Abdominal bloating according to Chinese Medicine

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Abdominal bloating can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like abdominal bloating here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here abdominal bloating is often associated with coughing, chest fullness and shortness of breath in the pattern “Phlegm-Fluids”. As you will see below, we have in record four patterns that can cause abdominal bloating.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of abdominal bloating we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat abdominal bloating.

The four "patterns of disharmony" that can cause abdominal bloating

In Chinese Medicine abdominal bloating is a symptom for 4 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm-Fluids

Phlegm-Fluids

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Fluids include coughing, chest fullness and shortness of breath.

Phlegm-Fluids is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

Tongue color: Pale

Spleen Qi Deficiency is one of the most commonly seen TCM pattern. It is caused by unhealthy diet such as fat raw or cold food, bad eating habit, emotional stress or damp environment. It is the central pattern to all other Spleen disharmonies, because many other Deficiency patterns derive from it.

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Spleen Qi Deficiency include loose stools, poor appetite and pale face.

Spleen Qi Deficiency is often treated with Si Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Si Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi".

Read more about Spleen Qi Deficiency here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Cold-Damp invading the Spleen

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Slow (Chi)

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Cold-Damp invading the Spleen include loose stools, poor appetite and edema.

Cold-Damp invading the Spleen is often treated with Ping Wei San, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Black Atractylodes Rhizomes - Cang Zhu - as a key herb). Ping Wei San belongs to the category of "formulas that transform dampness and harmonize stomach", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Dampness".

Read more about Cold-Damp invading the Spleen here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Damp-Heat invading the Spleen

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Damp-Heat invading the Spleen include poor appetite, feeling of heaviness and feeling of heat.

Damp-Heat invading the Spleen is often treated with Lian Po Yin, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Goldthread Rhizomes - Huang Lian - as a key herb). Lian Po Yin belongs to the category of "formulas that clear heat and expel dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Heat".

Read more about Damp-Heat invading the Spleen here

Five herbal formulas that might help with abdominal bloating

Wu Ling San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes urination,. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Promotes Qi transformation function. Drains Dampness. Clears edema.

Why might Wu Ling San help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Fluids' of which abdominal distention and fullness is a symptom.

Read more about Wu Ling San here

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Si Jun Zi Tang help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen Qi Deficiency' of which abdominal bloating is a symptom.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Warms and transforms Phlegm-Fluids. Strengthens the Spleen. Resolves Dampness.

Why might Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Fluids' of which abdominal distention and fullness is a symptom.

Read more about Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang here

Ping Wei San

Source date: 1051 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Dries Dampness. Improves the Spleen's transportive function. Promotes the movement of Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Ping Wei San help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Cold-Damp invading the Spleen' of which abdominal and epigastric fullness is a symptom.

Read more about Ping Wei San here

Lian Po Yin

Source date: 1862 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat. Transforms Dampness. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Middle Burner.

Why might Lian Po Yin help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Heat invading the Spleen' of which abdominal and epigastric fullness is a symptom.

Read more about Lian Po Yin here

Acupuncture points used for abdominal bloating

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat abdominal bloating

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang or Er Chen Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Wu Pi Yin or Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang for instance.

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney, the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here

Why might Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Fresh Ginger is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Xiao Chai Hu Tang or Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang for instance.

Fresh Ginger is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning.

Read more about Fresh Ginger here

Why might Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Crow-Dipper Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Er Chen Tang or Wen Dan Tang for instance.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here

Why might Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang or Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang for instance.

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here