Enhancing Digestive Energy
Your digestive health is very much connected to your mind and your emotions. Most of us have felt “butterflies” in our stomach when we were nervous, or loss our appetite when we got angry or upset. These are isolated incidences which the body can recover from easily. Some people, however, spend a lot of time worrying or dwelling on their “problems”, or have a career (like an accountant), that requires that they spend a lot of time in deep thought. In these situations, digestive energy can become depleted. This is especially likely when combined with poor eating habits, like a student studying into the late hours of the night while drinking coffee to keep going; or, forgetting to eat or drink properly when worried over the health of a loved one.
In traditional Chinese medicine they associate depleted digestive energy with something they call a Spleen imbalance. The spleen is part of the Earth element in Chinese medicine; this includes the stomach and pancreas. When the Earth element is happy and nurtured, the Spleen is healthy with good digestion and elimination and the mind is balanced and secure, with a sense of belonging, grounding and connection. When the Earth element is imbalanced, we worry or have excessive mental agitation, lack of concentration and/or memory loss. We feel “needy” and crave comfort foods. If the imbalance continues over time, we develop more symptoms, here are some typical symptoms of this imbalance:
Joint and muscle pain
Poor digestion – food sensitivities
Loss of appetite, nausea
Allergies, sinus or lung congestion
Loose stools or constipation
Weak muscle tone (unable to absorb proteins)
Easily bruised skin
Speaking in a low soft voice
Scalloped edges on the tongue
Weakened immune system
The term Spleen in Chinese Medicine is capitalized, it refers to the organs of digestion including the stomach, pancreas and the actual spleen. The Spleen is responsible for transforming the food that we eat into the energy (Chi,) and creating healthy blood to sustain our bodies. We all know our digestive health can be affected by inappropriate diet, but it is also strongly affected by chronic worry, excessive thought and studying. An imbalance of the Spleen’s function is most often seen with people who require deep thought in their jobs or careers such as a scientist, lawyers, teachers, computer programmers, paramedics, nurses or students. It is common for these people to forget to stop and eat healthy meals, so they often have unhealthy eating habits which further weakens the digestive system. It is healthy to reflect and ponder life and situations, however, it doesn’t help to dwell on problems and worry excessively. When people are in deep thought, they tend to take shallow breaths which does not engage the diaphragm. When you breath in this way your body gets less oxygen, this puts your body in a stress response and turns off digestion. If you must engage in deep thought for a while, be conscious of how you are breathing. Take breathing breaks every ½ hour. Allow your belly to relax and allow the air to fill it up. Then exhale slowly with a long sigh, this helps release the stress from the body. Breathing this way, you activate the vagus nerve which in turn activates digestion. (The vagus nerve is one of the longest cranial nerves. It plays a major role in regulating heart rate, blood pressure, muscles in your throat and voice box, and how the gastrointestinal tract works).
I’d like to share with you a few herbal formulas which can help support and reverse depleted Spleen energy:
Chinese Spleen Activator –
This is the key formula for Spleen deficiency. Chinese Spleen Activator is a tonic formula designed to tone and strengthen the digestive system. The herbs in this formula reduce inflammation and break up gas in the digestive system, they improve a weak appetite and help increase production of digestive enzymes. This formula seems very beneficial to improving digestion of proteins. Along with digestive herbs the formula includes adaptogen herbs to support stress and strengthen your adrenal glands. I have found this formula to be very helpful in improving allergies or congestion that are tied into food sensitivities. Whenever I go through a period of stress and notice my stomach is off balance, I immediately start taking Spleen Activator. It is an amazing product.
Kava Kava – When I can’t turn my mind off, or worry too much, I reach for kava. Kava lifts the moods, calms anxiety, and improves mental focus while relaxing the mind at the same time. Kava has a long history of use in the Pacific islands. The kava roots are ground and soaked to create a beverage which is very relaxing. The use of kava as a ceremonial beverage goes back 3000 years. Today many cites have kava bars popping up as an alternative place to hang out with friends, without alcohol. We have one in our city; they are very popular with the younger generation.
In relation to a Spleen deficiency, kava can help calm you down when you are worried or anxious. If your mind won’t shut off at bedtime, kava can help. You can also use Chinese Stress Relief to quiet a busy mind, but kava has a more powerful relaxation property.
Distress Remedy – is a homeopathic flower remedy formulated after Dr. Bach’s famous Rescue Remedy. This formula helps in situations of emotional distress or trauma. Did you come home from work all upset because you nearly wrecked your car in an accident, or perhaps you received a call that contained troubling news? Reach for Distress Remedy, it brings you to a place of balance during fear, panic or traumatic experiences. Distress Remedy allows one to find the calm amid the storm and find your sense of trust and peace. This is a wonderful formula to have on hand in every home. You can take 10-15 drops under the tongue or sipped in a little water. Take it every 10 minutes or so, until you feel yourself become centered and calm. After that, you can follow the instructions on the label. Distress Remedy is great to have on hand for children when they hurt themselves or get upset and lose control of their emotions. If you tend to get worked up over little things, then you may want to carry Distress Remedy with you for a couple weeks, while you work on new ways to perceive stressful situations. It’s a wonderful formula to have in your herbal medicine cabinet.
Diet – When your digestive energy is depleted you do not want to eat cold foods or beverages. In fact, traditional Chinese medical doctors teach that drinking cold iced beverages can contribute to the formation of Spleen deficiency, as can prolonged juice fasting or a raw food diet. Since the digestive fire is weak, they recommend steamed veggies, warm soups, and light protein meals. A Spleen enhancing diet would include Sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, leaks and onions, warm grains like oatmeal, or rice and stewed or baked fruit instead of raw (cold). Ginger or fennel teas with meals is also helpful. Consider steamed greens instead of a salad. The idea is to rest the digestion so it can repair and rebuild. Digestive enzymes could also be added to help lessen the load on the stomach.
I hope this information helps you to build a healthier, happier you.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose illness nor prescribe treatment. We do not claim or imply that any instruction, advice, counsel, recommendations or products that we provide will cure, treat, prevent, or mitigate any disease condition. They are provided solely for nourishing and strengthening the natural function of the various body organs and systems.
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