TCM Nutrition & Digestive Overview

The following is a top down synopsis of TCM views on the digestive process and general nutrition.

The Mouth is greatly influenced by the Stomach, Ren, Du, Spleen, Kidney, Liver and Large Intestine channels. Because of these complex interior/exterior channel and network relationships the mouth is influenced by and influences all of the other organs and channels.

The tongue belongs to and is ruled by the heart but on inspection primarily manifests the digestive system. This is why the Chinese doctor will always perform a tongue analysis as part of the ‘four inspections’ diagnosis process.

The teeth belong to the kidneys and ‘the back teeth are for grinding  grains the front teeth are for taking fruits and vegetables, the dog teeth are for flesh’. Because fewer of the teeth are canine or dog teeth, less animal flesh should be consumed in favor of more vegetables, fruits and grains whose use teeth make up the majority of dentition.

Clacking the teeth together 36 times promotes saliva which in itself nourishes the Dan Tian and is essential for digestion, never spit saliva, and always swallow it in thirds. The clacking of the teeth also promotes the secretion of fluids of all of the Yin organs.

Chewing the food in a thoughtful meditative manner 36 times per mouthful allows full connection with the five flavors. Eating one food at a time also strengthens the awareness of the five flavors and is the way children instinctively eat.

Humans do not normally eat anything that is not sweet. It may be sweet and sour, sweet and bitter, sweet and acrid, sweet and salty but is still sweet

The sour flavor travels to the liver and the tendons pungent or acrid travels to the lungs and qi, bitter travels to the heart and blood, salt travels to the kidneys and the bones sweet travels to the spleen and flesh.

A little of each flavor will enhance the normal function of the organs and their related tissues but;

Too much salt causes the pulse to become sluggish and the complexion to lose its vitality, the bones become weak, the muscles and flesh wither and the function of the heart becomes suppressed.

Too much bitter causes the skin to dry and the hair to fall out, the function of the spleen will not be able to transport fluids and the stomach will become tense.

Too much sour causes the liver to over produce saliva which stifles the spleens function.

Too much sweet damages the function of the heart and causes difficult breathing, chest distention; a black tongue and the kidneys will be damaged.

Too much acrid causes the muscles and pulse to become slack and the spirit will be injured.

Another function of the mouth is to regulate the mean temperature of foods, warming the cold and cooling the hot so that the food is closer to body temperature when swallowed.

When swallowing the food, follow its passage down the throat before taking the next bite.

The Stomach is the sea of water and grains, qi and blood. It separates the pure matter from the turbid, when the stomach is in harmony it sends the pure substances to the spleen and transports the turbid down to the small intestine. The proper movement of stomach qi is downward and it has the strongest downward momentum of Qi in the body.

The Ling Shu states, “The middle burner originates in the stomach. After receiving qi, it separates wastes, steams the fluids and humors and transforms them into purified essence. It conducts this essence up to the lungs where it is transformed into blood for the whole body. There is nothing more valuable than blood.”

Stomach has a preference for warm and sweet foods.

Stomach has a preference for yellow foods as yellow is the color of earth.

The stomach dislikes cold and heat alike. The natures of food are cold, cool, even, warm and hot.

The stomach will comfortably hold the contents of a ‘begging bowl’ but the being bowl needs to be replenished often.

Ming Men is the life gate fire is generated by the dynamic tension of the kidney yin, yang, and jing (prenatal essence combined with post natal essence), and is the source or spark for the middle burner fire which in turn heats the cauldron of the stomach. Because the Ming Men depends upon post natal essence, the health of the stomach and spleen is in direct proportion to how brightly the life gate fire burns.

The digestive function of the spleen is transformation and transportation, further separating the essence of the pure from the turbid of the pure and ascending the purified nutrient to the heart and lungs where it is transformed into qi and blood. As with the stomach, the ascending nature of the spleen is the strongest in the body.

Stomach separates pure matter from turbid conveying the turbid down to the intestine and passing the essence over to the spleen. The spleen separates the ‘essence of the pure’ from the ‘turbid of the pure’ and sends the turbid down to the small intestine and ascends the essence to the lungs.

The lungs combine this pure nutrient with clear air qi to form blood. Blood is moved onward to the heart and is turned red.

Some of the heart blood is sent to the liver where it is stored and part is transformed into liver blood, blood is impelled throughout the body via the hearts beating/pumping action and the liver function of dispersing and discharging.

The blood is circulated throughout the whole body, the blood and qi filling every organ to capacity.

When the five viscera become over full, the excess is shunted to the kidneys where it is refined into ‘post natal’ or acquired essence.

Post natal essence is the most rarified and concentrated matter of the body and is the chief component of post natal Qi.

The Small Intestine receives the turbid fluids from the stomach and the turbid fluids of the pure from the spleen. The small intestine further divides the turbid from the pure. The pure fluids are transformed into Jin and Ye, thin and thick body fluids. The turbid fluids are conducted to the bladder for excretion.

Large Intestine receives turbid matter and any residual turbid fluids from the stomach and further separates pure from turbid, the pure is used to nourish the kidney yang. The remainder of the turbid matter and fluid is held as feces in the colon and then excreted through the anus at the proper hour, 0:500-07:00 using the clearing and descending action of the lungs. Any time there is an excretory process like a bowel movement there is a loss of qi. It is of vital importance to keep the anus closed, especially when performing any exercise that drives qi downward.

Qi foods are light and easy to digest but not very nutritious, they tend to transform most easily into qi within the body and are essential for the metabolic function of the body. Wei foods are denser and more difficult to digest, they are very nutritious and tend to transform into blood and other material substances in the body.

Raw foods whether Qi or Wei are difficult to digest and therefore the net gain from consuming them is less than cooked foods. The exception to this is fruits which are ‘predigested’ because of the enzymes contained within them that help with quick breakdown and absorption.

Cold Foods hamper digestion by bringing the stomach temperature down, the middle burner cannot ‘cook’ the food before transit time moves food to the next phase of digestion.

In summation; selecting foods from a wide variety of flavors and sources with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits and whole grains that are properly cooked, eating small quantities often and chewing foods thoroughly are some of the simplest and soundest ways to achieve proper nutrition.

Yours in good health,

Robert Kienitz, DTCM