Indigestion according to Chinese Medicine

Indigestion 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 indigestion 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 indigestion is often associated with abdominal pain, vomiting and stifling sensation in the chest and abdomen in the pattern “Qi Stagnation”.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of indigestion we’ve identified two 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 indigestion.

Qi Stagnation, a "pattern of disharmony" that can cause indigestion

In Chinese Medicine indigestion is a symptom for the pattern "Qi Stagnation". Below is a small explanation for it with links for more details.

Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) is the king ingredient for Xiao Yao San, a formula used for Qi Stagnation

Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Red sides

Qi Stagnation refers to Qi becoming stuck or stagnant, a bit like a traffic jam on the freeway. This restricted flow of Qi can be body-wide or happen in any specific Organ.

In addition to indigestion, other symptoms associated with Qi Stagnation include abdominal pain, vomiting and stifling sensation in the chest and abdomen.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Late Menstruation.

Qi Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Qi Stagnation here

Two herbal formulas that might help with indigestion

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Why might Xiao Yao San help with indigestion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi Stagnation' of which indigestion is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi Stagnation include abdominal pain, vomiting and stifling sensation in the chest and abdomen.

Read more about Xiao Yao San here

Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Source date: 1602

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. Alleviates pain. Harmonizes Blood.

Why might Chai Hu Shu Gan San help with indigestion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi Stagnation' of which indigestion is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi Stagnation include abdominal pain, vomiting and stifling sensation in the chest and abdomen.

Read more about Chai Hu Shu Gan San here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat indigestion

Why might Bupleurum Root (Chai Hu) help with indigestion?

Because Bupleurum Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat indigestion as a symptom, like Xiao Yao San or Chai Hu Shu Gan San for instance.

Bupleurum Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Harmonizes exterior and interior. Smoothes the Liver and upraises the Yang.

Read more about Bupleurum Roots here

Why might Coco-Grass Rhizome (Xiang Fu) help with indigestion?

Because Coco-Grass Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat indigestion as a symptom, like Chai Hu Shu Gan San or Yue Ju Wan for instance.

Coco-Grass Rhizomes is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter, Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Liver and the Sanjiao.

Its main actions are: Unblocks Stagnant Liver Qi and relieves pain. Regulates the Liver and Spleen. Assists the regulation of menses and relieves pain.

Read more about Coco-Grass Rhizomes here

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with indigestion?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat indigestion as a symptom, like Yue Ju Wan or Xiao Yao San for instance.

Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Read more about Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with indigestion?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat indigestion as a symptom, like Xiao Yao San or Chai Hu Shu Gan San for instance.

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

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 Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with indigestion?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat indigestion as a symptom, like Chai Hu Shu Gan San or Yue Ju Wan 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