Supporting Digestion Part 1: Digestion and The Earth Element
By West Norwood Therapies Team, Sep 13 2018 09:00AM
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers shares some Chinese medicine wisdom around supporting your digestive system particularly around this time of year.
It’s Late Summer, the short 5th season in the Chinese 5 element calendar, the time of Earth and the harvest. The Earth element and its associated organs – Stomach and Spleen – play a central role in digestion. In particular the Spleen has a very broad digestive function with an influence throughout the body, very importantly on the quality of qi, blood and fluids. When Spleen Qi is out of balance there is a knock-on effect and many aspects of our health can be affected. Giving attention to the Earth element and the function of the Spleen is frequently a starting point of treatment, so it seems an appropriate time to take a closer look at digestion.
Spleen means pancreas
I should clarify that in Chinese Medicine the Spleen was a mistranslation and the ancient Chinese texts were actually talking about the pancreas. For continuity the digestive system has continued to be named as comprising Stomach and Spleen. The actual spleen actually comes under the role of the Liver in Chinese Medicine and is more concerned with storage of blood. So, whenever we use the term Spleen in Chinese medicine, think pancreas, and the important role it plays in secreting enzymes into the intestines and controlling blood sugar.
A Healthy Earth Element
In health a strong Earth element with good Stomach and Spleen qi provide nourishment for the whole body. It keeps us strong, active and stable with endurance and a good appetite and digestion. It also provides qualities that enable us to nurture ourselves and others, and fosters free thinking, imagination and creativity.
When the Spleen Qi is weak we often experience tiredness and a tendency to bloat after eating. Stools may be loose and appetite low or erratic with a tendency to food intolerances It can manifest in other ways affecting concentration, food intolerances, menstrual issues, anaemia, weak limbs and give a tendency to prolapse, such as haemorrhoids. Difficulty regulating weight can be part of the picture, either overweight without overeating or thin and unable to gain weight. If it is allowed to worsen then signs of cold can also appear – cold limbs and a chronic aversion to cold. The Spleen likes easily digestible simple warm food.
Accumulation of Damp and Phlegm
When the ability of the spleen to transform fluids is compromised ‘damp’ builds up which often manifests as feelings of heaviness in the limbs and joints along with soreness and aching. Our head may be affected with foggy thinking, a heavy sensation in the head, mental and physical stagnation and a feeling of being ‘stuck’ which hampers creativity.
As damp gets worse the fluids become thicker, more cloying, toxic and gooey often causing mucousy discharges and encouraging the proliferation of microbes in the body with conditions such as candida and thrush.
If they become even more congealed and stagnation builds up then they can progress to phlegm in the lungs or cysts in the genitourinary tract. Weak Spleen Qi, certain foods and also living in damp conditions all contribute.
The stomach is responsible for preparing the food we eat for absorption further down the gastro-intestinal tract. Erratic eating habits, rich food and overindulgence play havoc and can lead to acid reflux, heartburn, burning pains, gas and bloating. The stomach does not like to be hot and dry, so dehydration and too many of the hotter spicy foods can affect the stomach. So can flooding it with too much fluid at mealtimes, overdiluting the digestive enzymes. It is about getting a balance.
Next time: How to Support Your Digestion
My next newsletter piece in a couple of weeks will focus on things you can do to aid digestion and keep your inner Earth element happy and functioning well.
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