Nearly everyone has experienced some kind of digestive complain at some point in their lives. Although most digestive problems pass quickly, recurring or chronic problems can indicate an imbalance within the body. In Chinese medicine, digestive problems can be due to damp, heat, dryness, cold, wind, stagnation, deficiency or excess, and often involve the stomach, spleen and liver organ systems. Any chronic or recurrent condition should be assessed and treated by your practitioner. Acupuncture and herbal remedies can help correct imbalances, but in the meantime here are a few tips which may help relieve discomfort.
BLOATING & GAS
Bloating is an indication that food or fluid is not passing through the digestive tract at the proper rate. This can be due to poor diet, irregular eating, repression of emotions, stress, constitutional weakness, or outside factors. Start by allowing ample time to eat meals and avoid skipping meals. For better digestion, breakfast should be the largest meal of the day (when the energy of the stomach is at its peak) and dinner should be the smallest. Avoid eating late, eating on the run or eating when upset. Take time to chew each bite thoroughly and mindfully. Avoid heavily processed foods, chemical additives, foods containing many ingredients, and ice cold beverages. Choose whole foods which are steamed or well cooked and avoid eating too much cold food such as ice cream, cold drinks, salad, and raw fruit. Do not overeat, instead stop before you feel too full, and avoid drinking lots of water with or before a meal (this will dilute the enzymes in your stomach needed for proper digestion). A cup of warm ginger tea sipped with meals may be enjoyed by those who experience problems due to dampness and cold.
ACID REFLUX / GERD
Diet is important to consider if acid reflex is a recurring problem. Eating too much or eating excess amounts can be the cause. Sometimes individuals can be sensitive to certain food that can aggravate the condition such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, radishes, beans, onions, garlic, fatty foods, wheat or dairy. In addition spicy food, alcohol, coffee, chocolate, and peppermint are all known to be causes of acid reflux. Be aware of whether your symptoms are made worse after eating these foods and avoid or eliminate them from your diet. If you smoke, try to stop. Tobacco smoke weakens the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) which can allow acid to rise up into the esophagus. Wear loose clothing to avoid constriction of the stomach and abdomen. Do not eat late at night, when stressed, when in a hurry, or to excess. Chew food well and eat slowly, pausing between bites. Exercise regularly and try taking a walk after dinner to stimulate digestion. If you are overweight, losing weight can decrease the pressure on the stomach & LES reducing symptoms.
If you have difficulty passing stools or have dry, hard, small or infrequent bowel movements, some diet and lifestyle changes may help improve your condition. First and foremost, make sure you are drinking enough water. A good rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight in ounces daily. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink 80oz of water daily. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it increases urination. If you drink coffee, tea or soda you will need to drink even more water to counteract the dehydrating nature of these beverages. Make sure you are getting enough fiber in your diet to bulk up stool and increase intestinal peristalsis. The average adult should get approximately 25-35 grams of fiber daily. Foods high in fiber include beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Get regular exercise to move your Qi, and reduce stress which will allow the parasympathetic nervous system to do its job of digesting.
Diarrhea is the frequent passage of watery or loose stool for which there are many etiologies. Infection, food poisoning, medications, intestinal inflammation, food stagnation, hormonal factors, and others may be the cause. Treatment will vary widely depending on the type of pattern which is the cause of the diarrhea. Herbs and acupuncture points will be chosen for you depending on your particular pattern. In general it is important to remember to drink lots of water to counteract possible dehydration. Meals should be small and well-chewed. Avoid cold, raw and difficult to digest foods and try eating white rice or sweet rice congee cooked with a few slices of fresh ginger root during bouts of diarrhea (recipe below).
Halitosis, or bad breath is most commonly due to poor dental hygiene, oral infection, stomach or lung heat, or food stagnation. Avoid spicy, hot, and oily foods and coffee and alcohol as these heat up the stomach. Overeating, eating at irregular hours and eating late at night can tax the spleen/pancreas and stomach systems to cause food stagnation. Eating an excess of cold and raw foods can also weaken the spleen yang causing a reduction in digestive force needed to move food out of the stomach before it ferments and rises upward causing bad breath. Lung infection, repression of emotion, and other causes can also be factors. Disorders due to heat will benefit from ingestion of cooling food (both steamed and raw) such as parsley, watercress, cucumber, spinach, lettuce, salads, cooked or juiced cabbage, apple, pear, watermelon, and rice, barley or millet congee (recipe below). Disorders due to weak digestion will benefit from regular eating habits and a diet of well-cooked easily digested foods including soups, stews and congee.
Congee is a traditional breakfast food in China although it can enjoyed any time of the day. It is very easy to digest and tonifies qi and blood. It can be eaten when experiencing any digestive upset or when recovering from serious illness. The recipe is very easy and can be adapted to treat a variety of disorders.
1 cup of grain (white rice, brown rice, sweet rice, millet, spelt, barley, or other grain of your choice)
6 cups water
Simmer on the lowest heat possible (or cook in a crock pot) for 6 hours until you have a water gruel. Depending on your condition, your acupuncturist may give you specific herbs to cook into your congee. In addition certain foods can also be simmered with the rice for beneficial effects.
For general digestive complaints add: carrot, yam, chopped parsley (add parsley in last 10 minutes of cooking)
For gas add: fennel, coriander seed, black pepper, carrot
For constipation add: chopped walnuts, almonds, pine nuts or sesame seeds
For conditions due to cold add: black pepper, fresh ginger, leek, scallion, garlic, chopped chicken, or cinnamon, cardamom
For conditions due to heat add: celery, water chestnut, Job’s tears, pearled barley, or chopped mint (add mint in last 10 minutes of cooking)
To build yin add: goji berries, apple, pear, brown sugar, coconut milk, dates, or honey
To build blood add: beef, spinach
You may flavor your congee to be sweet or savory. Be creative!