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TCM Perspective: Indigestion

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TCM Perspective: Indigestion

In TCM, our digestive system transforms food into Qi and Blood, which are the most important substances necessary for life. Thus, maintaining good digestion is the basis for good health.

Our digestive system includes the functions of the Stomach, Spleen, Large Intestine and Small Intestine.

The Stomach is the main receiver of the food we consume. It is in charge of receiving and breaking down food and liquids for further absorption. If this function is disturbed, disharmonies such as loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting may occur.

The Spleen is the key organ of digestion in TCM. It transforms the nutritive essence from food and liquids in the Stomach into Qi, Blood and body fluids. The Spleen is also responsible for water metabolism. When the Spleen is in disharmony, symptoms like abdominal distention, poor appetite, loose stools or edema may follow.

The Small Intestine receives food from the Stomach to carry out the further absorption of essential nutrients needed by the body. Disharmony in the Small Intestine may give rise to urinary or bowel disorders.

The Large Intestine receives residual materials sent down from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining nutrients and essential fluids, then excretes the waste in the form of faeces. Dysfunction of the Large Intestine may result in abdominal pain, loose stools or constipation.

The Bladder stores and excretes urine. Common urinary problems may be manifested as incontinence or difficulty in urination, with a burning or painful sensation.

Digestive Disorder

Lifestyle, stress and dietary factors can put a strain on our digestive system. TCM provides satisfactory relief for digestive disorders through herbal medication, acupuncture and other treatment methods.

Here are some common digestive disorders and their related treatments from the TCM perspective:

(A) Indigestion
Indigestion is a condition caused by food stagnation. Overeating, eating too fast, or having a weak digestive system may also contribute to indigestion. Common symptoms of indigestion include fullness, bloating or aching in the upper, middle or lower abdomen, hiccups, a poor appetite, or breaking wind accompanied with strong and undesirable smells and bad breath.

In TCM, the treatment principles work by nourishing the entire digestive system to improve our digestive functions, as well as inducing bowel movements to remove stagnant food.

Common Chinese herbs used to relieve digestive problems are Hawthorn Berry (Shanzha, 山楂), Barley Sprout (Maiya, 麦芽), Rice Sprout (Guya, 谷芽), Chicken Gizzard Lining (Jineijin, 鸡内金), Unripe Bitter Orange (Zhishi, 枳实), Tangerine Peel (Chenpi, 陈皮) and Areca Seed (Binglang, 槟榔).

Acupuncture, massage, herbal medicines and dietary changes can help to relieve digestive problems too.


(B) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder which may manifest itself differently from person to person. Some of the common symptoms of IBS are abdominal bloating, cramping or pain, flatulence, diarrhoea and/or constipation. Common symptoms of indigestion include fullness, bloating or aching in the upper, middle or lower abdomen, hiccups, a poor appetite, or breaking wind accompanied with strong and undesirable smells and bad breath.

IBS can result from eating too much greasy or spicy food, or from emotional factors such as depression, excessive anxiety and insomnia. These emotional factors may be triggered or aggravated by stress.

For symptoms of IBS, TCM prescriptions use herbs such as White Atractylodes (Baizhu, 白术), Tangerine Peel (Chenpi, 陈皮), Poria (Fuling, 茯苓), Siler Root (Fangfeng, 防风), White Peony Root (Baishao, 白芍), Licorice Root (Gancao, 甘草), Chinese Yam (Huaishan, 淮山) and Dried Ginger (Ganjiang, 干姜).

Acupuncture helps by alleviating the pain, regulating bowel movements and preventing abdominal pains or cramps associated with this condition. It also regulates the gastrointestinal functions, which may in turn manage the root of the problem.


(C) Heartburn
Heartburn is a condition where our Stomach acid rises up to the oesophagus. It is also known as acid reflux or acid regurgitation. The acid may cause a burning pain in the chest or throat, and leave a sour taste in the mouth. In TCM, heartburn is regarded as a manifestation of disharmonies in the Stomach and Liver’s functions. The basic treatment principle is to restore balance to optimise the functions of the Liver and Stomach.

Common herbs used to relieve heartburn symptoms are Processed Pinellia (Zhibanxia, 制半夏), Chinese Dates (Dazao, 大枣), Licorice Root (Gancao, 甘草), White Poeny Root (Baishao, 白芍), White Atractylodes (Baizhu, 白术), Peppermint (Bohe, 薄荷), Hare’s Ear Root (Chaihu, 柴胡), Chinese Angelica (Danggui, 当归), Poria (Fuling, 茯苓) and Fresh Ginger (Shengjiang, 生姜).

Ban Xia Xie Xin Wan (半夏瀉心丸) and Xiao Yao Wan (逍遥丸) are two classic formulae commonly used to reduce acid reflux and relieve heartburn symptoms.


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How To Boost Energy If You Always Feel Tired

According to Jeffrey Ong, a physician with Eu Yan Sang, a well-known name in Asia when it comes to TCM products and services, fatigue can arise from a weak body constitution, overworking one’s body, and an unbalanced diet. A weak body constitution can arise from inborn factors or illness. Lifestyle and work are also major factors as too much can lead to physical and mental exhaustion. An unbalanced diet can harm our digestive tracts. All these can lead to deficiency of yin, yang, qi, and blood in various organs, causing us to be unwell and experience fatigue.

Causes Of Fatigue
  • weak body constitution

  • overwork

  • unbalanced diet

These three factors can lead to deficiency of yin, yang, qi, and blood in various organs

TCM Principles

Some principles of TCM are in tune with conventional medical practices. “When it comes to dealing with fatigue, one of the most important factors is sufficient rest,” says Physician Ong. “Sleep is known to be the best natural remedy, revitalising one’s energy and boosting the immune system. Engaging in some mild aerobic exercises and leisure activities can help to relax one’s body and mind as well. Also, keep to a balanced diet and avoid cold drinks, fried and oily food.”

In TCM theory, there are five major internal organs. “When one suffers from fatigue,” says Physician Ong, “any one of the five may be affected.” In general, however, “fatigue is associated with a weakness in the spleen and kidney.” He goes on to explain that, in TCM, the spleen is largely responsible for nutrition and metabolism while the kidney is in charge of innate essence and growth. “Fatigue is often correlated to these two organs,” he advises. TCM can strengthen these weakened organs via herbal remedies or acupuncture.

Before the fatigue strikes, Physician Ong lets on that there should be some warning signs. Which signs you get depends on your particular body constitution. And your particular body constitution needs to be carefully assessed before a course of treatment can be prescribed, including herbal remedy, acupuncture, tui na, and cupping,” says Physician Ong. Combinations of treatments are sometimes used to increase effectiveness.

If you have anaemia, diabetes, or other diseases, the course of treatment “will be based on the overall diagnosis of the patient’s entire body condition, not specific to certain diseases.” Still, Physician Ong advises patients to notify all their physicians of everything that they are currently taking to prevent herb-drug interaction.

If you are already on a conventional course of treatment for fatigue, Physician Ong assures, “There are many patients who are taking Western medications and using TCM at the same time to complement the treatments.”

Herb Remedies

Here are some TCM herbs that can help to fight fatigue:

  • American Ginseng: good for people who work long hours and lack rest

  • Lingzhi: enhances immunity by boosting the function of white blood cells

  • Chinese Wolfberry: full of beta-carotene, an antioxidant, this herb is effective against tired eyes

  • Wild Chinese Yam: for people experiencing low energy coupled with digestive problems

Supplements

Besides taking TCM herb, a boost in certain vitamins and minerals could increase energy levels:

  • Vitamin B12: helps increase energy levels and lift concentration and mood[1]

  • Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid, Folate): insufficient amount of this vitamin could lead to confusion, depression, lethargy, and slow reaction time[2]

  • Vitamin D: a lack of this vitamin, which aids metabolism, could lead to low energy, poor-quality sleep, and mood swings[3]

  • Magnesium: vital for adrenal glands, the poor functioning of which can lead to fatigue[4]

Stimulating Acupoints

So you’ve heard of acupuncture. But you don’t always need an expert to insert needles at the appropriate points. There are certain easy-to-reach acupoints that you can massage about 20–30 times a day to keep yourself stimulated and energised:

  • He Gu: located on the dorsum of the hand, between the first and second metacarpal bones, in the middle of the second metacarpal bone on the radial side, it boosts qi and strengthens the immune system

  • Bai Hui: located at the intersection of the line connecting the apexes of the two auricles and the median line of the head, it helps improve mental functions, calms nerves, and promotes flow of qi

Case Studies

Physician Ong relates two cases in which he helped tired-out patients using a mix of treatments from the TCM medicine chest.

One was a student burning the midnight oil for a big exam who snacked to stay awake. She soon lost her appetite, turned pale, and her stools became loose. “I diagnosed her condition as a deficiency in spleen qi, and prescribed herbal medication to tonify her spleen and boost the qi of her body,” he reveals. After a week, her condition improved. “She felt much more energised during the day and could perform better in school.”

Another case involved a young working mum. She often felt stressed and frustrated, and had insomnia, dry throat, heart palpitations, and night sweats, which led to all-day lethargy. The lack of energy affected her work; she also had terrible mood swings at work and at home. “I diagnosed her condition as a deficiency in heart yin, manifested in signs of heatiness and restlessness,” says Physician Ong. “I prescribed herbal medication to nourish the yin and clear excess heat in her body; I also performed acupuncture on her to calm her nerves.” After a few more visits, her condition gradually improved and she was able to concentrate better at work.

Now that you know how TCM approaches the treatment of fatigue, you should find out what diseases could be putting you through the wringer.

References:
[1] http://www.cheatsheet.com/health-fitness/5-natural-supplements-that-can-help-fight-chronic-fatigue.html/?a=viewall
[2] http://www.myprotein.com/thezone/nutrition/always-tired-best-supplements-beat-extreme-fatigue/
[3] http://www.cheatsheet.com/health-fitness/5-natural-supplements-that-can-help-fight-chronic-fatigue.html/?a=viewall
[4] http://www.cheatsheet.com/health-fitness/5-natural-supplements-that-can-help-fight-chronic-fatigue.html/?a=viewall

Drug-free Pain Management

The most common types of pain that TCM Physician Chen Tong Mei sees are those that occur in the neck, shoulders, knees and wrists. She is a graduate of one of Beijing’s top universities specialising in acupuncture and bone-related injuries. She also has a Master’s in TCM from the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, and now practises at the Woodlands branch of Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic, where this interview took place.

“These are problematic areas because of people’s bad posture when standing, sitting or carrying heavy objects,” she reveals “Nowadays, people are addicted to playing games on their mobile devices, which can cause their necks to stiffen. The youngest patient I have is about eight years old. Even when I was giving him treatment, he couldn’t stop playing with his video games!”

How Pain Arises

According to Physician Chen, there are two reasons that explain the causes of pain: pain caused by obstruction, and pain caused by weak qi, blood, liver or kidney. No matter the cause, it is possible for us to experience swelling, piercing, damp, stretching, cold or warm pains.

Physician Chen believes that pain can affect every area and organ of the body. “TCM is best at managing pains caused by the nerves through acupuncture, scraping, tuina, star needles, and cupping,” she insists. “The effects of these treatments are very positive. However, other conditions, such as inflammations and bone spurs, are probably better left to Western medicine.”

TCM is best at managing pains caused by the nerves through acupuncture, scraping, tuina, star needles, and cupping.

Treatment Options

As mentioned earlier, there are several ways that TCM manages pain, such as cupping, acupuncture, tuina, star needling, or intranasal light therapy.

As Physician Chen points out, the benefits of acupuncture is far-reaching and can aid many ailments. “For less severe pains, the patients can go for scraping treatments. For deeper pains, cupping is the more recommended treatment,” she advises.

Physician Chen adds that pain caused by treatments can be alleviated by intranasal light therapy. “On top of that, we use star needles on the affected area. Even though it may draw blood, it is part of the treatment.”

Lifestyle Adjustment

Physician Chen emphasises that while receiving TCM treatment for pain, the patient should remain physically active. That’s because exercising is the only way to loosen the muscles around the affected area, which decreases the risk of the pain recurring.

“Basically, pain is usually caused by low blood flow to the affected area. This causes the nerves to become unstable. That’s why, during treatment, physicians will prescribe medication to patients to encourage blood flow, relax veins and soothes nerves, Physician Chen reveals.

Another tip to control pain is to consume food items that eases pain naturally.

Ginger/ Indian Curry / Chili Padi

These contain turmeric, which can ease the pain patients are experiencing. Menstruating women should drink ginger tea with brown sugar to ease menstrual pains.

Omega 3

Research shows that Omega-3 in deep-sea fishes is great against inflammations, rheumatism, arthritis and migraines.

Coffee

Coffee disrupts the function of pain receptors, thus allowing you to feel less pain. However, this is only useful for individuals who do not drink coffee often.

Berries/Cherries

Strawberries, cherries and blackberries rival the effects of medications such as aspirin, and can improve your immune system and soothe inflammation.

This is an extract of an article by Lisa-Ann Lee that first appeared in NATURA Issue 4. Find NATURA at Eu Yan Sang retail outlets, newsstands and major bookstores in Singapore.


From 1 Mar 2024 till 31 May 2024, new patients can enjoy a physician consultation & pain relief acupuncture treatment at S$68* nett.

*Terms and conditions apply

Natural Rhythm of Yin & Yang in Our Body

Sleep is an essential part of your life. It is not only a form of rest, but a physiological function that helps your body to recharge and perform at its best the next day.

In TCM, sleep is part of the natural rhythm of Yin and Yang in the body. In the concept of Yin-Yang, Yin represents passive forces while Yang represents active forces. TCM classic The Spiritual Axis (Lingshu, 灵枢) uses the Yin-Yang concept to explain sleep in chapter 28. It is said that “when Yang is depleting and Yin is abundant, one’s eyes are closed. When Yin is depleting and Yang is predominant, one is awake.”

Sleep is also believed to be regulated by the cycle of Protective Qi (Wei Qi) and Nutritive Qi (Ying Qi). Protective Qi flows along Yang meridians for 25 rounds during the daytime and circulates through the Yin meridians for another 25 rounds at night. The cycle in the day enables the body to be active and awake, while the cycle at night enables the body to rest and recharge.

Sleep is a part of the Shen activities which function in the day and cease during the night to allow the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lung and Kidney meridians to rest and recharge. You will be able to sleep well when the Shen is rooted and rested, but your sleep will be affected if the Shen is disturbed.

Ideal Time to Sleep

 

In TCM, Qi flows through 12 principal meridians within the body in a 24-hour cycle. When Qi flows through a specific principal meridian, it takes around 2 hours to vitalise and strengthen the organ system associated to that particular meridian before continuing to subsequent meridians.

The ideal time to sleep in accordance to the meridian clock is by 11pm. If your sleep is disturbed at a certain hour repeatedly, it is an indication that the paired organ system may require your attention.

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