Digestive Health and Chinese Medicine


By Dr. Rachelle Tetreault, DAOM, L,Ac

     Digestive issues are definitely on the rise and more people today are getting medical procedures performed for both upper and lower gastrointestinal issues. Though it is significantly increasing  due to a combination of poor diets, added stressors, and irregular eating habits, it has been around for some time. Ancient midwives of many cultures used a variety of herbs such as ginger, cilantro, and coriander to help patients with specific pregnancy- related heartburn. The jasmine plant root was also used in Africa to aid in pain management of heartburn. Ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine has always considered liver spleen harmony as a focal point in good health specifically good digestion and nutrient absorption. Today, these still stand true.

GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease also known as heart burn or acid reflux is only one of the many ailments which can plague the digestive system. Other disorders may include gastritis, peptic ulcer disease (PUD), celiac disease and gluten sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease like Crohns, and even constipation or hemorrhoids to name a few. Eastern Medicine treats each individual according to presentation and constitution of the patient. With gastritis, it may present with heart burn, acid reflux, and stomach pain. These are all part of stomach heat or fire and are treated accordingly. Some patients may present with loose stools, weakness, and suppressed appetite which would signal more of a spleen deficiency. Severe pain would reveal blood stagnation.

Gastroenteritis has many different presentations. With more damp heat in the intestines, there will be diarrhea with foul smelling stools, possible burning sensation at anus, and even abdominal pain with nausea and vomiting. Treatment includes using damp-heat clearing herbal formulas with acu points on the body specific for clearing damp-heat from the body. Acid reflux has many symptoms which not only include heart burn and indigestion but also may include foul breath, belching, and may exhibit signs of excess fire. This is seen with excess heat signs in the body like thirst, possible fever, constipation, and/or sweating.

For general cases of gastrointestinal weakness or deficiency, treatment goals are to nourish the spleen energy, stop diarrhea, promote digestion, and dispel any dampness or stagnation from the digestive tract. Food therapy includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables especially steamed and also incorporating many healthy whole grains and nuts into the diet. Chew food fully and completely. Eat foods rich in vitamins A, C, and E like carrots, green leafy vegetables, and citrus. This helps to prevent damage to the cells helping to prevent further inflammation. In Eastern Medicine, the spleen contributes to proper food absorption along with the small intestines, and a good healthy immune system.

In cases of peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, and even acid reflux, the goals are often to strengthen the middle jiao to improve digestion, relieve pain, and eliminate stomach heat. This is intended to restore proper digestion and gastrointestinal functions. There is great emphasis on avoiding alcohol, limiting stress, and certain medications which often damage the stomach. These may include Motrin, aspirin, and naproxen. For ulcers, often drinking warm cabbage or kale juice on an empty stomach can often help heal the ulcer. Avoid processed foods, fried foods and carbonated drinks. Include pineapples and papayas in your daily regimen due to their enzymatic properties to help rid indigestion. It is important to keep the digestive tract warm and placing a warm compress on the stomach can help reduce discomfort. Food therapy includes some both cooling yet nourishing foods such as Mexican yam, carrots, melons, beets, and rutabaga. Avoid spicy foods and plan regular meals where you take your time to eat.

For more inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s, diverticulitis, fistulas, or colitis, Eastern Medicine goals are to nourish the yin of the body while dispelling damp heat in the intestines, and relieving diarrhea. Food therapy includes black tea and many fruits and vegetables. It is recommended to take a couple of tablespoons of dried apples three times a day with warm water on an empty stomach. Also, making tea from unripe prunes, dried litchi, and Chinese black dates are known to provide relief. Avoid certain chemicals and drugs which aggravate both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Both bed rest and proper relaxation are much needed for both short-term and long-term recovery.

Food therapy for constipation may include incorporating three tablespoons of golden ground flax seed daily. Also, eating two bananas on an empty stomach then follow with a glass of warm water. Avoid meat, spicy foods, and fried foods. For diarrhea, food therapy may include guava juice, black tea, or rice porridge and are highly recommended by the Tao nutrition.

Stress is a major factor which plays a role in almost all digestive disorders. This is especially true with irritable bowel syndrome. Management of stress is so important to prevent the effects of chronic stress on our digestive systems and out overall immune systems. Finding that balance between our personal and professional lives along with ways to enjoy and savor the moments in each day. These may include harmonizing with nature, or honing a talent, or writing, or spending time with loved ones, and taking part in humanity of both caring and sharing. Eastern Medicine has respected and known the effect of stress on both the spleen and stomach since ancient times and refer to it as harmonizing the liver and spleen. This is the foundation of all optimal digestion and food absorption. Please call today for your optimal digestion health! 772-626-6419