnia between 1-3 AM, PMS or hormonal imbalances

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Large Intestine Damp-Heat

If Liver Qi Stagnation creates heat that combines with Dampness due to Spleen Qi Deficiency, more severe chronic digestive disorders such as IBS can develop. Large Intestine deficiency patterns typically include bouts of constipation, and the intestinal inability to properly absorb nutrients and the intestines. Foods to avoid with IBS.

With Intestinal deficiencies, Dampness can accumulate in the Large Intestine producing pain and diarrhea with a sense of urgency. The diarrhea is commonly yellow and explosive with a strong odor and a sensation of burning with Damp-Heat. This heat indicates that there may be a low-grade infection that may not show up on lab tests. The resulting, alternating diarrhea and constipation is a common type of IBS

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Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency and Digestive Disorders

Spleen Qi and Kidney Yang deficiency type imbalances result in diarrhea first thing in the morning, which often contains undigested food. This type of imbalance may include abdominal pain that improves with the application of heat. 

While herbal therapy can take many months to resolve digestive issues, it does actually address the underlying causes, thus, providing lasting relief for mysterious digestive problems. Chinese herbal practitioners do not like to use the word ‘cure’ in predicting treatment protocol outcomes, rather striving to restore optimal health and enhance wellness while alleviating suffering. It is always about bringing the body and energetic Organ System in to balance with TCM.

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Foods for Better Digestion

A whole foods diet can greatly influence improved digestion. Choosing foods that are rich in fiber such as legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and a small amount of fruits seems to benefit those with sensitive digestive systems. Look to cultured dairy products such as yogurt, and healthy oils rather than fried foods. Processed food and fast foods should be avoided all together; a whole foods organic diet would be most beneficial.

Stress and Digestion

Stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, and qi gong exercises can help to moderate digestive issues and IBS that is due to stress. Stress is actually a normal event in our daily modern lives, however, if one over-reacts to normal daily stressors it is considered abnormal and this can trigger digestive issues. 

Emotional Factors Leading to IBS and Large Intestine Imbalances

In Chinese medicine, disorders associated with the large intestine point to a Metal Element imbalance. This typically indicates that some type of loss has occurred that has not been fully processed, or dealt with. Loss in life is normal, as most people will lose a loved one, a pet, a business, a marriage, or a dream. One must actually experience each of the stages of loss, rather than getting stuck in one specific phase, to progress as a healthy individual after loss. It is worth carefully examining when the digestive issues began, and determine if the disease relates to a specific loss in your life and if you have effectively worked through the emotions relating to that loss. A separation from a father figure would be especially significant.