Ancient Wisdom, Modern Stomach

Posted: July 13, 2017 by admin

Healthy Digestion and Gut Healing Using the Ancient Wisdom of Chinese Medicine 

Part 1 of a 3 part series

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the pillars of health and vitality are a healthy diet, adequate exercise, a good mental attitude.

In addition to eating good/healthy/nutrient dense food, making sure you’re actually absorbing the food is essential. This means in addition to putting in high quality, nutrient dense food, you also have to make sure your body is able to process it effectively.

Digestion doesn’t just look at how you feel after you eat, but rather everything from your desire to eat to how you feel during and after eating (do you get bloated? Reflux? Exhausted?) to how everything leaves your body (yes, we like to talk about poop a lot in TCM).

Do you have a good appetite? Do you get more energy after you eat and feel good? Are your bowels regular and formed? These are markers of a good, healthy and strong digestion system. For many people this is not the norm. And you just have to talk to someone with chronic constipation or urgent loose bowels to realize how much or digestion affects our mental state!

Luckily there are a few very simple things that you can do to optimize your digestion and feel good – from start to finish

The Basics

Your Stomach as a Cauldron

There’s a principle in TCM around the digestion called the 100 degree soup. What this means is that all the food that enters your digestive system has to be warmed to 100 degrees in order for optimal digestion. From the western medicine side we know that when the stomach and contents get heated to just above body temperature, that’s when the digestive enzymes kick in which help us digest.

From the long tradition and wisdom of TCM, warm and cooked foods have always been a staple. This also includes drinking warm beverages or avoiding icy drinks as that is also thought to bring down the core temperature and can have a significant influence on the digestive system. Opting for room temperature drinks or warm when possible and particularly if you run on the cold side. I’ve had many many patients who felt that they only liked their water out of the fridge cold, but what they found is that leaving their water on the counter and drinking it at room temperature actually felt better and if they tried to go back to cold water, they didn’t feel great!

How Chinese Medicine Views Food

TCM views food as having nutritional value (in the same way as western nutrition), yet in addition to that, it looks at food as having properties (hot, cold, dry, moist etc.) and distinct flavours (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent) as well, all of which affect the actions or effects they have on the body. Some of this we might know intuitively – ginger is naturally warming, peppermint is cooling – but others we need to be taught (banana’s are very damp forming and cold or dairy very moistening or congesting).

In working with food as medicine for conditions, we look for it to balance the individual in ways their body is off. Put in a very general/simple way, when someone is cold, you use foods to warm them and avoid foods that will cool them further. When they are too warm or have too much heat, you use foods that are cooling. When they are dry, you moisten etc.. We customize foods to the individual.

So often people can be eating foods that, unknowingly, would worsen their condition as opposed to balancing or helping to heal it.

TCM views food as having nutritional value (in the same way as western nutrition), yet in addition to that, it looks at food as having unique properties (hot, cold, dry, moist etc.) and specific tastes that determine the therapeutic action (healing effect) of that food. Some of this we might know intuitively – ginger is naturally warming, peppermint is cooling, lemon is sour- but others we need to be taught (banana’s are very damp forming and cold or dairy very moistening or congesting).

In working with food as medicine for conditions, we look for it to balance the individual in ways their body is off balance. Put in a very general/simple way, when someone is cold, you use foods to warm them and avoid foods that will cool them further. When they are too warm or have too much heat, you use foods that are cooling. When they are dry, you moisten etc.. We customize foods to the individual.

So often people can be eating foods that, unknowingly, can worsen their condition as opposed to balancing or helping to heal it. (Just think of ice water in the middle of January when we’re trying to stay warm. It doesn’t make sense, yet we do it!)

With TCM food cures, we seek to bring balance back to the body by identifying foods that are working against the individual and removing or limiting them from the diet. Then, we highlight foods that would act like medicine to the person and use means of cooking that will help strengthen them and helping their body heal.

It’s also important that we adapt our diet to the seasons and the changes in environment in which we live. Eating the same foods year round can actually cause problems or imbalance over the long term.

Learn more about eating with the seasons in part 2 of this series