Poor digestion according to Chinese Medicine

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Poor digestion 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 poor digestion 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 poor digestion is often associated with poor appetite, fatigue and loose stools in the pattern “Spleen Qi Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause poor digestion.

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

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause poor digestion

In Chinese Medicine poor digestion is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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 poor digestion, other symptoms associated with Spleen Qi Deficiency include poor appetite, fatigue and loose stools.

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

Phlegm clogging the Lungs with Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Thick white coating

In addition to poor digestion, other symptoms associated with Phlegm clogging the Lungs with Qi Stagnation include poor appetite, coughing and wheezing with copious sputum and focal distention of the chest.

Phlegm clogging the Lungs with Qi Stagnation is often treated with San Zi Yang Qin Tang, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including White Mustard Seeds - Bai Jie Zi - as a key herb). San Zi Yang Qin Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that warm and transform phlegm-cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Directs the Qi downward".

Read more about Phlegm clogging the Lungs with Qi Stagnation here

Three herbal formulas that might help with poor digestion

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 poor digestion?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Qi Deficiency include poor appetite, fatigue and loose stools.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

San Zi Yang Qin Tang

Source date: 1856 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Directs the Qi downward. Transforms Phlegm. Reduces harbored food.

Why might San Zi Yang Qin Tang help with poor digestion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm clogging the Lungs with Qi Stagnation' of which poor digestion is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm Clogging The Lungs With Qi Stagnation include poor appetite, coughing and wheezing with copious sputum and focal distention of the chest.

Read more about San Zi Yang Qin Tang here

Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. Clears Phlegm and mucus. Promotes appetite.

Why might Liu Jun Zi Tang help with poor digestion?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Qi Deficiency include poor appetite, fatigue and loose stools.

Read more about Liu Jun Zi Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat poor digestion

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with poor digestion?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat poor digestion as a symptom, like Si Jun Zi Tang or Liu Jun Zi Tang 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 Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with poor digestion?

Because Ginseng is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat poor digestion as a symptom, like Si Jun Zi Tang or Liu Jun Zi Tang for instance.

Ginseng is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Read more about Ginseng here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with poor digestion?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat poor digestion as a symptom, like Si Jun Zi Tang or Liu Jun Zi Tang 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 Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with poor digestion?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat poor digestion as a symptom, like Si Jun Zi Tang or Liu Jun Zi Tang for instance.

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

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 Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with poor digestion?

Because it is a key herb in Ba Zhen Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Spleen Qi Deficiency' (a pattern with poor digestion as a symptom)

Prepared Rehmannia is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Tonifies the Yin of the Kidneys.

Read more about Prepared Rehmannia here