The musician Bobby McFerrin understood the Chinese Medicine approach to digestion & health with his hit song “Don’t worry, be happy”. Chinese Medicine, a 3000-year-old medical model, has an understanding of digestion that is both scientific and connected to a deep understanding of the cycles of nature and how these cycles impact on our health and wellbeing.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said, “All disease begins in the gut”.
Both Western and Eastern medicine have a collective body of knowledge about digestive health, including an understanding that there is a biological connection between the brain and the gut.
This important connection communicates via the hormonal and extensive neuron system, also known as the brain-gut axis.
What is known now is that digestive health can influence our mental health, in part due to serotonin, the 90% of which is made in the digestive tract.
If this serotonin production is compromised due to infection, bad bacteria, environmental influences, diet, or trauma, then challenges with cognitive function can arise, including foggy thinking, feeling scattered, poor memory, and mood changes including depression.
Many health issues, including skin conditions, food sensitivities and low tolerance to moulds and smells can be traced back to gut integrity.
The missing piece of the puzzle that Chinese Medicine can add to the picture is our emotional state. In the Five-element system, unique to Chinese Medicine’s diagnostic and treatment approach, each organ has a number of characteristics and qualities.
These include season, tastes, tissues and emotions.
In the Five Elements, the Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach rule the Earth element.
The spleen’s role is to break down the food and transform it into blood and circulate all the nutrients from the food to other organs so they can perform their job; basically keeping the body in a state of wellness and balance.
The emotions connected to the Earth element are worry and fear of scarcity.
If our state of mind is constantly in a state of worry, it actually manifests as tension and anxiety in our digestive system and impacts directly on our digestive process.
These days we often eat on the run or eat while performing some other activity, which interferes with important digestive processes including the production of digestive enzymes.
We need Digestive Fire, which is dependent on healthy spleen and kidney function to literally provide the furnace for good nutrition.
We have all heard the term ‘fire in the belly’; a good analogy for getting things moving. It is the same with the digestive system; we need that fire to process food.
Emotions can impact on our state of health. Emotions are healthy, they are basically energy in motion and as such they need a form of expression.
In modern day living, we are often under a lot of stress and so some of these emotions like worry and anxiety are a constant part of our daily living; that’s what causes the disruption to our Qi, which is our energy.
With so much information now available around food and nutrition, people are finding themselves confused with conflicting information about what’s appropriate to them.
Chinese Medicine has a long and proven history using food as medicine and this will be discussed further in Part 2
Here are some simple and practical guidelines to get you started towards better digestion & health.
Ten Steps To Better Digestion & Health
1) Nourish Your Shen
Shen is the term used to describe your spirit. A calm spirit creates a calm mind. A daily mindful or awareness practice will establish a positive habit and create new neural-pathways in your brain that will directly influence your gut in healthy ways.
2) Nurture Your Middle Heater
In Chinese Medicine, the middle heater is the area of your body concerned with digestion and includes the functioning of the spleen, stomach, liver and gallbladder. Keep this area warm and remember the digestive fire we need for the spleen to transform and transport the essence of foods and drinks into useable units of energy of food.
3) Best Time To Eat
The best time to eat from the perspective of Chinese Medicine clock is between 7 am and 12. This is when the stomach and spleen and digestive processes are at their highest.
4) Be Aware Of Your Emotions
If you are feeling emotional, do not eat, as this will disrupt your digestive function.
5) Eat Slowly
Chew well and eat slowly. If food is chewed well and not diluted, this not only strengthens the spleen, it in turn release more pancreatic enzymes into the intestines. These add further lubrication and improve digestive function increasing available nutrients for building richer blood.
6) Don’t Drink When Eating
It’s best not to drink liquids when eating as this interrupts enzyme function. Wait about 30-45 minutes.
Learning to breathe properly is vital for digestion, eat while eating only.
Avoid Large Amounts Of Cold & Raw Foods – excessive consumption can lead to deficiency and weakness, it also puts out the digestive fire needed for breaking down the food.
9) Understand The Basic Principles Of Chinese Medicine
Become familiar with the principles of Chinese Medicine food therapy and discover the nature of food according to its energetic function.
Relax, enjoy your food with family and friends and remember “Don’t worry be happy “.
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Barbara Malarski is a Holistic Chinese Medicine Practitioner practicing in Port Douglas Far North Queensland. She is the Director of Oak Beach Dreaming a Holiday Artist and Wellbeing Retreat. Her interests include working with Gut Health and assisting clients to understand their individual constitution and use Food as Medicine. www.barbaramalarski.com.au