So this week I’ve had a sore tummy. A really, really sore tummy. Like things are a bit stuck, a bit bloated (like a big, round drum-skin), a bit sore (especially after eating), I’m really not hungry and I’m more than a bit gassy. Now, that all might be a bit TMI (and sorry if it is) but as I chat to more and more people, I realise that this is a normal thing for lots of ladies and dudes. Not just an ‘I’m feeling a bit off and outta whack’ sort of thing, but an everyday thing. That’s not okay. Your tummy is meant to be your friend not your enemy and if you’re getting any (or all) of the troubles that I’ve been getting then your tummy is trying to tell you something.
I used to have these kinds of troubles a lot as a teenager and I tried lots of different things to alleviate the weird rumbling pressure I would feel in my abdomen. For years I saw an Ayurvedic doctor – an older dude who was a complete boss. He totally knew his stuff, but one of the things he used to get me to do was drink castor oil to give my intestines a good clean out. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried castor oil, but it’s disgusting. Seriously, the stuff used to make me wretch so much I could never get it down. The whole ‘intestine clean out’ thing just became so fraught that it was easier to just deal with the sore tummy.
Once I got a little bit older (and discovered the powers of Google and Chinese Medicine school) I started to encounter new ways to help my tummy smile. They’re not difficult. They’re not expensive. They do take a little bit of forethought, but that’s a heap easier than having a heavy belly weighing you down all day. They’re now my go-to when my tummy is feeling a bit flat (or bloated, as the case may be). You can pick one or two of them (mix and match as you please) or go whole-hog and try the lot. Not all at once though -please remember that your tummy is feeling delicate and throwing a whole lot of remedies at it will probably make the situation worse. Maybe pick one or two a day to add into your routine slowly so that you’re doing a digestive health sneak-attack instead of a full-frontal ‘I AM SPARTA’ onslaught.
Digestion from a Chinese Medicine point of view
The two main digestive organs in the TCM body are the SPLEEN and the STOMACH. The Stomach starts off the digestive process by taking in food and beginning to ‘rot and ripen’ it (or mush it up for later digestive processes). The Spleen, on the other hand is the centre of the body. It is the main organ that takes what the Stomach has mushed and separates it into pure and impure fluids. It sends the impure fluids downwards for excretion but sends the pure fluids upwards to create your Jin Ye (body fluids) and Blood. It also uses these pure fluids to feed your ‘four sides’ (the four limbs of the body). Therefore if your digestion is sluggish, you’re getting pain after eating or you’re bloated, it’s your Spleen that we need to look at.
Digestive health mix n’ match
KEEP IT LIGHT AND WARM – This is a good tip to stick to regardless of whether your tummy is feeling strong or not. Keep your meals smallish - your stomach is only the size of your two palms cupped together – to make sure that you’re not overloading your digestive system while it’s feeling sluggish. Try to have the majority of your food cooked and make sure that nothing is cold. Your digestive system functions at body temperature (around 37 degrees Celsius). As soon as your eat or drink something straight cooler than that (i.e. straight from the fridge), your Spleen and other digestive organs have to work harder to heat the food up to body temperature before they can even begin to digestive it.
MINDFUL EATING – do you eat while scrolling, reading, watching, walking around or just generally focusing on everything except what you’re feeding your face? Hmmmm…. it’s not the best habit to be in (don’t worry – I do it too). If you can, start to really focus on your meal. Slow down, look at it, taste it, chew it and really get all up and into your meal. Digestion starts in our mouths with our saliva (which has a heap of digestive enzymes in it), and often when we’re scrolling or focusing on other things our salivary glands don’t realize that we’re eating and completely miss out on the action. If our salivary glands don’t get started, then our tummies don’t start to secrete Hydrochloric Acid (HCL - the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down proteins into digestible amino acids in the stomach) and other enzymes that we need later on in the digestive process. Basically, our bodies don’t realize that we need to digest! By sitting down in a calm and quiet place to eat you, you not only give your body a chance to chill out, but you also allow your body to go through the full digestive process.
ACUPRESSURE – ST-25 – this particular acupuncture is the front-Mu point of the Large Intestine organ, the middle of the body (from a TCM perspective) and the meeting point of Yin and Yang in the body. It’s located two knuckles on either side of your belly button and right over the nerve reflex for your large intestine. All of this aside, it’s a bonza point for stimulating a bit of action in your bowels if things are feeling stuck.
HOW TO: If you feel a bit bloated or you’re on the loo and things aren’t moving, find the point on your belly, take a deep breath in, press the point inwards quite hard and breath out slowly. Keep the pressure on the point for 5-10 deep, slow breaths and see what a difference it makes!
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR (ACV) – this little bottle of goodness is one of the first things I like to introduce people to. This is a special type of vinegar made using apples that are crushed and then fermented. It's important to get the raw or organic versions as they contain a 'mother' - a super helpful bacterial mushroom that provides your tummy with a whole heap of happy tummy helpers. By having 1-3tsps of ACV in a glass of water 15-20 minutes before a meal you begin to increase the amount of HCL in your tummy. This helps to ease and quicken your digestive process. Generally I just do this in the morning when I first wake up, but when my tummy is having some trouble I do it before lunch and dinner as well.
MASSAGE – who doesn’t love massage? Did you know that you can give yourself a relaxing AND helpful treatment in 5 minutes before you go to bed at night? Grab a bit of body oil (or hand cream or whatever you’ve got lying around) and pop yourself off to bed. Rub a bit of oil/hand cream/whatever on to your tummy, and starting at the bottom right corner near your hipbone start massaging upwards to your ribs. Just go in the one direction, starting lightly at the surface and then working deeper. Then go from your right ribs across the diaphragm to your left ribs. Then down from your left ribs to your left hipbone. Make sure you keep this order – that way your freeing up your intestines in the way they naturally move. Start light and get deeper as your massage. By the time you’ve finished you should have moved your intestines around and relaxed yourself enough to sleep!
BTW: make sure you leave at least 2 hours in between dinner and the massage – it doesn’t feel so good on a full stomach.
MAGNESIUM – magnesium is one little wonder supplement that is completely essential to the body for more than 300 processes. One of the things it does is help to digestive processes by stimulating specific peptides to break down proteins in your digestive tract. It also facilitates ATP (the fundamental energy storage process in your cells), making it essential for your metabolism to function. Magnesium in the body also works in conjunction with Calcium to regulate electrical impulses in the body. In a nutshell, it regulates your muscular actions and helps them to relax. As your digestive tract is essentially a long muscle that works through peristalsis (or muscular contractions), by increasing your magnesium intake, you will generally have an increase in peristaltic (or digestive) action. If you’re constipated things will begin to move a bit more easily, while if your stools are loose you should be able to hold onto your food for a bit longer. There are a few ways to up your magnesium – either through a powder (chat to your local health food store and choose one you can have before bed), crystals you can add to your water bottle, or a gel you can rub into your muscles. You can also increase the types of nuts, whole grains and leafy greens that you eat – all three contain lots of magnesium!
SLIPPERY ELM POWDER – When something’s wrong and I don’t know why, this is the stuff that I turn to. This powder is made from the inner bark of the Slippery Elm tree and has been used for centuries by Native Americans to make salves for wounds, poultices for boils and ulcers and dressings for burns. It has this awesome quality where is becomes mucilaginous when it comes in contact with water. This means that it becomes slimy, slippery and gel-like (thus the name). This allows it to have a buffering and soothing effect on all mucous membranes. As you take it orally, the mucilage coats your mouth, oesophagus and gastrointestinal tracts with a residue that soothes inflammation. It also creates a great little barrier between your intestines and stomach acid - this both helps to heal and prevent any ulcers and inflammation you might be experiencing! It also has a mild ‘bulking’ effect once it’s absorbed water, so when it’s taken it helps to, ahem, clear our your digestive tract. Literally. This stuff tastes a bit weird and bland, but it’s totally like a big hug for your tummy. If you’re feeling a bit ‘off’ in the belly-region like I am today, give your insides a hug. Nip to the cupboard, grab a teaspoon or two of this, add enough warm water to turn it into loose sludge and drink it down!
BONE BROTH – bone broth is like normal stock but it’s made with big bones – generally sourced from the local butcher for a few dollars a kilo. The slow cooking with ACV leeches tones of nutrients (including chondroitin and glucosamine) out of the bones and into the broth to help those with inflammation and arthritis. You should find that your broth becomes jelly-like when cooled which means it’s full of gelatin to help rebuild your gut lining.
HOW TO: Chat to your butcher and get them to give you’re a kilo of bones (beef, lamb, pork, whatever) for a few dollars. Go home and stick them in the slow cooker. Cover them with water, a dash of ACV and then let them cook on low for 12-48 hours. Once done, take out the bones, let the broth cool in the fridge (leave it in the slow cooker pot) before skimming off the layer of fat on the top. Then portion into 1-2 cup containers and freeze. When you’re feeling crook, take a portion out of the freezer, heat up and drink with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
KOMBUCHA (& OTHER FERMENTED GOODIES) – there were a few days this week where I couldn’t eat – everything hurt too much and I was generally too nauseous. So….ginger beer to the rescue! Well, not quite. It was more like Kombucha to the rescue! This is a lovely effervescent and tangy drink that is kind of like a healthy soda. Except not as sweet. And it’s basically tea and sugar that has been fermented with a SCOBY (a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) so that all the sugars are digested and it becomes carbonated naturally. Basically any naturally fermented food is full of probiotic-goodness to help re-introduce good digestive bacteria into your tummy after being sick. It’s also tasty and gentle on tummies that don’t want to eat anything. And it’s a bit ‘zingy’ – to help give you some pep in your step.
CHINESE HERBAL MEDICINE – Chinese medicine bases itself around the smooth flow of Qi and Blood around the body. When one of the organs is feeling low then there are a number of herbal formula that can be used to redirect QI and Blood where they’re meant to go and help boost up your internal organ function. This particular formula is one that I keep in my cupboard all the time to boost my Spleen function but there are quite a few others that can be used depending on your particular digestive needs.
ACUPUNCTURE – have a chat to your local acupuncturist. If your tummy is off there’s a few things they can do with the pins to tune up your digestive system. Once the digestive system is targeted in a treatment, clients begin to feel their digestive systems ignite, start to gurgle and things begin moving around again. Generally 2-3 treatments will be enough to super-charge your digestive system and get it back to it’s normal self.
Have you tried any of these things before?
Did they work for you?
Or have you got any fantastic remedies that you could share with everyone?
Let me know how you go!
P.S. Here's a picture of me getting some herbal patches for digestion stuck onto my tummy in Chengdu - oh the weird things we do for health!
If you would like any more information, or you have any questions please feel free to call me on 0408 402 512 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PLEASE NOTE: In saying all of this, its super important to listen to your body. What does it want? What is it telling you? Is it saying that you need something in particular? It’s really important to gather information to make the choices that are right for you and your body. This information isn’t personal medical advice – rather it’s a guideline on ways that could help you to live a healthier, happier lifestyle. It is always wise to consult with a qualified health practitioner before starting any new herbs, supplements or dietary and lifestyle programs.