Author: Melinda Wheeler, LAc

Treating digestive disorders using Chinese medicine, Part 2 : The role of the Lung and Spleen

digestive problems chinese medicine

Thank you for reading along with me and my investigation of treating digestive disorders with Chinese Medicine (CM). Last week talked in very broad strokes about digestive disorders — how many people are affected, what happens in diagnosis and treatment from a western perspective, and where Chinese medicine can be of incredible use in the diagnosis and treatment of digestive disorders.

We introduced an important idea – Chinese medicine making contact with specific places in the body and how this becomes an integral part to successful and long-lasting treatment. Today we will be talking about a few of the specific places that Chinese medicine makes contact within the body to heal digestive disorders — namely the Lung and Spleen.

In any medical study there are always varying levels of concepts and ideas that are critical to understanding the ongoing of the body at any given moment.

This is especially true with regard to understanding gastrointestinal disorders. You can already recognize this in reading the title. As you do so, you may find yourself thinking, “How do the Lung and/or the Spleen tie in to my digestion?” In order to explain this clearly (and hopefully succinctly) I am going to dive into a little bit of CM theory to start.

First, understand that when I am discussing the Lung and Spleen from the perspective of Chinese medicine, I am referencing something more than the simple anatomical organs we have come to know in the western biomedical science. In fact, we really think of them as “organ networks.” Organ networks within the context of Chinese medicine theory do include the anatomical organ, but also include various functions in the body that may not be located in the anatomical organ. There are energies, emotions, connections and other information embedded in organ networks that you won’t find in the common biomedical sense.

This introduces us to an important point. Chinese medicine is a medicine of relationship!

CM practitioners are always thinking about the interaction – and never really about anything (organs, pathology, signs, symptoms) in isolation. This will hopefully make more sense as we go – stay with me. Each Organ Network has an elemental association, (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal or Water); the Lung is Metal and the Spleen is Earth. Metal is associated with downward movement, letting go, releasing. The Spleen is associated with rising, upward, and maybe even more accurately “the middle” as a direction.

Earth is associated with transformation, stability, fecundity, ripening, maturing. It’s possible that just by looking at those words and associations you can start to understand how the Lung and the Spleen play a role in our digestive health – we can see how a transforming and at the same time a downward movement would be very important throughout what we could term, the digestive process.

We have just been introduced to one lens through which we must understand the digestive process in terms of CM. We will now discuss another that builds on the first.

digestive problems chinese medicine

The Lung and Spleen are a part of the a system of diagnosis we call the Twelve Organ Networks – those twelve, combine in pairs of two, and become a system of diagnosis known as the Six, or the Six Conformations. Now, without getting too hung up on these titles, and names, what is important to see here – is that I am still talking about relationship – nothing in isolation! The Lung and Spleen are a pairing that make up one of “The Six” I refer to above. Together they are in charge of working with another pair of organ systems, the Large Intestine and the Stomach, to balance dryness and dampness in the body.

Let’s pause here for a moment and realize that students of CM spend years and years studying and attempting to understand these concepts. I am not expecting this all to make sense immediately – but, if you have made it this far, keep going – you are almost there!

The Lung needs to be able to let go, to release, to move downward, sounds a bit like defecation, right? We want to be able to have a smooth and normal, easy to pass, bowel movement. The Lung (organ network) affects the body’s ability to do this. These organ systems we are discussing share an energy, a certain flow, a set of functions in the body.

Each organ network is injured by particular emotions — remember when we talked about the connection between the emotions and digestive disorders last week?

The Lung is injured by grief (which can also be referred to often as sadness, or even pain) – have you ever noticed that when things are stressful, or sad, and you’re not able to take the time to process you can become constipated, experience sluggish digestion, or have trouble feeling like your bowel movement was complete?

The Spleen is injured by worry, repetitive thoughts and thought patterns that play over and over in our minds. I’m sure nobody reading this has any idea about that, right? Without a calm unfettered mind, the Spleen’s ability to hold itself upright, or enact its quality of lifting in the body is impaired. This can create an inability to transform, inability to lift, or hold, and instead, too quickly passing through, which sounds a lot like diarrhea to me — have you ever had a stressful situation that created a sense of urgency to evacuate your bowels?

A clear parallel of these two examples are presented in the western biomedical diagnosis categories of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – which are divided into three, IBS – Constipation, IBS – Diarrhea, IBS – Mixed Patterns. These patterns are often also referred to as “stress mediated,” meaning, these syndromes flare up in times of duress.

So, how does Chinese medicine make contact with a specific place in the body to help treat disease?

Thanks to the incredibly detailed, thorough examination, and diagnosis process — we are able to listen to your body tell us exactly where we need to go.

digestive disorders chinese medicineWe believe the patient is the only resident expert in their experience. We’re not the experts — so we listen. There are specific patterns we listen for, these patterns are associated with the Lung, and Spleen, (and all other organs as well). We use acupuncture meridians and herbal medicine to make contact with, enliven, and ultimately heal – those specific organ networks and therefore – functions in the body!

Earlier I said that in CM we never think about anything in isolation. I also said that CM has the ability to make contact with specific places in the body – that treat the manifestation or the root of disease rather than simply ameliorating the symptom. Upon reflection, those things could seem like they contradict themselves. They don’t.

In Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment, we are able to recognize patterns that point us toward specific places in the body and the relationship that each one has in its (critical) role of creating the signs and symptoms of disease. We use that pattern differentiation to touch back into that very place where disease is rooted. This is how we work toward making contact with a specific place in the body, and healing the all important inner relationships at the same time.

If you’re enjoying this exploration of digestive diseases and Chinese medicine and think you might benefit from talking with a practitioner, you can get onto my schedule conveniently online. I’ll be looking forward to talking with you. Watch next week for another article exploring yet another aspect of how acupuncture and Chinese herbs can treat serious digestive disorders. If you’re not already on the newsletter, please sign up to get notifications of our latest content and all the clinic news.

Treating digestive disorders using Chinese medicine – what’s important?

This will be the first a small series on treating gastrointestinal disorders with Chinese medicine. Sign up for the newsletter to get notification of the latest articles!

The National Institute of Health reports that 60-70 million people are affected by digestive diseases yearly in the United States. In 2010, 36.6 million people went to their doctor’s office and were diagnosed with something that fell under the category of digestive disease.

When people experience digestive signs and symptoms the entire process of diagnosis and treatment is difficult.

Often these diagnoses mean that something more serious has been excluded, i.e. cancer – and this can provide immediate emotional relief. That said, this emotional relief ultimately passes and the treatment options can leave the patient feeling helpless and dependent on prescription medication.

Why? Some say it is because conventional biomedical treatment is not directly treating the disease or the syndrome itself. Standard of care treatment often attempts to bypass the disease process at one of its manifestations, or most often, shuts down the body’s natural response (immune response or inflammatory cascade) thereby decreasing the signs and symptoms of disease.

In an attempt to alleviate the suffering of the patient, medications are given to assist in the amelioration of the discomfort the patient reports while the disease process ensues. Often times these medications have serious and damaging side effects.

One of the teachers at my alma mater (National University of Natural Medicine) often quotes the revered Chinese medical text, the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, Suwen Chapter 5:

“The wise observe similarity, the unwise observe difference.”

It has been my preference to vigorously adopt this theory in all ways possible, especially with regard to the lines often drawn between western medical and ancient Chinese sciences.This comes to the fore here in our discussion of digestive disorders because, in fact, west and east both agree that one’s psychological makeup will indeed affect one’s digestive health. Chinese medicine agrees, this premise is founded directly in the clear correlates between organs and emotions outlined in Chinese medical theory.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have held up in controlled studies against the medications prescribed for digestive disorders, as well, shoutout to the evidenced based reader.

“In comparative effectiveness Chinese trials, patients reported greater benefits from acupuncture than from two antispasmodic drugs (pinaverium bromide and trimebutine maleate), both of which have been shown to provide a modest benefit for IBS. (Manheimer, et al.)”

One of the recommended treatments in western medical science for patients with IBS is elaborated, “Patients should be invited to express not only their symptoms but also their understanding of their symptoms and the reasons prompting a visit to the health care practitioner (Merck Manual, Professional Version, 2017).”

Interestingly enough, taken out of context, the above quotes could easily be from a lecture on how to do a Chinese medicine clinical intake!

Our medicine wants to discuss with patients what their experience of their disease is; this is our charge, our goal, and our honor as practitioners. In fact, in the same text referenced above, the Yellow Emperors Inner Classic, it also states, “In order to make all acupuncture thorough, one must first cure the spirit.”

The patient’s relationship to themselves and others is deeply diagnostically significant.

Chinese medical pattern differentiation (our version of differential diagnosis) allows us to direct our treatments to the very specific location in the body where the disease is rooted. Making contact with the specific place becomes critical and an integral part of successful and long-lasting treatment; I will go into more specifics of how this actually works this in the coming series.

This not only applies to a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but to many other digestive complaints, including Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. These diseases are thought to have an immune or auto-immunity component to them, as in Crohn Disease (Crohn’s Disease) or Ulcerative Colitis respectively.

Here again, Chinese medicine investigates the patient’s relationship to the self as a consistent focus of treatment — throughout any disease but specifically in the context of digestive or gastrointestinal disorders.

I’ll write again shortly digging more deeply into these issues – in the meantime if you’d like to learn more about whether your particular digestive issues could be helped by acupuncture and Chinese medicine – feel free to check out my schedule and come share your story with me.


  1. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Opportunities and Challenges in Digestive Diseases Research: Recommendations of the National Commission on Digestive Diseases. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2009. NIH Publication 08–6514.
  2. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 May 16;(5):CD005111. doi 10.1002/14651858.CD005111.pub3. Acupuncture for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Manheimer E, Cheng K, Wieland LS, Min LS, Shen X, Berman BM, Lao L. {}

Melinda reports back on her luckiest assignment yet – a massage by Lindsey at Watershed

Lindsey Reyonlds, LMT

Watershed Wellness’ newest massage therapist Lindsey is a wonderful addition to the team. I had the opportunity to work with Lindsey recently and it was a great experience. Lindsey’s kind and present demeanor immediately made me feel at home during the intake. She asked insightful questions – and from my symptoms was able to define a few possible patterns throughout my body that were likely creating the symptoms I reported.

During the beginning of the massage Lindsey addressed a problem I neglected to report!

I started laughing because I couldn’t recall how she knew! The massage made sense – she worked on things in a particular order that truly allowed my body to relax more and more deeply with each section. I appreciated this, as it is something that I haven’t always noticed about massage before.

Even in the parts or portions that were tender, Lindsey did a fantastic job following the quality of the tissue and listening as my body responded. Lindsey was incredibly open to feedback and reminded me of that throughout the massage – although she didn’t need it. I found myself drifting off to a dream-like state which signals to me that my body felt completely at ease.

Lindsey’s transitions were so great that I barely woke up during each of them. At the end of the massage she brought me back to the room to say that our time was up – it seemed like barely any time had gone by, I was so relaxed. Each of the areas addressed in the intake felt different, more relaxed and more receptive!

To close the session she gave me some stretches and other things I could look for in my posture that were continuing to perpetuate the patterns. These stretches are effective and easy, they are working wonderfully combined with the recommendation of a movement practice. I look forward to working with Lindsey in the future. She’s a wonderful addition to the stellar LMTs at Watershed Wellness.

Be sure to get on her schedule before she’s booked 6 weeks out!

A massage with Emma Jewell

Meet Emma, our newest Massage Therapist at Watershed Wellness. She is truly a delight.

One of the great things about working at Watershed Wellness is that we get to experience the work of the other practitioners. Most recently I got on the massage table of Emma Jewell, LMT.

IMG_8827Emma is intuitive, attentive, aware – and so are her massages! I went to see Emma for treatment. Emma greatly relieved pain in my diaphragm, neck, and chest. These particular areas are ones I have never really reported as bothersome or troublesome because they are the most sensitive areas of my body and most often I do not want anyone making contact with them. For some reason, with Emma, I felt totally safe to mention them. I was somewhat shocked when the words left my mouth.

I have such a respect when I meet someone who has incredible reverence for the body, Emma is one such person.

She asked insightful questions in my intake. One that stood out the most was, “Where do you love being massaged?” What a brilliant question! It was impressive as it highlighted another area that I did indeed want to be worked on – and hadn’t previously mentioned.

Emma’s gentle and present therapeutic touch does not leave anything to be desired – she knows just what to do and when. Emma moves with the breath of the body, seamlessly. She really allows the body to take the lead.

High Resolution -100I thought to myself while I was on the table, it’s almost as if she is hypnotizing my muscles into relaxing.

Sometimes when I am getting a massage there will be a point where I begin to guard myself from touch because it was a little bit too much at one point or another. It seems that Emma has the uncanny ability to melt away any guarding at all! I think this might be due to the way she stays with the tissue as it releases! It doesn’t really matter too much, frankly, because it works wonders.

After my massage Emma inquired as to how I was doing. I said, “That was a truly wonderful experience.” I tried to describe the last time I felt as relaxed as I did and I really couldn’t remember.

I haven’t had a massage in over a year – it’s likely been longer. When did you last have a massage? Have you ever had a massage?

It’s moments like these when you realize how much more of life you take in when you are in an easeful state.

It’s true, we all have a propensity toward not wanting to miss out on anything in life. Either that, or we choose to value busy-ness (not even productivity, really) over our health.

You know what though? We should miss out – if it is to take care of ourselves. We must remind ourselves and encourage each other to say no, kindly and compassionately, so that we can say yes to ourselves. If you can’t dream of making that happen convince yourself this way – it is sort of like saying yes in the long run!

With the change in weather, uptick in coughs and colds, and the nearing of the holiday season I think it behooves us all to take care of ourselves when and wherever we can.

If you are able to make an appointment to see Emma, I could not recommend her more highly.

Why you should come to your acupuncture appointment, especially if you feel sick

Fall – it’s a splendid time. The leaves express the most outrageous color palate; the rain highlights and magnifies our experience of the colors. A stark contrast from summer, fall insists that we put on layers and protect ourselves from the change in the forecast.

Some of us just do not want to listen. We insist on wearing sandals or flip-flops; we stare reluctantly at our socks until the bitter end. Putting away our “summer gear” means that the inordinately beautiful summer months in the Pacific Northwest are over.

Others play by the rules; we bundle up immediately! Despite our practices, sometimes we are simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Amidst all its glory, fall is a time in which the variability of environmental stimuli impacts the terrain of our body – a time when we all catch colds! We do not call it “flu season” for nothing, folks!

Fall is a great time to come see your acupuncturist — whether you’re not feeling well, or if you are and want to stay that way.

Before I went to school to become an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner, I managed an acupuncture clinic. Come fall, people would inevitably call the clinic and say, “I am far too sick to make it into my acupuncture appointment today! I am sorry but I need to cancel!” I always loved these calls, because it gave me the opportunity to talk to the patient about just how important their visit was that day.

I was 99.9% sure they would leave the clinic feeling far better than when they walked in.

I often said, “You can take it up with me personally, if you don’t feel better on the way out.”

I am motivated to write this blog post in the attempt to set the record straight on just how important it is for that patient to make their appointment.

Coming in for treatment when you are sick is one of the best times to get acupuncture! Here’s why.

High Resolution -4One of the most established herbal canons in Chinese medicine is titled the Treatise on Cold Damage, or the Shang Han Lun (傷寒論). One of my dear teacher’s once told me, “there are as many opinions about Chinese medicine as there are people who think about it.” That said, I will spare you specifics of this very well known herbal cannon, here. I will, however, boldly state that the Shang Han Lun is truly the premiere authority on the discussion of the each and every body’s response to external stimuli. What I mean to say is: practitioners of Chinese medicine know what to do when you’re not feeling well!

Not convinced? Let me give you some more details on colds. NOT every cold looks the same! You may know someone (yourself, or someone else) who gets colds in the same place each time. Does the cold go to the throat, or to the lungs? Does your neck hurt? Do you have body aches, fever, or both? Do you feel foggy in the head? Do you have trouble thinking? Do you notice changes in your bowel patterns? What about feeling restless? The author of this text described almost every symptom you can manifest and then clearly told us (the practitioners) what to do! Those of us who study this text, thank him regularly – I assure you.

Not only is acupuncture phenomenal for getting rid of colds, it is also remarkable at staving them off.

In fact, we can often feel a cold coming on a patient’s pulse (taken at the radial artery) long before it arrives! The point is, we will take care of your cold. We want to take care of your cold. Let us!

Fall is a great time to come see your acupuncturist — whether you’re not feeling well, or if you are and want to stay that way. We look forward to seeing you around the clinic. We wish you the best during this auspicious fall season.

Ready to fend off the flu and cold season with Chinese Medicine? Check out the schedule to make your appointment.