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The Center, The Root, the Digestive System

We often take some extra time with our patients to try and explain the importance of healthy digestion, healthy eating habits, and/or myths about diet and digestion.

One person's idea of healthy may not be appropriate for someone else, for example.

We have taken the time, over the last few years, to explain in written word, some basic concepts of digestion from an integrative and Chinese medicine-inspired view. I decided to share the latest iteration here as I think it has become quite comprehensive and easily digestible (no pun intended). So if you want to learn how and why eating, digestion, and food are so important and foundation to health from a Chinese medicine perspective, enjoy our advice and description. We hope you take away a new insight or perhaps a question. Send us your thoughts and questions. We are here to engage and support.

Digestion as the root of health or the center of all systems:

General dietary recommendations that benefit anyone, always include:

  1. regular and consistent eating times/patterns aiming for 2-3 significant meals a day (earlier in the day is better),

  2. eating moderate amounts, i.e. avoid over-eating and under-eating,

  3. chewing thoroughly/eating in a relaxed way/setting if possible,

  4. consider the seasonal appropriateness of your food choices: more cooked and rich/dense foods in Winter, and more lightly cooked/raw/light foods in Summer.

Some Concepts on the Importance of Diet and Digestion from the Integrative Medical Perspective:

Digestion, from a Chinese medical point of view, is central to physical and mental health. The stomach and small intestine, the first major organs involved in breaking down and absorbing food in our digestive system can be viewed metaphorically as a pot of soup sitting on a fire. It is the body’s digestive strength and efficiency in generating the enzymes, bile, acid, etc. and metabolic ‘fire’ that ‘cooks’ ingested food, allowing to body to properly extract & utilize nourishment from the food, and efficiently remove waste. Eating with the above basic advice in mind supports the integrity of this complex and importance system. For these reasons, warm/cooked foods are doubly important for your condition.

Additionally, the pancreas and liver, from a Chinese medical viewpoint have more complex and supportive roles in digestion and from a functional view of the body, illustrate how the digestive system interrelates with other systems like the endocrine and nervous systems. They are charged with ensuring proper utilization and filtration of useful/valuable substances and unhelpful/harmful substances.

The large intestine is important as a secondary stage of breaking down and absorbing nutrition, also expelling waste. And finally, recently recognized by conventional medicine as an actual organ, the Chinese assess more broadly the metabolic efficiency of the interstitial tissues, called the 'Triple Burner' in Chinese medicine and the 'intersitium' in conventional anatomy. This system-wide network of distribution and absorption or tissue 'digestion', combined with the circulatory system distributing oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body.

As we age, or due to stress/pain/disease, the integrity and efficiency of this system can wane or slow down. Typically this system gradually weakens as we age, making it increasingly important to be more intelligent with our eating habits as we age. Other factors can subdue digestion and absorption, namely stress (psycho-emotional), hard labor (over-work/over-exercise), lack of activity/exercise, chronic pain, or factors like infectious diseases, cancer, environmental toxicity, and/or unhealthy lifestyle habits and unhealthy food. For all these reasons, we again stress the importance of aiming to eat in a way and eat foods that support the digestive system, since it is so vital the health of the rest of our body, especially our major organs and the integrity of our musculoskeletal tissues.

With our digestive system designed the way it is, we believe it is best to consume a majority of foods that are cooked (varies by body type, time of year, and climate). Also enjoying meals by sitting down to relax while you eat and chewing thoroughly to savor flavors is recommended. Raw foods and cold foods (e.g.: uncooked vegetables, raw nuts, ice cream, iced drinks, cold cereal) will prevent efficient digestion, can generate excessive mucous, and constrict circulation around digestive organs. Likewise, highly processed foods, will congest digestion and can impair circulation and accumulate congestive material in the organs and tissues (e.g. plaque, mucus, toxins/oxidized compounds). Eating while distracted (reading, driving, working) or emotionally stressed should also be avoided, when possible, as it disrupts the digestive process and interferes with proper digestion by diverting resources and interrupting acid production, assimilation, and bowel movement. And remember, don’t get stressed about not being stressed... cooking and eating should be enjoyable, sacred, social, and fun.

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