Five Reasons Acupuncture Helps Digestive Function

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Digestion is a complex task performed by the body. It begins in the mouth and finishes when the ingested food leaves the body through the rectum. For all we have learned over the years regarding digestion, there is still so much more we don’t know or are still learning. For example, it wasn’t until recently, the last 10 years or so, that modern medicine confirmed our gastrointestinal tract is our second brain. This discovery is drastically changing the way the body and its many functions are viewed, because everything we put in our mouths can potentially have life-altering effects on the mind, as well as the body.

Digestive disorders are rampant in the United States. Surveys estimate nearly 70 million people in the United States are affected by some sort of digestive disorder. This could be anything from gallstones to acid reflux to pancreatitis. For many, these disorders are extremely debilitating. But for every person dealing with a debilitating digestive disorder, there are thousands more that just assume everything they are experiencing is “normal.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is just one of the many ways people can deal with their digestive disorders. TCM is a very old medical system that utilizes many different modalities to treat imbalances in the body. Acupuncture is just one of the modalities that can be used. More and more studies about the effectiveness of acupuncture are being performed every day, many of which hold great promise for those who suffer from digestive issues.

Acupuncture helps with digestion because it treats the person holistically, meaning all parts are considered when treatment is rendered. There is no compartmentalizing as in Western medicine. So, a person being treated by a licensed acupuncturist or TCM practitioner will not only notice changes in their digestive issues, but they may also notice changes in their psyche too. And since the mind and body are closely connected, this can be very beneficial for the patient.

Studies have shown acupuncture can stimulate peristalsis in the intestinal tract. This is very helpful for people who deal with chronic constipation. In as few as one to two treatments, a person suffering from chronic constipation may find relief.

Nausea and vomiting are another frequent problem associated with digestion. Acupuncture and even acupressure are wonderful tools for calming the upset stomach. One acupressure point on the underside of the forearm has been studied extensively just for this function. In most cases, the nausea and vomiting are greatly decreased or stopped altogether.

Bloating is another common problem associated with the digestive tract. This can be caused by eating too much food or improper digestion. Acupuncture treatments help the digestive process of breaking down foods without the excess gas that frequently causes bloating.

Diarrhea isn’t just a problem that occurs when somebody is suffering from the stomach flu. In fact, it is much more common than many people think. Acupuncture treatments can help resolve diarrhea by clearing either excess heat or excess dampness from the digestive tract, while also strengthening it.

If you are curious about how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you with your digestive issues, ask us! We are happy to guide you along your healing journey.

Herbal Tonics for Digestion

Digestive disorders can be simple like flatulence or gas, or they can be much more serious, such as Crohn’s disease. But regardless of the severity of the disease, there is no doubt digestive disorders affect far more people than they should, especially in the United States. A recent survey reports nearly 74 percent of all Americans are living with digestive issues. Most people don’t report it to their doctors either, because they assume it is normal to have gas, bloating or abdominal pain. But these symptoms can be indicators of much more serious underlying problems.

The gut is also the “second brain” of the body. When there are problems in the gastrointestinal tract, it can manifest mentally as well as physically. The enteric nervous system, our gut/second brain, is composed of more than 100 million nerve cells that line the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the rectum. The ENS can trigger emotional shifts experienced by those suffering from gastrointestinal issues. But what science is also discovering is that emotional problems can also trigger issues in the ENS. It’s a two-way street and if one is out of whack, then the other may be also.

There are ways we can help our gastrointestinal tract and digestion, though. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a medical system that has been around for thousands of years, and it focuses on treating the person holistically, meaning every part is addressed at once instead of individually. TCM uses modalities like acupuncture, acupressure, herbs, formulas and nutrition to treat each patient. Here are some herbs used frequently in TCM to help with digestion and gastrointestinal issues.

1.   Dandelion or Pu Gong Ying: This herb has been used for millennia for liver and digestive problems. It is used specifically for its diuretic properties. Pu Gong Ying promotes healthy digestive functioning and unlike pharmaceuticals used as diuretics, this herb actually restores potassium rather than depleting it.

2.   Hawthorn Berry or Shan Zha: Shan Zha is a great herb to have on hand after those big family dinners, like Thanksgiving. This herb works to remove food stagnation in the digestive tract, and it works especially well on meats and fats that are harder to digest.

3.   Orange Peel or Chen Pi: One of the best herbs around for regulating the whole digestive system. It is used for spleen and stomach issues in TCM, including nausea, belching, vomiting, abdominal distention and pain. Due to its bitter flavor, it can also drain dampness that may cause loose stools.

4.   Ginger or Sheng Jiang: Ginger is a great digestive herb, as well as a warming spice that helps the circulatory system. It is a natural remedy for heartburn and nausea. It also helps expel gasses from the gastrointestinal tract.

5.   Peppermint: While not formerly used in TCM, it is still one of the best digestive herbs available. Peppermint can be used to relieve indigestion, soothe stomach aches and relieve diarrhea caused by colic. It is also a good addition to help treat irritable bowel syndrome.

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Herbs can be very beneficial and help keep the body free from illness. The herbs mentioned above are just a few examples that would be good to have around if you suffer from digestive issues. Ask us to find out more about these herbs. We can help you navigate the world of medicinal herbs and find the exact combination right for you.

Herbal Cooking Instructions

Instructions for cooking Chinese herbs

Chinese herbs come in many forms, raw herbs that are cooked into a decoction, powders that can be taken with water or other liquids, pills, tinctures, as well as ointments and creams. The modern era added another form which are granulated herbs.

Herbs in traditional Chinese culture are considered food and some consider the highest form of herbal medicine to be lifestyle dietary modification rather than separately prescribing medicinals. In fact many Chinese herbs are used in cooking like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, barley, etc., and some common herbs are now making it into our Western cuisines, such as gou ji berries, lotus seeds, and astragalus. However, there are times when we need strong medicine, to push the body towards change in a strong way. That is when I prescribe herbs.

I tend to prescribe what we term decoctions (“raw herbs” which are in fact dried out) because this is the best way for the herbs to be absorbed – they are consumed in warm liquid form (soup is the literal translation of decoction, 湯 Tang, in Chinese).

Unlike the use of Western herbs which are often taken as one herb, Chinese herbs are very rarely prescribed singly, and almost always in combinations, allowing herbs to interact, enhance and modify each other. Western herbs are often taken as an infusion (steeped in hot water), while Chinese herbs are generally cooked into a “soup.” However, the word Tang (湯) while generally meaning soup, basically means water heated up, thus infusions can considered a Tang also. Because infusions are weaker both in taste and in effect (and Chinese herbs really do taste quite bitter), they are used mostly for maintenance, long-term use, and often with few herbs (or even single herb), while I prescribe decoctions for a short period (2-3 weeks) in order to invite a strong change.

Cooking Decoctions:

Generally each bag of herbs can be cooked 3 times by covering the herbs with 3 cups of water and boiling and then simmering the herbs for 30-45 minutes so that about 1 cup of fluid is left. Strain the liquid and keep it. Cover the herbs again with water, bring to a boil, simmer, strain the liquid, and repeat once more. The end result will be 3 cups of herbal “soup” (one cup from each boiling) which can be mixed all together or kept separately (especially if cooked at different times). After the third cooking, the herb dredges can be discarded (they are good compost).

People ask if the can just cook the herbs with 9 cups of water, for a longer period, and extract 3 cups. The answer is no as this produces a very dilute decoction. Cooking the herbs a second time allows for more active ingredients to be extracted.

Keep the herbal decoction refrigerated until you drink it. Shake the container, so that the sediment is evenly mixed, pour yourself a cup, bring it to an almost boil, and let it cool down. The herbs are most effective warm, and they taste less bitter the hotter they are.

Here are some more details:

1. Use only a clay or glass pot with a cover. If that is not possible, you can use stainless steel.

2. Take the herbs out of the bag/package, place them in a pot, flatten them, and cover with water so that they are covered with about half an inch (to 1 inch) of water above the herbs.

3. Before the first boiling, let the herbs soak in the water for 20 minutes as it is best to not boil the herbs until they have soaked some water.

4. Use a cover in the same manner you would cook rice, with a slight opening for steam to escape.

5. Bring the herbs to a boil and then simmer for the following amount of time:

45 minutes for tonifying herbs

30 minutes for regulating herbs

20 minutes for exterior releasing formulas (i.e., colds and flus)

in this case start with only two cups of water

6. The simmer should be such that you get about 1 cup of liquid extracted at the end of the cooking time. If you get a lot more than a cup, your simmer was done on too low a flame, if you get too little, you will want to reduce the flame. Adjust the flame/temperature on the second and third boilings accordingly.

The herbs are an “invitation to change.” From an alchemical perspective they are not supposed to taste good. Chinese herbs generally taste bitter, even when they are classified as “sweet.” The puckering one experiences is considered part of the process: we generally resist change, and the puckering is the body’s response (as if it wants to stay in its current state).

Do not dilute the herbs, do not add honey. Honey and sugar change the therapeutic properties of the decoction. You can have some crackers or some raisins next to you and eat one or two every few gulps. Remember that it is easier to take the herbs warmer and in big gulps. Brush your teeth after drinking herbs to release the taste and to avoid staining.

It is best to take herbs about 30 minutes away from food.

Do not take herbs for at least 90 minutes prior to going to bed.

Happy Herbs!

Instructions taken from: