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Understanding the Benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine for Gut Health

About five months ago, I cut smoothies and cold/raw foods out of my diet, and it’s made a pretty significant impact. I used to not think twice about reaching for one post-workout, as a snack in between meals, or just a sweet treat after lunch. And time and time again I dealt with chronic constipation, a slow digestive system, and intense nausea and bloating.


I’m not saying that smoothies alone caused my IBS (I talk about the root cause of my gut health issues in this post). But I don’t think I grasped the correlation between smoothies and a dysfunctional digestive system.


You may be wondering, “Why would my smoothie impact my digestive health?”. Well, once you step into the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it all starts to make sense.

Not only should we pay attention to the types of foods we are consuming, but how we are consuming them.


Traditional Chinese Medicine: What is it?


When I started seeing an acupuncturist weekly for my digestive issues and chronic migraines, I began to learn so much around Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. She taught me the correlation between what I ate, herbal remedies, and the “fire” or “energy” within my body.


The “fire” she was referring to is a basic concept in TCM of a vital life force, called Qi (pronounced “chi”), that runs throughout the body. Any imbalance to Qi can result in different aliments, illnesses and diseases.


Think of it as an energy, and when something - whether external like a virus or internal like dehydration - throws off that energy, we can develop physical symptoms.


There are two main balancing forces that make up Qi: Yin and Yang. In TCM, there are certain elements, like food, that are deemed higher in yin or yang. An imbalance of these two forces throws off your Qi. Therefore, you can present physical symptoms, like digestive issues.


TCM has been around for thousands of years and is the second largest and oldest continuously practiced professional medicine in the world! It’s an institution that lasted centuries and should be given credit where credit is due!

I am not considering myself an expert at all but educating myself with traditional practices has opened up a whole new world of holistic healing for me.


I know, it sounds a bit farfetched if you are accustomed to Western Medicine. I was once like that too. I would throw antibiotics and Ibuprofen at every aliment I had, just hoping that it would cover up my symptoms. But when I learned that overusing antibiotics and consuming a North American diet have been some of the biggest contributors to my IBS and SIBO, I knew that I had to go to the extremes to make a change.


Working with an acupuncturist through my symptoms, I learned that cold and raw foods were slowing down my digestive system.

It’s not that smoothies, and raw vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and cucumbers are “bad” for you. But it could help the flow of your digestive system if you choose cooked, steamed, and warm foods. Not only do cooked vegetables break down fiber, making it easier on your digestive system, but it can help the flow of energy (aka motility; aka bowel movements).


Now, let’s dive into why this should matter for you and your gut health.


The Link Between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Gut Health Explained


If you are someone who has tried multiple diet changes, has taken different tests for your gut health, and you just cannot get to the bottom of your issue, you may want to lean into TCM and holistic practices for optimal digestion.


When we begin to look at the brain-gut connection, the principles of TCM make so much sense. Sometimes negative emotion like anxiety, depression, and grief can negatively slow our digestive system, and even change our gut microbiome because of the neurons that run along our gut-brain axis.


The principles of TCM connect all properties within your digestive system, including your organs, mind, and soul. To promote digestive balance within the body, all vital organs must be in equilibrium. This includes the tongue/mouth, stomach, spleen/pancreas, liver, and intestines (and mind!).


From the moment food enters our body through the mouth, to the time it passes through the organs, there is an energetic flow that occurs. And the color of your tongue is a window into your gut health (which is why tongue scraping is a must-have habit in my morning routine!).



The First Sign of a Digestive Imbalance: The Tongue and Mouth

The first time I saw my acupuncturist she asked to see my tongue. “Okay??” I said as I stuck it out. Little did I know from this alone, she could tell if I was dehydrated, malnourished, or inflamed. My lil red, dry tongue showed her that I was chronically constipated, dehydrated, and probably malnourished. And she was sooo right (sadly). At the time, I had not gone to the bathroom in days and felt fatigued (food was noooot giving me energy at the time).


If you are new to TCM, try examining your tongue to see what you could add or remove from your lifestyle. For me, I learned that I should add minerals and electrolytes to my water to help with dehydration. I also take a multivitamin and additional vitamins like Vitamin D3 + K and fish oil to make sure I am meeting my daily requirements.

The Stomach

Spleen/Pancreas

Liver

Intestines


 

What you can do today to start incorporating TCM practices into your gut health journey!


This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to TCM and gut health! If you can take anything away from this article, it’s that our mind, body, and the food we consume are connected way more than we think!


Below are some next steps you can take to start incorporating these practices into your own health journey.


Changing your diet

There are many ways you can start to change your diet to align with balanced qi. If you suspect you have deficiencies in any of your vital organs, you can Google it and it typically gives you information on what foods to incorporate into your diet. As a baseline, avoid excess sugar and processed foods.

Working with an acupuncturist

Therapy

Herbal Teas

Electrolytes and Minerals

Incorporate holistic practices for optimal digestive well-being

Take out the damn smoothie


I invite you to share any learnings below and let me know which holistic practices you’ve used to help your gut health journey!

 

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Please consult your doctor before you make any diet/lifestyle changes that may impact your health.

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Welcome! If you made it here, you are probably looking for answers on where to begin your wellness journey. I'm Jessica, and I started my gut health journey over 3 years ago. As an avid foodie and wellness enthusiast, I hope to inspire you on your realistic wellness journey.

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