Finding Your Center: Gut Health in TCM
Finding Your Center: Gut Health in TCM
By Dr. Alexa Woods
Our Acupuncturist Dr. Alexa Woods, L.Ac. is sharing her secrets to a thriving gut from traditional Chinese medicine perspective.
“Knowing how to treat the center is knowing how to bring all networks into balance.” - Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644)
YIN ORGAN: spleen
YANG ORGAN: stomach
SPIRIT: yi (intellect)
SENSE ORGANS: mouth
VIRTUES: empathy, nurturing, trust
Earth Element and The Spleen and Stomach
The Spleen and Stomach meridian systems belong to the Earth element. According to Chinese medicine, the gut is the center of our health. In 1180 CE, famous Chinese physician Li Dong Yuan founded the Earth School because he believed that the etiology of most diseases was a result of injury to the digestive system. These ancient Earth School teachings are supported by the current research on the relationship between gut health and immunity.
Get to Know Your Spleen
According to TCM, Spleen has many vital functions:
- Governs Transportation and Transformation function- transforms the food we eat into blood and transports it to other areas of the body
- Controls the muscles and four limbs
- Spleen houses thoughts
- Spleen manages blood
- Opens into the mouth and manifests on the lips
- Controls the Upright Qi
According to Western medicine, the Spleen is an organ of the lymphatic system with the following functions:
- Stores blood.
- Filters blood by removing cellular waste and getting rid of old or damaged blood cells.
- Makes white blood cells and antibodies that help you fight infection.
- Maintains the levels of fluid in your body.
- Produces antibodies that protect you against infection.
The Spirit of the Spleen
In TCM, every organ houses a spirit, which corresponds to a certain aspect of our psyche. Our thoughts and mental capacity relate to the spirit of the Spleen, called the Yi (Intellect). The Yi influences our capacity for studying, concentration, memorizing, etc. If you are a student or highly intellectual, supporting the spleen Qi is essential!
The Emotion of the Spleen
The emotion associated with the spleen is worry. With its connection to the mind and thinking, the Yi is be prone to worry, anxiety, and overthinking. When caught in this loop, spleen Qi deficiency symptoms arise, like digestive weakness, IBS, and fatigue. Meditation and calming the mind are very important for spleen health.
The Spleen Imbalanced
The Earth element relates to issues of dampness (humidity, heaviness, phlegm) - the climate of late summer. Dampness shows up in the body in many ways: physical fatigue, mental fatigue, worry, digestive problems, and muscle weakness to name a few. Because the spleen and stomach meridian systems are particularly impacted by dampness, food therapy becomes so important to keep everything on track.
Late Summer + The Spleen
The TCM approach is macro-microcosm, meaning that when there are changes in nature, it’s important that we adjust to the natural rhythms and flow of the earth. By tuning in with the seasons, changing our lifestyle, and eating accordingly, we begin to go with not against the rhythm of the natural world and greater universal forces. This approach to holistic health helps cultivate a more consistent balance and harmony throughout the year. Late summer is the season of the Earth Element and thus the time to reinforce the vitality of the earth within. Reinforcing Spleen Qi can be done with acupuncture, food therapy, herbs, and meditation. Here are some suggestions to take care of your Spleen Qi below:
Warm it up
The earth element thrives on a nourishing diet, and nutritional therapy related to the Spleen is key for maintaining good and balanced health. Cold raw foods like açaí bowls, smoothies, juices, salads, and iced coffees creates dampness in the spleen, which interferes with its role of the transportation and transformation of nutrients and energy, and its ability to produce qi and blood. This leads to a variety of damp type imbalances like bloating, loose stool, fatigue, and indigestion. This summer eliminate dairy, refined sugars, and fatty and greasy foods which contribute to dampness. Do include warm, cooked meals. Aromatic spices like ginger, fennel, coriander, caraway, and cardamom help to warm things up, resolves dampness, and strengthen the spleen Qi.
The Taste of Earth is Sweet
Sweet flavors, in small amounts, strengthen the Earth element. This includes whole grains like rice, and root vegetables, such as yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, figs and other seasonal fruits and veggies.
Don’t skip breakfast
According to the Chinese Medicine clock, the Stomach has optimal digestive capacity between 7-9am. Your meal should be substantial and fortifying. A good breakfast strengthens the stomach and spleen qi and yang for the day. Optimal breakfast foods are energetically warming foods, prepared with warm cooking methods that stimulate the body and do not spread dampness. Think cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, citrus peel tea.
Find your center
The Earth element is about stability, nurturing and self care. Spend this time doing the things that keep you centered and grounded; focus on what nourishes and fulfills you and those you care about. Bring balance to how you give and receive so you are no longer over giving and able to fully receive when others offer
nurturing support to you. Focus on redefining boundaries in relationships with others and with habits that no longer serve you.
Every element has an associated sound, through which it expresses itself. The sound of the Earth element is singing— which also stimulates the vagus nerve which can help relax tension in the gut and increase secretions of digestive fluids!
Acupressure on Spleen 9 (Sp-9 Yin Ling Quan), located on the inside part of the lower leg, in the depression of the lower border of the medial condyle of the tibia below the knee. The easiest way to find the point is to run your thumb up the edge of the bone on the inside of your lower leg until it falls into a hole- if the point is active, it will feel tender. This point helps clear dampness anywhere in the body and can help relieve abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas pains, and lethargy after eating. This point also helps treat edema, swelling, thirst and urinary difficulty. Pressure on this point can also help if you are overthinking to help break the pattern and calm anxiety.
By Dr. Alexa Woods
Alexa Woods is a licensed Acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist. She holds her Doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Master of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Pacific College and a BA in Developmental Psychology from New York University. She is also a Certified Doula and Reiki Master. The focus of her treatments is to help connect you with your highest health and radiance. Alexa is especially passionate about working with women’s health! She has worked with women to address their unique gynecological and reproductive issues. She loves endocrinology, focusing on returning to cyclical living to help women navigate their hormonal phases and changes throughout their lives.