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Healthy Cells is a local health magazine with most of the articles written by local professionals. People love to read about healthcare from their local health professionals. Each month includes a wide variety of articles on various topics.
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Heal Your Gut With Chinese Medicine

When patients come to me for a treatment, no matter what their chief complaints might be, I always ask about their digestive function. More often than not, people will take a moment to think, and then respond by telling me that they get bloated or have heartburn after meals, or that they feel tired an hour or two after eating. Constipation or diarrhea can be common problems during times of stress, or first thing in the morning. For many, these problems have gone on for so long that they simply assume this is “just how they are,” or it’s “normal for them.” I always make a note of these problems, and then while we are addressing their more pressing issues, I add in points to help with digestion and gut health. Why? Because more often than not, both their chronic illness or pain and their gut imbalance are related.

    Hippocrates is attributed with having said that “All diseases begin in the gut.” In Chinese medicine, there is an entire school of thought devoted to the treatment of digestive diseases. During my studies, my professors stressed to me again and again the importance of examining appetite and digestion before choosing a treatment plan.
    Modern research is beginning to support this idea that our gut health is crucial to our overall wellness. We now know that an imbalance in gut flora can contribute to obesity, diabetes, arthritis, depression, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, etc. Most people have a vague notion that maintaining a good balance of gut flora is beneficial, but aren’t sure what steps to take to repair and restore their guts to optimal health.
    Here are some positive steps you can take to help your digestion according to Chinese Medicine Principals:

1. Eat cooked foods over raw — Often times, individuals I see that have problems with gas and bloating are consuming large quantities of raw vegetables. Salads are a popular lunch choice for people trying to maintain and lose weight, for example. While raw foods are good in moderation, gently cooked foods are more easily digested. In Chinese Medicine, we say that a “digestive fire” is necessary to avoid digestive diseases. Cold foods put out the digestive fire, but gently warmed or cooked foods stoke this fire. If you do consume raw foods, add warming ingredients to stoke this fire, such as pepper, horseradish, or mustard.

2. Less is more — A digestive system that has been overburdened by years of processed foods, or by excessive food intake, cannot keep pace with elimination and detoxification. This will lead to a wide array of disorders. So, one of the simplest ways to ease the burden on the digestive system is to simply eat less. The best way to do this is to eat smaller portions and to only eat until you are 2/3 of the way full. This may take some practice, as most of us are used to eating until our plates are cleared or eating until we are completely satiated!

3. Eat high quality food — Not only should we work to reduce the quantity of food we consume, but we should also improve the quality of food that we eat. Switching from chemically grown to organically grown, from processed to fresh, and from distant to locally grown are all ways that we can improve the quality of our food.

4. Don’t eat under stress — This is so hard for many of us, as we often eat while rushing out the door, on the way to drop the kids off, or hunched over our desks at work. More than not, we eat while doing other tasks. Yet, in order for optimal digestion to take place, the body needs to be relaxed. The parasympathetic nervous system needs to take over in order for our bodies to “rest and digest.” If our sympathetic nervous system is activated (our “fight or flight” mode), we will not properly digest our food and will be left feeling unsatisfied. So, whenever possible, take a moment to sit quietly with your meal. As the weather warms up, sit on a bench outside instead of at your desk. Wake a few minutes earlier in the morning to have breakfast. Make time for meals, and your digestive system will thank you!

5. Chew! — Digestion doesn’t begin in the stomach; it begins in the mouth. The process of breaking down our food begins with chewing. Our saliva contains digestive enzyme which begin the process before our food is even swallowed. If food is eaten hurriedly or is improperly chewed, it will not sit well in one’s stomach. Practice chewing a mouthful of food 30 times before you swallow, and you’ll be surprised by how this feels compared to our normal, rushed way of eating.

6. Get acupuncture — For those whose digestive systems are so far out of balance that they suffer daily indigestion, heartburn, bloating, gas, and constipation or diarrhea, acupuncture is a good place to get some help, in addition to seeking help from their primary care physician or specialist. There are a wide range of acupuncture points that helps to restore digestive health, found on the abdomen, as well as on the hands and feet. Moxibustion, an herbal therapy, is wonderful for chronic diarrhea and bloating. In addition, during most acupuncture treatments, I will make suggestions for prebiotics and probiotics that may need to be added to support gut health.

    Don’t accept chronic indigestion as a normal way to go through life! Try some of the above steps and find out what works best for you.

    Michelle Pawley is a board-certified acupuncturist with a graduate degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from The Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College, Berkeley. Her office is located at 1617 E. Oakland Avenue, Bloomington. For more information or to set up a consultation, call her at 309-445-1502, or visit her online at bnacupuncture.com.



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