Traditional Chinese Medicine Tips to Aid Digestion
Your digestive system is responsible for turning what you eat into energy and nutrients for your body. It’s important to maintain good digestive health to keep that process running smoothly.
These Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tips will help you take care of your gut and treat a variety of digestive issues.
When TCM doctors talk about disease, they speak of internal imbalances that cause one’s qi (vital energy) or blood to stagnate. When it comes to digestion, the major areas to look for imbalances are the stomach, liver and spleen.
The word “spleen” here doesn’t correspond to the anatomical part called the spleen. Instead, it refers to a functional (rather than physical) entity associated with the stomach. Together with the stomach, it governs the absorption of food and the dispersal of food’s nutritive essence throughout the body, sending leftover fluids to the kidneys and bladder. If you’re experiencing diarrhoea, bloating and headaches, you may have a malfunctioning spleen. Symptoms like vomiting and frequent belching are a sign of an imbalanced stomach.
The liver also players an important role in digestion, as it controls the flow of qi and blood in the body, aiding the spleen and stomach.
Balance is a key principle of Taoist philosophy, which is the bedrock of TCM. Eating a balance of of yin (cooling) and yang (heating) foods is essential maintaining the flow of qi in your body, which leads to good health.
On top of that, you should adjust your intake of yin and yang foods according to your body’s individual needs. If you’re experiencing watery stools, nausea and diarrhea, that’s a sign of too much dampness (yin) in the stomach. To dispel the cold and warm up your body, try eating gently warming foods such as ginger, millet, oats, carrots and turnips. Avoid cold foods, dairy, sugar, ice cream, iced drinks and sushi, which can tax the spleen because of their extreme yin quality.
On the other hand, constipation is a sign of excessive heat (yang), and may be accompanied by symptoms such as heartburn and an insatiable appetite. Try to eat cooling foods such as citrus, tofu, lettuce, apples, and cucumber. Avoid spicy foods, alcohol and excessively salty foods, which can irritate your stomach and cause digestive fire.
Key ingredients for digestion:
Rice: Steamed white rice is gentle and easy to digest, and gently warms the body by draining dampness.
Cinnamon bark: or rou gui, is another key ingredient for warming the stomach. Add a stick of cinnamon to a warming mutton soup, or mix cinnamon powder with lukewarm water and drink it. Adding a touch of honey to the drink will also aid digestion by strengthening the spleen.
Hawthorn berry tea: bolsters the spleen, promotes blood flow and even helps with weight loss. Research suggests that hawthorn berry extract can lower cholesterol, widen blood vessels and strengthen cardiovascular activity. To make the tea, simmer a tablespoon of dried hawthorn berries in two cups of water for 15 minutes.
Orange or tangerine peel: it not only a good source of vitamin C, it also drains dampness, making it ideal for anyone suffering from vomiting or loose stools. This aromatic and versatile ingredient can be added to coffee, soups, porridges and meat dishes.
Tips for improving digestion
Don’t multitask during meals: Avoid reading, watching TV or looking at your phone while you’re eating. These activities divert blood away from the stomach to your brain, preventing you from digesting food properly.
Use seasonal ingredients: TCM is all about aligning yourself with the natural environment, and one way to do that is to eat fresh, seasonal food to maintain harmony with your surroundings.
Eat a hearty breakfast and a light dinner: Qi moves through the body cyclically, so different organs are more energized at different points of the day. The stomach and spleen function optimally in the morning, between 7am and 11am. You should avoid eating too much outside of this window. In particular, indulging in late-night snacks stresses your digestive system, leading to indigestion and weight gain.
Avoid cold and raw foods. According to TCM, the body transforms food by heating it with “digestive fire.” That’s why cooked food is easy to digest, whereas cold and raw foods (like salads and sushi) take up extra energy, causing the digestive process to work less well. To avoid taxing the stomach, eat food that’s been properly cooked.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Tips to Detox Your Liver
Your liver is in charge of removing toxins from your body, producing bile and performing essential metabolic functions. An overworked liver can cause serious health problems. Follow these Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tips to cleanse your liver, detoxify your body and feel more energized.
The liver regulates qi, the vital energy that sustains life, and stores blood, which carries qi around the body and supports the functioning of our organs, limbs and tissues. While you’re awake, the liver supplies blood to the muscles. During sleep, blood returns to the liver to be cleansed.
The liver also houses the hun, or soul, which gives us our consciousness and sense of purpose, and which leaves the body after death.
Signs of bad liver health include an ashen complexion, acne, eye problems (such as bloodshot eyes or blurry vision), muscular weakness and insomnia. The liver also helps to regulate emotions, so unexplained irritability and anger can also indicate a liver problem.
Foods that detoxify and strengthen the liver
Sour foods: According to TCM, sour foods tend to nourish the liver. A refreshing glass of lemon water has a diuretic effect, which can help you flush toxins from your body.
Ginger: This yang (warming food) nourishes blood, improves circulation, and has antibiotic and antibacterial effects that can help your body cleanse toxins and fight pathogens. You can easily add a few slivers of freshly sliced ginger to teas, porridges and soups.
Turmeric: This pungent spice decongests the liver, clears heat from the body, and improves the flow of qi and blood. Add a dash of turmeric to a bowl of soup or a rice dish, or brew it directly to drink. Turmeric powder is also present in many Indian curry recipes.
Dandelion root: A cleansing, detoxifying herb that cools the blood and nourishes the liver. Springtime is the ideal time to drink dandelion tea. Not only are dandelions in flower during this season, but spring is associated with wood, the element of the liver.
Artichokes: Consuming artichokes can help clear liver heat. The plant also contains a compound called cynarin, which promotes bile production and urination.
Magnolia berry (wu wei zi): The magnolia berry has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to nourish and protect the liver. Brew it as a tea and drink a cup per day.
Black beans: Black beans can help to expel excess damp and heat. (They are also said to be beautifying, and have been consumed by Chinese women for centuries for that reason!) To make black bean soup, bring some water to a boil and simmer a handful of black beans. If you like, you can add some goji berries for a bit of sweetness, and to nourish your liver’s yin. You can also roast black beans and eat them as a snack.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Tips to Help You Sleep Better
Not getting enough sleep can seriously affect our mood, concentration and health. Traditional Chinese Medicine offers some insight into treating insomnia and other sleep disorders. Next time you find yourself tossing and turning in bed, try out these tips and tricks to getting a good night’s sleep.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), insomnia and other sleep disorders are the result of an imbalance in qi (energy). As qi circulates through the body, it flows through the body’s “meridians,” such as the lungs, heart, spleen, liver, kidneys, stomach, gallbladder and so on. Of the twelve principal meridians, six are considered yin, and six are considered yang, according to the ancient Taoist concept of yin and yang.
During the course of the day, the yin and yang energies in our bodies wax and wane. At night, yin (associated with coolness) is predominant in the body, and during the day, yang (associated with heat) takes over.
Sleep disorders are usually attributed to imbalances of yin and yang within the body. Oversleeping is a yang deficiency, while insomnia is a yin deficiency, and is associated with poor circulation, spleen deficiency or stress. Nightmares are associated with emotional imbalances or overindulgence in rich foods.
Dietary suggestions in TCM for better sleep
Eat more ‘yin’, avoid eating ‘yang’
If you are are having trouble sleeping, an overactive liver may be the cause. To lighten the burden on the stomach, avoid alcohol and caffeine, as well as sweet, pungent, or spicy foods, which are considered yang (heating) foods.
Instead, stick to foods that are predominantly yin (cooling). Yin foods tend to be green or pale colored, with a high moisture content. Ingredients such as tofu, cucumber, bananas, watermelon and green beans fit the bill. Some foods, such as pork and fish, are considered neutral.
Key ingredients for poor sleepers
A cup of chrysanthemum tea clears heat (excessive yang energy) in the liver and calms the nerves. Add goji berries to balance the chrysanthemum’s inherent yin properties and to help nourish the liver.
Other ingredients that promote restful sleep include the longan fruit, which is said to improve circulation. These can be eaten raw, dried, or steeped as a tea along with a few red jujubes and a handful of goji berries to aid circulation.
If you have crushed or powdered poria, a type of fungus, known as fu ling or tuckahoe, you can add it to a bowl of warm congee and eat it a few hours before you go to bed.
Jujube seed (suan zao ren) is commonly prescribed to treat insomnia. It strengthens circulation and calms the mind, making you less irritable and restless. You can steep jujube seeds in hot water to drink it as a tea. Alternatively, simmer the seeds along with longan flesh and poria to make a soup.
Tips for better sleep
Give yourself an acupressure massage.
Located behind the ear is an acupressure point called anmian, which translates to “peaceful sleep” and is used to treat insomnia. It’s found between the ear and the base of the skull, where there’s a slight depression next to a bone called the mastoid process. Place your finger on this depression and apply pressure in a circling motion to massage it. After circling 100 times, you should feel more relaxed and ready to rest.
Soak your feet in hot water.
Massaging your lower legs and feet can help encourage the blood to flow away from an overstimulated brain. Better still, dunking your feet in hot water dilates blood vessels in the lower legs, encouraging blood to flow downwards. Find a bucket or plastic tub with space for both feet, and fill it with hot water (gradually, to avoid scalding yourself). Fresh or powdered ginger is known to reinforce the body’s yang energy, and adding it to the soak can help those with cold extremities. You can stop the soak once you’ve started to break out in a slight sweat, which indicates that the body’s stagnant energy channels have become unblocked.
Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
Going to bed at night and rising with the sun keeps our bodies in harmony with the universal yin and yang of nature. Sleeping at odd hours disrupts the proper flow of yin and yang in the body, causing insomnia and preventing restful, restorative sleep.
Go to bed between 9pm and 11pm.
According to TCM, the body’s various organs function and replenish themselves at different times of day. During sleep, the gallbladder, which controls emotions and judgement, and the liver, which is responsible for circulation and emotional well-being, repair themselves. Sleeping late depletes the energy reserves of those organs, which can lead to bad judgement and emotional instability.
Meditate before bed.
TCM practitioners believe that when we feel anger or frustration, we’re experiencing an outburst of heat in the liver. Emotional turmoil agitates the body and causes qi to stagnate, which can impair the body’s ability to fall asleep. That’s why it’s important to calm your mind before going to sleep. One way to to do this is to practice mindfulness meditation in bed. Focus only on your breath and you inhale and exhale deeply, relinquishing any unpleasant or worrying thoughts.
By Sally Gao