Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Gut health is a focus point for us at Red Bridge. We are pleased to say that in general we are seeing awareness growing about the interaction of digestive dysfunctions with our health. Along with this awareness there has been an increase of investigation into the relationship between our gut health and function and its relationship with our overall experience of physical and mental health, proving the link to be undeniable.
At Red Bridge Family Acupuncture, as part of every intake session and general health overview we will always explore the patients gut health for any signs and symptoms of imbalance. These imbalances often serve to shine a light on the underlying root cause of the health concern that has bought them to clinic, however unrelated it may seem.
Ensuring a strong digestive system is the key to optimal functioning of the body as a whole. In the treatment of patients, especially children, we consistently find favourable results will occur when concentrated effort is placed on the fortifying the digestive system.
Qi (energy) in the body is derived from three sources. The food we eat, the air we breathe and the Kidney Qi that we are born with. The Qi (energy) provided by the Stomach, called Post-Natal Qi is extremely important. A robust Post-Natal Qi paves the way for optimal health throughout our lives and supports our constitution (the Kidney / Pre-Natal Qi). Therefore, we always encourage the parents of our paediatric patients to nurture their children’s digestion and supply a good diet which will help provide them best possible start in life.
In this blog we are going to share with you how Traditional Chinese Medicine observes the functioning of the digestive system. Some common digestive disturbances and their interaction with health and ways you can best support your gut health.
The digestive system and Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the digestive system which is used for extracting Qi from our food sources is centered around two organs, the Stomach, and the Spleen.
The Stomach and Spleen work extremely closely together. Known as “the sea of food and fluids” the Stomach takes our food that is broken down and transports the pure and usable parts to the Spleen for manufacture of Qi and Blood. The waste is then sent to the Small Intestine for further digestion and processing.
The Spleen is responsible for transforming the fuel into energy (Qi) then transporting it around the body. If the Spleen Qi is in good health digestion is strong and Qi and Blood flow is optimal. The Spleen can become easily overwhelmed with our western habits of over consumption of food, eating at odd hours and making poor nutritional choices. An overwhelmed Spleen is not going to be performing at its optimal level. A kink in the chain of energy production at this point has a substantial flow on affect throughout the whole body.
When there is an imbalance of Spleen Qi then the patient may experience Qi and Blood Deficiency. Digestion can be impacted with symptoms of bloating, pain, and diarrhea.
Weakness or imbalance in Stomach Qi may manifest as stomach pain, nausea, distended stomach, gas, or vomiting.
In the Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine each organ system belongs in a Yin and Yang pairing. This pairing of organs is also associated with an element, season, flavour, sense, emotion, colour, and time.
The Stomach and Spleen are the organs associated with our Earth element. The Stomach is Yang and the Spleen is Yin. They are associated with Late Sumer, the emotion of worry, the flavour sweet, the colour yellow and the morning time of 7am – 11am.
Having a well-functioning digestive system or Earth element is essential for the human body to operate at its best and build a strong immune system to ward off disease. An imbalanced gut can have a flow on effect to almost every area of our health including our immune responses, our mental health and our skin health.
Our patients in clinic can present with a range of gut issues. Common minor bowel disturbances like constipation or diarrhea are often discussed as a symptom of other imbalances we may be supporting. Some patients present seeking support for more severe chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastrointestinal parasites, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, or leaky gut.
Using acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy, diet, and lifestyle changes independently or alongside other specialist care can be greatly beneficial in strengthening the patients Earth element and assist in restoring balance.
A snapshot of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the support of two common conditions:
Parasites and their impact on gut health:
What is a parasite:
A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism. It depends on its host for survival, and it might cause disease or other types of imbalance
Why are parasites a problem:
Worrying about parasites may seem like a concern that should be far from mind, but they are surprisingly common and if untreated can cause both acute and chronic health concerns. Many going un-diagnosed or ignored due to the generic signs and symptoms that can be easily attributed to something else or trickier still no symptoms at all. When left untreated though parasites contribute to many major health imbalances.
Two of the most common parasites found are Blastocystis hominis and Dientamoeba Fragilis.
· Contraction - commonly contracted by ingesting contaminated food or water.
· Signs and Symptoms - It may be found in healthy people who are asymptomatic so showing no digestive symptoms. Where symptoms are reported they include watery diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, excessive gas, loss of appetite and fatigue.
Dientamoeba fragilis (D. fragilis)
· Contraction – the nature of how this parasite is spread is unclear. It may be spread through contamination of hands, objects, or food with infected faeces. Alternatively, D. fragilis may be spread by threadworms (pinworms). D. fragilis might be protected by threadworm eggs.
· Signs and Symptoms – Once again people who are infected with D. fragilis may be asymptomatic. When symptoms do occur, the symptoms are very similar to Blastocystis hominis and include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, excess gas, poor appetite, fatigue, nausea, weight loss, vomiting and tiredness.
When we see a patient in clinic who has a positive stool test to either of these parasites, treatment will concentrate on supporting the digestive and immune system through the use of acupuncture.
Acupuncture treatment protocols:
The approach of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine in the support of a patient
with parasites is twofold:
Strengthen the digestive system to improve intestinal motility encouraging the parasite to move. A well-functioning Stomach and Spleen are the best bet for a strong immune system and warding off further parasite infection.
Remove the parasite. We do this by making life as uncomfortable as possible for it. Chinese herbal patent formulas are used to target the parasite, weakening, or killing it and then moving it along the digestive tract.
In many cases the treatment of parasites may also include pharmaceutical medication that whilst effective can be quite taxing on the system. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can be extremely useful at this point in the rebuilding and strengthening of a battered Qi.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
What is IBS?
IBS is a disorder that affects the function of the bowel and the gastrointestinal tract. IBS results in a range of abdominal, gut and bowel related symptoms that can be not only inconvenient but often painful and the management can be the cause for much emotional upheaval. IBS is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which includes conditions like Crohn’s disease but is not the same. Luckily, IBS does not result in any permanent damage to the bowel and is not a pre curser for serious disease. Generally, IBS is diagnosed based on reported symptoms and a thorough medical history. There is no testing for IBS per say but often testing takes place to rule out other conditions rather than diagnose IBS. You can read another blog available on Scott Stephens Acupuncture website which has detailed information about IBS.
TCM in the support of IBS:
TCM theory states that if the body is in balance both internally and externally then good health is experienced. IBS, while not necessarily falling into a particular category or TCM pattern, is itself an expression of an underlying imbalance.