Digestive health in Chinese medicine – attending to the soil

digestive tract chinese medicine digestion portland

When you have serious digestive problems, it can disrupt your whole life!

 

  • Maybe health problems have forced you to rearrange your daily routine and schedule to suit the symptoms.
  • Perhaps you dread social events centered on eating and food, because you can only tolerate certain foods, making things socially challenging.
  • Most of us hear the message that diet is the ultimate foundation of digestive health. There is always some new diet promising relief – you’ve likely tried them all. You might have gotten some relief from cutting out certain foods, but you feel like this hasn’t really solved your problem.
  • Despite your efforts, you find that you still have a very restricted list of foods. On the other hand, your friends seem to thrive on diets including all kinds of foods you’d never be able to touch!
  • Perhaps you are taking a laundry list of supplements and probiotics, but it’s not clear how much of an effect these are having.
  • Maybe you have an official medical diagnosis and you were told you will have to struggle with these issues for the rest of your life

If you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions, then you know well how damaging chronic digestive problems can be to the enjoyment and flow of everyday life. Having to manage all of this is exhausting, and doesn’t give you time for much else. Fortunately, there are solutions beyond just tinkering with your diet and adding another supplement.

For thousands of years, Chinese Medicine has understood the importance of the digestive system to human health. Chinese medical theory refers to the digestive organs as “the center” around which the rest of your body’s systems operate. As Chinese Medicine practitioners, we understand that when your center is strong, the rest of you is strong. When the center suffers, so does everything else. And we have time-tested methods of improving your digestive system, methods that go immediately to the source of your health issues.

Allow me to explain how our approach to digestive problems is different

shovel in soil chinese medicine digestion

Chinese Medicine likens the digestive system’s role within the body to the Earth or Soil in the natural world. Just as soil can take in fluid and seeds and transform them into verdant plant life, the digestive system can receive and transform food and drink into energy and nourishment for the body.

Let’s run with this metaphor of the digestive system as soil.

Consider planting some special heirloom seeds. You get the perfect seed, plant it, tend to the seeds carefully – a lot of work! Consider then discovering that the quality of the soil itself is poor, or has been overwhelmed by a series of droughts or floods, or was damaged through misuse of chemical fertilizers and aggressive farming techniques. Then, it doesn’t matter how potent our seeds are, or even how much we water them. They won’t be able to take root!

If we want to grow anything, we need to address the quality of the soil.

Making clearer the metaphor, planting seeds, tending and watering to them represent following a balanced whole foods diet. Taking probiotics when needed and learning more about practices like mindful eating can also relate to this tending principle. We can relate the idea of chemical fertilizers to the impacts of antibiotics or other stressors on gut microflora. We can understand the droughts and floods as the effects of other organ systems on the digestion, such as the nervous system.

What you eat does play a critical role in digestive health, but the digestive system itself needs to be functioning well enough for what you consume to be properly received. You can eat an extremely clean and healthy diet, but if you aren’t processing nutrients efficiently, this isn’t going to make much of a difference.

This is where Chinese Medicine comes in!

Regular acupuncture treatment and herbal medicine are treating your terrain, improving the quality of your soil. Another way of putting this is that optimizing your body’s ability to better assimilate what it takes in, making your gut a more inviting place for beneficial microflora, and helping to make sure that your digestive organs are working in harmony with the rest of your body by regulating the nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system.

And while, yes, you should avoid triggers to your digestive system, we also want to make it so that if your body does encounter the occasional stressor, it can respond more gracefully – without setting off a cascade of uncomfortable or debilitating reactions.

Ultimately when it comes to digestion, my goal is to help to help you get back to enjoying food and everything else that life has to offer.

Written by Joshua Park