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As in Western medicine, the digestive process in Chinese medicine begins with the Spleen and Stomach, is regulated by the Liver and Gallbladder, and is completed by the Small and Large Intestines. Because we receive most of our energy from food, healthy digestion is crucial for our vitality and illness prevention. Chinese medicine focuses on having strong digestive energy and healthy movement as the basis for digestive health.
To have a healthy digestive system in Chinese medicine, we must have a strong digestive fire. This fire is what helps us transform the food we eat and create useful energy. Many habits can weaken our fire (like iced beverages or chronic stress) which later leads to poor digestion.
We want a strong digestive fire, but too much heat can also be an issue. Heat in the Stomach system can cause an excessive appetite and acne, while heat in the Intestines may be the cause of issues like irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, or other digestive difficulties.
Stomach: The Stomach system manages the intake of food (our appetite) as well as the “rotting and ripening.” Just as in biomedicine, Chinese medicines understands the importance of the stomach and digestive enzymes in the digestive process.
Spleen: Where the Stomach manages our intake of food, it is up to the Spleen to extract the essential nutrients and energy from this food. A strong Spleen system makes for easy, efficient digestion, while a sluggish or weak Spleen often struggles with nausea, bloating, and fatigue.
Intestines: The Small and Large Intestines manage the release of waste. Here, imbalances in fluids (too dry or too wet), temperature (excess heat), or movement (irritability or stagnation) can lead to bowel issues.
Liver and Gallbladder: The Liver and Gallbladder system are necessary for a smooth digestive process, metabolism of fats, and detoxification of any impurities in our diet. Stress in the Liver system can often give rise to digestive problems.
Herbal medicine, acupuncture, and diet changes are the main ways Chinese medicine practitioners treat digestive issues. Acupuncture works to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach, regulate bowel movements, and address mental factors that may be impacting digestion (like stress, insomnia, or anxiety). Diet in Chinese medicine is largely individualized, but most people are encouraged to avoid iced foods, excess dairy or raw foods, fried foods, and artificial or processed foods.
There are a wide range of Chinese herbal formulas dedicated to improving digestion. While some focus on digestive symptoms (like nausea, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or stomach pain), others focus more specifically on the root problem (like weakness in the Spleen system or heat in the digestive tract).
The following are important herbs used in our popular digestion formulas.
Chen Pi/ Pericarpium citri reticulatae: Chen pi is dried tangerine peel, a fragrant and relaxing herb that is used in many digestion formulas. Chen pi has the power to cut through bloating, ease nausea, and harmonize the digestive system.
Bai Zhu/ Atractylodes macrocephalae: Bai Zhu is a common herb used to help relieve stagnation and discomfort in the digestive system. It also has the power to strengthen the digestive system and improve energy.
Gan Jiang/ Gingiberis rhizoma: Here’s a familiar digestive tonic: ginger. Both fresh and dried ginger are used in Chinese herbal formulas to reduce stagnation, relieve nausea, improve elimination, and boost the Spleen and Stomach function.
Digestive health is the basis for all health. Start on the path to a healthier life by healing the root with Chinese medicine. Shop our collection of Chinese herbal formulas dedicated improving your digestive function and overall health.