Physical Well-being and Gut Health
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there is no doubt that “we are what we eat”. Our TCM expert, Philippa Harvey, explains the importance between physical well-being and intestinal health.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there is no doubt that “we are what we eat” herbs and diet are essential pillars in health and wellness management. However we would like to highlight a very important element to our relationship with food and physical well-being. It is not all about calories or nutrients. For us, from where we are eating matters, too. We don’t mean a lovely restaurant or my kitchen table. We mean how are we feeling when we eat? What are our emotions up to as we eat and digest?
Here we come back to the old saying “trust your gut”. In TCM the link between the gut and all of the body’s organs has been recognised for thousands of years. How our gut responds to life can indicate how we are emotionally. Do we come home exhausted, grab the first bag of chips, or go for the bottle of wine as an “I deserve this.“ Or do we feel, “I can’t stomach this,” or do we have butterflies in our stomach? Being aware of our gut and what is going on should be a practice in self-awareness.
What is the gut exactly? In Western medicine, the gut refers to the entire gastrointestinal system; from where we swallow food to where it is eliminated. The TCM conception of the gut is slightly different: we focus more on the spleen and stomach.
However, TCM does address other parts of the gastrointestinal system, for example the large intestine, which apart from the elimination function has a very important role in the immune system. Emotionally we would say that a blocked large intestine means we have a difficulty in being able to “let go”. The small intestine, apart from its role in absorption and distribution of nutrients, is also emotionally associated with “moods”. When our moods are low, normally we will also have some small intestine issues.
The spleen is very important in TCM, though it is not an organ that is talked about a lot. The spleen sits in the upper left part of the abdomen. It’s located behind our ribs, under our diaphragm, and above and behind to our stomach. In Western medicine this organ is mainly associated with the immune system and helps to fight off infections while also filtering damaged and old cells out of our bloodstream. In TCM it is an integral part of our gut and we do talk about it a lot, in particular in our modern society of high achievers.
That is why we remind our patients to think about “from where are you eating?” In TCM the spleen has two functions: one is to help with the absorption of nutrition and the second function is to feed the mind. So eating while reading a magazine, or being on the phone, or during a business lunch puts this little organ in a position of conflict of interest. It ends up asking you, “What do you want? To feed your mind or to feed your body?” To help balance this, we suggest please eat and only eat. Switch the mind off, turn down productivity mode, and for a few moments enjoy your food.
In TCM, apart from what we eat, we also believe that food is not just about calories, but has energy associated to it. We absolutely endorse that physical well-being is directly related to gut health, we just add mental gut health to physical gut health. So stop and enjoy your food. It’s the energy that the best machines run on: your body.