Chinese Medicine and your digestion

How you can use the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine to support your digestion

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), each season is deeply connected to an element, organ, emotion, sense organ, and taste. In the UK, we only have 4 seasons, but according to TCM, there are 5 seasons, the extra one being "late-summer". This can be thought of as the monsoon season, or Indian Summer when it is warm and damp and is generally mid-August to late September. This is the season when the energy of the stomach, and its paired organ the spleen, are at their peak, so it is a great time to nourish these organs. By tending to these organs during late summer, you will be a step ahead when it comes to transitioning into autumn and negotiating the flu season.

What does the spleen have to do with digestion?

In traditional medicine the stomach has very similar functions to that of modern medicine - we're going to focus on the spleen which is thought to be the more important organ of the two. In Western medicine, although you can live without your spleen, it is crucial for your immune system and for filtering your blood. In TCM, your spleen is thought to be in charge of 'transportation and transformation'. This means that you need the energy of your spleen to transform the food you eat into energy, and for that energy to be transported to every other system in your body. So you can see if the spleen is out of balance then you cannot assimilate the nutrients from your food, and it will have a knock-on effect on the rest of your body. The spleen also has a 'holding' function; it holds the blood in the vessels and holds organs in place, so if you bruise easily, have heavy periods, or have a prolapse then it might be worth exploring how to support the function of your spleen.

What would knock your spleen out of balance?

What symptoms will you see if the stomach and spleen are out of balance?

If the spleen energy isn't functioning optimally it cannot transform food into energy, or transport that energy to the rest of the body. This may manifest as digestive issues such as bloating, IBS, a poor appetite - or craving sweet foods. If it cannot transport fluids properly then you may have a general feeling of heaviness, fatigue, water retention or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or teeth marks on the side of your tongue. We have already mentioned the spleens holding function, so if this is compromised then it may be that you bruise easily, have a prolapse, heavy periods, or varicose veins. These organs are also connected to the mind and intellect or what is traditionally known as "Yi". Brain fog, excessive worrying, over-thinking, or intrusive thoughts may also be a sign that your spleen is overworked. We see this a lot with students who have to spend a lot of time studying, may be relying on energy drinks or processed foods and don't live in harmony with their natural circadian rhythm.

How can you bring balance back to the stomach and spleen?

A word about earth types

The stomach and spleen belong to the earth element, and 'earthy types' tend to be natural worriers, empathic, nurturing and reliable. If they don't have strong boundaries then these compassionate qualities mean they are likely to soak up other people's worries too. We know that excess worry can cause digestive issues, but telling someone not to worry is more than useless. Worry is there to stop you from doing stupid stuff. Sometimes, it is more useful to thank your worry for everything it has done for you and to give it the opportunity to tone down its wild imaginings, by being present in the here and now. Immersing yourself in the present moment may help that protective part of you from imagining all of the possible future worst-case scenarios. Earth types tend to be very good at caring for others; the healing can be found in learning how to receive care.

The earth element is about finding your centre

The Earth provides us with nourishment, stability and bounty. Focusing on staying grounded - literally spending time with your bare feet on the earth - will help you to keep your centre when life events come to knock you off your feet. Finding what nourishes you as well as finding joy in taking care of other people will improve your stomach and spleen vitality, and bring balance to your earth qualities.

At-home acupressure point Spleen 9

Seeing an acupuncturist will give you a well-rounded view of the function and interplay of all your organs, but a quick at-home point you can use yourself is called Spleen 9 or 'Yin Mound Spring'. Run your finger up the inside of your leg, and you will find a dip as the tibia bone begins to flare out. This can be quite a tender point, so gently massage it using different depths to find what feels good for you. It can be used for:

Bring balance back to your earth element and promote the vitality of your spleen

By paying attention to the what, when, and how you eat, processing your emotions, and connecting with nature you can bring balance to your digestive organs and support your earth element. If you feel like your digestive system or over-thinking needs some extra support then reach out to us or your local acupuncturist, and we will do a full body evaluation and give you tips and tricks that are personal and manageable for you.


Alison

Alison is a registered acupuncturist and co-owner of Blossom Natural Health in Chelmsford. She has been specialising in fertility and women’s health for the last 20 years and is the fertility acupuncturist for Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Wickford. She loves combining Acupuncture, Cranio-Sacral Therapy and Somato-Emotional Release to help her clients with stress, digestive issue and pain relief.

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