WHAT GOOD DIGESTIVE HEALTH MEANS FOR OUR WELLBEING FROM A TCM POINT OF VIEW
BY JUTTA BRASSIL ON APRIL 16, 2014 ON DIGESTIVE HEALTH,
Acupuncture Of Ireland Newsletter, page 18-21
Spring has started and many people focus their attention again on a healthy diet and lifestyle. I see many patients in my clinic at this time of the year with recurrent digestive complaints and bowel problems. Beside treating my patient’s individual digestive health problems with acupuncture and herbs I also provide nutritional advise.
Food is our body’s fuel to provide us with all the substances and building blocks which our body requires to function, grow and maintain an equilibrium for perfect health. Digestion is the breakdown of food which starts in the mouth by chewing. Digestion continues in the stomach where gastric juice works on protein breakdown and bile secretion on fats. The digestive process continues in the duodenum with enzymes secreted from the pancreas. Further digestion follows in the small Intestine which absorbs 95% of nutrients into the bloodstream. Water and minerals are reabsorbed in the colon and the waste material is eliminated from the rectum.
To be healthy and energetic we need to have healthy, fresh, unprocessed food, healthy organs provide adequate digestion.
Examining digestive health,Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM ) provides us with an understanding of the correspondences between our food intake and our individual constitution and external environment, our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
The ancient Chinese used the yin and yang principle to create and maintain harmony and equilibrium within our bodies and also within our environment. The yin principle is passive while the yang is active. Yin is associated with cold, contraction, fluids, interior, deficient and chronic conditions while yang is connected with heat, fire, expansion, exterior, acute conditions. If either yin or yang predominates, the one in excess tends to weaken the other. If we experience excessive heat in our body, we become thirsty, our body fluids dry and may cause constipation, we may complain about heart burn, a general sense of feeling “ hot and bothered “. Overconsumption of spicy food, a meat – centred diet with hard physical work may create the consumption of yin over a period of time. In adverse, Yin becomes predominant through excessive consumption of cold and raw foods , can injure our body’s energy, heat turns into cold, may cause diarrhoea, feeling tired and fatigued.
The Five Element Theory in Chinese Medicine teaches us about seasonal attunement. The seasons of the year have an effect on our dietary needs, all our organs, growth and wellbeing. If we listen to our body and follow the natural cycle of the four seasons and the principle of Yin and Yang, we will have a well adjusted diet which creates balance and harmony for the interaction of our organs and is the best preventative for a healthy body.
Spring is the new beginning, has a Yang action, is associated with the Wood Element of the Five Elements and with the organs Liver and Gallbladder. The liver is considered to be the Yin organ and the gallbladder the Yang organ of the Wood Element. It is the time for renewal when the liver cleanses itself. It is natural to eat less or to fast to cleanse the body of the fatty and heavy foods from the previous winter.
The diet should be light, and contain fresh green vegetable and cereal grasses. This will help to detox our liver, prevent the extreme tiredness which so many people experience in spring time. It will boost our immune system and prevent colds and flus. Sweet and pungent flavored foods like mint tea with honey benefit the livers natural detox function. Pungent herbs of basil, fennel, rosemary, dill are complementary at this time. Carbohydrates in form of legumes, grains and seeds are preferable and young beets, carrots provide the sweet flavor to harmonise the pungent foods so beneficial for the liver in spring. The emotion associated with the liver are frustration, aggression (think of the effect of alcohol which is harmful to the liver ) and impulsive behaviour, mood swings and depression. I always observe in my clinic how the emotions in a patient change when I treat the liver with acupuncture and the appropriate dietary adjustment. In accordance it is also very beneficial to increase the amount of physical exercise which moves Liver Qi and counteracts depressive feelings.
When the liver is stagnant, the bile secretion from the gallbladder may be inhibited causing digestive problems like gallstones, indigestion, flatulence and pain below the rip cage. The avoidance of fatty foods, heavy meats and alcohol will support the gallbladder in this season. Pears, lemon, lime and the spice turmeric will help the gallbladder to cleanse and strengthen its function for the coming year ahead. The mental attribute of the Gallbladder is the ability to organise and plan, again a quality very useful to us at the beginning of the new year.
Summer is a Yang season and associated with the Fire Element which is reflected by outdoor activities, expansion, brightness, heat and creativity. The organs of the Fire Element are Heart (Yin) and Small Intestine (Yang) . In Chinese Medicine the heart includes not only the organ itself but also the Heart as a concept of the seat of the emotional/mental centre. If our Spirit (Shen) can settle in our Heart at nighttime we will find peaceful sleep rather suffering from insomnia. Food in the summer should be light, vegetable and fruit should be of this season. Cooling foods like salads, cucumbers, melons, red berries and cooling drinks are preferable. Dispersing hot spices are appropriate, they bring body heat out to the surface. Fatty foods and heavy meats and excess carbohydrates will cause sluggishness and tiredness . The small intestine will be strengthened with fresh, light foods, rich of minerals, vitamins and fluid. It prepares this digestive organ to be strong in its absorption function for the following seasons when our foods will change to more richer foods.
Late Summer is associated with the Earth Element and its respective organs of Stomach (Yang ) and Spleen (Yin ) . This is the season of transition, when nature’s Yang function slowly changes to Yin quality. The appropriate foods at this time are mildly sweet foods which harmonise our stomach and spleen. These are corn, carrots, soy beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, string beans, tofu, rice, amaranth, peas, apricots and mild spices. Rather cold foods like in summer, we prepare foods by mild cooking, the use of warm water and oils. Spleen-pancreas and stomach aid digestion and distribution of food and nutrients and have the purpose to build up the Wei Qi Energy which represents immunity, vitality, builds up body heat for the coming winter season and helps with mental functions. Symptoms of Spleen-Pancreas-Stomach imbalance are chronic tiredness, weak digestion, abdominal bloating, loose stools, blood sugar imbalances, weight problems and mental stagnation, inclination to pensiveness and worry.
Autumn is associated with the Metal Element and the organs of Lung ( Yin ) and Large Intestine (Yang ). The seasons foods are now most beneficial, like potatoes, apples, leeks, beans, grapes, plums. Foods should be slowly cooked and baked. Since it is the season of contraction sour foods can aid this process. Sourdough bread, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, cheese, grapefruit stimulate this activity. Warm drinking water aids the nourishment of Yin, benefits the Lungs and Large Intestine. Dryness in the body presents dry skin, lips, nose and throat. Ideal foods are soya milk, eggs, barley, malt, pear, spinach, almonds and nuts, fish and pork. Adding tiny amounts of salt binds water in the body and prevents dryness. Be very careful though if you have high blood pressure, salt needs to be avoided. The emotions of the Lungs are grief and sadness, unhealthy attachments are associated with the colon. Pungent foods are cleansing and protecting. Pungent foods help to disperse too much mucous from the lungs. Foods rich in fiber aid peristalsis in the colon and can be helpful in constipation. Green vegetable and fiber rich grains are preferable.
Winter closes the cycle of the seasons. The dark and cold season encourages us to get more rest, more sleep, to preserve the body’s energy. The associated Element is Water and the organs are Kidneys and Bladder. We need warm, cooked foods , salty and bitter flavors promote food and fluid storage in the body. Excessive cold foods and drinks injure the energy of Kidney and Bladder. In Chinese Medicine the Kidneys are the root of Qi, the source of all our energy. It is vitally important to preserve this energy. Good Kidney Qi prevents early ageing. Symptoms of Kidney imbalance are chronic backache, feeling cold, pain in knees and bones, urinary, sexual and reproductive problems. The emotion of the Kidneys are fearful feelings , guilt and shame are associated with the Bladder. Cystitis is a common symptom of a bladder problem. Foods supporting our organs in the winter are meats, chicken, fish, warm cooked vegetable, sea weed, tofu, beans, potatoes, eggs, cheese, cloves, ginger, fenugreek, all members of the onion family, garlic, and warm drinking water and teas.
Again after the winter season we need to cleanse our body from the rich foods from the cold dormant season. In spring we have to detox and let go of the “Old” to make space for the “New”. This represents itself in our body, the physical level as well as on our emotional, mental and spiritual level. Digestion does happen in our body, heart and mind.
If we live and eat according to Natures cycle, we aid the natural process of growth and development in our body, support healthy organs and are able to prevent many diseases which accumulate over many years through an unhealthy diet and life style.
Reference : Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford