Digestion: The Boiling Pot

“Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea!” -Pepto Bismol

Do you find yourself reaching for that bottle of pink liquid that tastes of sadness? Do you find yourself popping so many Tums that you might one day poop chalk? If you said yes to either of these questions, then this is the article for you!

Most Americans suffer from heartburn, gas, bloating and indigestion because of the aptly named SAD diet. SAD stands for Standard American Diet. This unhealthy diet consists of high fats, low fiber, and a lot, and I mean A LOT of processed foods.  The human body is a great and highly efficient machine. But you throw enough junk into a machine, it will grind to a halt and make a great mess of noise (yes, I am making a farting reference) in the process. Not only are you feeling gassy and bloated, you may have constipation or diarrhea, bad breath, bad body odor, acne, etc.

Now you find yourself asking, “Well, should I be a vegan then? Should I go on a raw diet?” Before answering that question, we must look at how digestion works under the scope of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine views digestion like a boiling pot of water with a steady fire heating it underneath. The boiling pot of water is the stomach and the steady fire underneath is the Spleen. Digestion is optimal when the pot is in a constant rolling boil and the fire is consistent and strong. But when you mess with either, you end up reaching for the pink bottle of sadness.

First, lets look at how we could end up messing with the boiling pot, the stomach. Have you ever brought a pot of water to a boil and then accidentally kill that boil when you added a cold vegetable? Not only did that cold vegetable kill the boil, but it also took time to bring the water back to a boil. That is what happens in the stomach when you eat cold and/or raw foods. Examples of such foods would be salads, ice cream, uncooked veggies, slurpies, etc. Why did fruits and vegetables get thrown in to this list? Not because of the nutritional value (we love fruits and veggies) but for the temperature of the foods. They’re all cold.

[Before I press on, let me first explain what I mean by cold. All foods have a temperature. Temperature is not only based on how it feels in your mouth or hands but its affect on the body. For instance, ginger can be cold coming out of the fridge, but within the body, ginger has a warming effect. Another example would be the watermelon. It is great for summer, not only because you chilled it in the fridge, but because watermelon has a cooling effect within the body.]

When you eat foods that cool the stomach, your digestion slows and becomes sluggish. Then at the same time the fire, or spleen, has to increase its fire to bring the pot back to a boil, which takes energy away from the rest of the body to concentrate on the digestion. At this point, you feel sluggish and exhausted and have a lack energy after eating.

Cold foods are not the only culprit. Foods that are too hot or too spicy can also have a harmful effect. Examples of such foods would be fries, coffee, lamb, hot sauce, etc. When you consume an abundance of warm or hot foods, this action is similar to making the water in the pot boil over, making a big mess. Just imagine, you had placed all the ingredients into the pot and stepped away to come back to a messy stove with food stuck all over because some of it got burnt on the way down. And as the water boiled over, it also killed the stove’s fire. Now place what is happening in this scenario and translate it into your body. In this scenario, you now have heart burn, burps, and maybe even sluggishness. Sluggish, again?!? Yes, because the boiled over pot of water killed the fire, the body is struggling to start a new fire with a damp flint. And if you tax the body over and over again in a similar fashion, it will no longer have the strength to clean the mess and build the fire, which can later then result in other health problems (weight gain, body aches, headaches, eczema, and more).

Sometimes, the digestion may be poor due to other things rather than a diet consisting of bad foods. It could be genetic. You may have been born with a small fire to begin with (hypothyroidism possibly). Or you may not be eating enough to produce the fire (poor appetite, anorexia nervosa). Or you may be stressing your body out so much that you drain it from being able to do anything, let alone digest.

Since we have gone over what can make digestion go wrong, you’re asking, “What do I do?”

First of all, eat whole foods. Eat a well rounded meal. Eat a naturally colorful meal (not fruit loops), such as a medley of vegetables. Eat foods that have been cooked by means of steaming, boiling, baking, slow cooking, stir frying (but with a moderate amount of oil). Stay away from processed foods. Try to cook more often so that you are aware of what you put in your body and feel more grateful for the food that you are eating. So to answer your question at the beginning of the article, no, do not go vegan. TCM practitioners (acupuncturists, East Asian Medicine Doctors, etc.) strongly believe that eating a well balanced diet, that includes all foods (meat is allowed) in moderation as long as it supports the healthy function of the body.

If you are eating a well balanced diet and exercising regularly but still have issues with digestion, see an acupuncturist. There may be things that need to be addressed, such as eating the wrong diet for your body type or being unable to deal with the stress in your life that your body doesn’t function properly. Whatever the cause, a visit with an acupuncturist will address these issues to ensure proper digestion. Acupuncturist do not only stick needles into the body but prescribe herbs and teach their patients to live a healthy lifestyle.

For more information, come to Graceful Points for a free consultation.

Dysfunctional Straws: How Acupuncture Works

Now that I’ve discussed how long it takes to get a license in acupuncture, let’s discuss how acupuncture works. As I have stated previously, it takes 4 years to get a degree in acupuncture but it takes even longer (10-20 years) to master the medicine. Not all of you have 20 years so I will explain acupuncture in the most simplified way that I know how to put it.

The human body consists of nerves, blood vessels (arteries, veins, capillaries), organs, etc. And among these many intricate workings of the human body are what acupuncturists like to call meridians/channels. But who has time for an anatomy lesson? So a simple way to view all of these body functions, is to view them as straws.

If you have ever used a straw, you have probably experienced 3 things. First, you used a straw that had absolutely nothing wrong with it and had a smooth flow of whatever you were drinking go straight into your mouth. Second, you used a straw that had been bent or something was stuck in it that prevented any sort of liquid from coming through. You sucked and sucked as hard as you can until your face turned red and you became dizzy and light headed from the exertion. But still nothing came out. The last thing that you may have experienced is a hole in your straw. You bend down to take a sip of your drink from your straw but something is wrong. Liquid is coming through but it is a weak flow. Even here, you are to work twice as hard to get enough liquid into your parched mouth.

The first straw scenario is a healthy body. Everything is working the way it should. Everything is flowing the way it should in the direction that it should. Yay, health! But the majority of people are not as fortunate to get straw number one.

The second straw is what acupuncturists call an excess situation. Why excess? Because there is too much of something that is impeding the normal healthy function of the body. There could be too much stress in your life causing migraines. There could be too much processed foods in your life causing digestive issues. There could even be too much sitting in your life causing a clot in your leg. There are many excess situations. But as you can see, these scenarios are the same as a bent or clogged straw.

The third straw is what acupuncturists call a deficiency situation. Opposite of that to the second straw, in the situation of the third straw, there is not enough of something to make a healthy body. There could be not enough food going into your body causing anemia. There could be not enough exercise in your life causing muscle weakness. There could be not enough sleep and rest in your life causing fatigue. Just like a hole in the straw, there is a hole in your body’s structure either caused genetically or by lifestyle choices, causing dysfunction in the body.

Whether it is straw number 2 or straw number 3, both scenarios can cause pain in the body, which makes living more difficult than it has to be.  But have no fear, acupuncturists are here! Acupuncture can treat both excess and deficiency conditions. With the knowledge of the intricate workings of the body, acupuncturists will place needles at specific points (locations) in the body along specific meridians/channels (straws) to either unbend/unclog or to strengthen and support the body. This promotes proper circulation throughout the body thus relieving any discomfort experienced by the patient.

To see some of the things that acupuncture can treat, take a look below at a photo from Prevention.com.

Accupuncture-Your-Body-On-1

To experience the medicine yourself, please visit Graceful Points.

Medicine or Hocus Pocus

To most people, acupuncture is an unknowable thing. Is it medicine? Is it a placebo? Is it hocus pocus? Depending on who you ask, it is medicine, a placebo and quite possibly magical.

First, let us look at how much schooling is required for the average acupuncturist in the US. To be accepted into acupuncture school, one must already have a bachelor’s degree. Some schools do allow students in with an associate’s degree but these students will be required to take an extensive amount of prerequisites. For you see, to receive an acupuncture degree is to have your master’s degree.

Acupuncture programs are on average 4 years long. 4 years! While I was attending school, many people assumed that I was getting some sort of certificate. “Acupuncture school is only 6 months long, right?” Nope. It’s 4 years. And each quarter was on average 25+ units of courses. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

Now you’re wondering why so long and so much. As much as I would love to say that I went to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and learned how to levitate things with a flick of a wand, we had extensive training on western science and medicine, while learning a medicine that is over 2000 years old. We learn all this because acupuncture is medicine that treats actual diseases.

There it is. The elusive answer: ACUPUNCTURE IS MEDICINE! (WHO – World Health Organization – would back me up here.)

Acupuncturists do not necessarily see themselves as separate from the western medical community. We see ourselves as a very useful and often necessary medicine to be used WITH western medicine. For instance, when a cancer patient undergoes chemo, they are being treated for cancer. But what about the side effects of chemo that diminishes the quality of life for the patient because of nausea, weakness, dizziness, etc. That’s where acupuncture comes in. Acupuncture can treat the side effects of chemo so that the quality of life of the patient is of a human being and not that of a rag doll.

Acupuncture is indeed medicine. It can also be a placebo. But why is being a placebo so wrong? The western medical community use placebos all the time to treat some of their patients but they are not considered quacks. This is because placebos do have their place in medicine. When people go to see their doctor, they want to feel better. Sometimes their pain is mental and/or emotional and in these cases, placebos work wonders.

And is acupuncture magical? The results of acupuncture treatments are magical. With a hair-thin needle, acupuncture can relieve a person of a chronic illness, when no other pill or treatment could. That is magical. And when a patient leaves my office with a smile on their face, that is magical.

Graceful Points

Hello world!

My name is Grace and I am a California licensed acupuncturist and owner of Graceful Points Wellness Center.

I would first like to start off by saying that I am so excited to start on this new acupuncture practice and even more excited at the prospects of meeting all of you.

With this blog, you can expect to see explanations on how acupuncture works, tips for a healthy lifestyle, updates to free classes and whatever else may seem helpful, enlightening, and nourishing for a happy soul. Expect to see a new blog post every Monday.

Stay tuned as the blog posts will soon come into being.

First tip on this blog: BREATHE~ Deeply and with purpose.