Lin has also increased my understanding of myself and Crohn’s disease by providing me with information which has allowed me to manage my diet so that I can reduce any daily symptoms. In all, Lin has made me feel confident that I am the boss of the disease, rather than the disease being the boss of me. — Jonny

If we take a close look at digestive disorders, we might be surprised to discover that even western medicine acknowledges that diet and stress play a large part in the development of digestive conditions and even further that diet and stress management can make a difference in those conditions. Guess we, western and eastern medicine, have something in common after all. Maybe it is time to explore some eastern wisdom.

TCM perspective on wellness

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is about wellness. In order to stay healthy, above all, Qi and Xue need to be abundant.

Qi is the energy of life. To function properly, Qi needs a) flow freely along the body without blockage; b) maintain Yin/Yang balance.

Where does Qi come from? We receive part of it as our inheritance – genes from our parents. The rest is from what we eat, drink and breathe. This is why we see digestion as the primary system for optimal state of health. We are what we eat! This is nothing we can do about the genes. We are lucky if we have good ones; if not, make up with the postnatal part.

What is Xue? Xue is more than just blood, although its direct translation is indeed “blood”. We prefer using Xue her because in TCM theory it involves the function of nutrients and essence as well. Where does Xue come from then? It is Spleen that transforms the food into vital substance (Qi, Xue, essence, etc) and transports them to various parts of the body. Again, it shows the importance of Spleen and Stomach (digestive system in TCM) in our wellness.

TCM perspective on digestive problems

In TCM, three organs are mostly mentioned – Spleen, Stomach, Liver. (Note: The organs in TCM are different from those in western medicine. They are more function-related in TCM).

It will take quite long time to explain the functions of those organs. Here, we would like to explain the part that relates to digestion in simply and plain language.

  • Stomach: to denature the ingested food, especially to rot and ripen the food; and to propel the food downwards.
  • Spleen: to transform and to transport (already explained above).
  • Liver: to regulate the function of Stomach and Spleen. Often a poor Liver function results in digestive disorders.

TCM is about balance.

From the functions that we have just introduced, it is not difficult to tell that Stomach Qi favours downwards whereas Spleen upwards. This is one balance. When we overwhelm our digestion with too much food or too much wrong food or too little food, over time we damage the function of Stomach and Spleen. In time, the movements of Qi become messed up. Therefore we develop bloating, gas, appetite and stool problems.

The Liver is another organ to take into consideration in digestion. Generally there is a balance between the Liver and Stomach/Spleen as Liver Qi regulates digestive system. However, as the Liver is an organ of emotion, it often affects our digestion when it becomes constrained. In those cases, the Liver will invade the Stomach and Spleen, thus symptoms occur. This is why we often have digestive complaints when we are grieved, stressed, or anger. As we are in a time of stress, it seems unavoidable.

Of course, there are other factors involved from TCM point of view. We just mention the most common ones here.

Our approach

  • Chinese herbal medicine: One of the most beneficial method that we have found in practice, especially when it comes more complicated conditions, such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis.
  • Acupuncture: We have noticed good results of acupuncture in common digestive disorders, such as abdominal pain, heartburn, constipation, and side-effects of chemotherapy. Additionally, we often give patients Korean hand acupuncture therapy (pellets) in the intervals of treatment.
  • Moxibustion: Most clients enjoy the warm it generates. This is great for deficient and cold type of conditions.

Advice from TCM perspective

We can’t get you better without your co-operation. We would suggest you change some dietary habit of yours.

  • Icy food should be avoided. It is good to have warm food or at least room temperature.
  • Proper cooked and processed food is highly recommended.
  • Have regular meals every day, i.e. regular amount at regular time.
  • Try to avoid too much stimulant, such spicy, chilly, alcohol, sugar, etc. When you can’t avoid, try to have them in moderation.

Conditions may benefit from acupuncture and Chinese herbs

  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Indigestion/Functional dyspepsia (FD)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Heartburn
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease (CD)
  • Hepatitis
  • Impaired liver function (either due alcohol or chemotherapy)
  • Nausea/vomiting (especially when presented as side-effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer treatment)

Further reading – Digestive Disorders archive