When it comes to health, our digestion takes centre stage. Through the process of breaking down the food and drinks we consume, valuable nutrients are absorbed and things like excessive fluid, indigestible fibre, and toxins are eliminated. A properly working digestion separates out the nutrition from the waste or, as they say in Chinese medicine, ‘the clear from the turbid’, but when this system breaks down, then the whole body suffers. This is why a good doctor of Chinese medicine will ask many questions about your digestion.
Think about it for a moment. If you don’t poop regularly, like everyday, and easily, then you may be holding onto things that you don’t need, which may be influencing your health. Dry, hard-to-push poop may indicate that you are not absorbing water very well and that you are dehydrated, either from a lack of water intake, or from the inflammation experienced from something like a skin disease. In Chinese medicine theory, if the bowels don’t open on a regular basis, then heat toxins may accumulate in the body and cause diseases which are hot, red, painful, itchy, etc.
As an example, I once treated a woman with terrible acne, who was lucky to have a bowel movement every 3 days, and even then it was often dry, pebbly and hard to push. As part of the treatment I used herbal medicines to improve her ability to poop regularly, which ultimately allowed her skin to heal. By the end of several months of treatment, this woman had clear skin and was able to have an easy to push bowel movement every day – without having to rely on any extra medicine intake. She just had to ensure that she had enough fresh vegetables in her diet, which is good advice for everyone!
Acne – Before herbal treatment
Acne – after treatment with herbal medicines
Likewise, if you poop too often, like several times a day, and it is quite soft, or watery (say even like diarrhea), then you may not be holding on to things long enough to absorb valuable nutrients that you need to thrive. Watery and loose bowel movements can also show that too much water has build up and become stuck in the body. In Chinese medicine theory this stuck water is a pathogen called ‘dampness’ and is seen as a cause of many diseases, especially skin disorders that are weepy and swollen, but also for irritable bowels, joint pains, muscle fatigue, headaches, chronic cough, and even infertility.
For example, a patient came to see me with extremely itchy eczema on her face, which was regularly oozing lots of yellow fluid (deemed a staph infection) and would not heal very well, even with topical steroid use and internal antibiotics. She tended to have quite messy bowel movements, which were very loose, watery, and several times a day. She also had much bloating and stomach discomfort. I decided that this patient had an excessive build up of water and so used bitter herbal medicines to help dry out dampness and to help firm up her digestion. After a few weeks of treatment, this patient’s skin improved dramatically and so did her bowels, as she was now having one well formed poop a day and with no more bloating and stomach discomfort.
Eczema – before herbal treatment
Eczema – after treatment with herbal medicines
Again, the main role of our digestion is to separate out the nutrition from the waste, the clear from the turbid. A breakdown in this process can show that the body is weak and not functioning properly and/ or that the body has accumulated things that it doesn’t need, i.e. is full of a gunk which is bogging down our health. Our digestion can become dysfunctional for several reasons, but chronic stress and poor eating habits are probably the primary reasons causing trouble. So find time to de-stress (my favorite is through outdoor exercise) and eat a diet full of good quality fresh foods. Limit your intake of sugary and greasy processed junk food!
You have probably heard of the modern term ‘leaky gut syndrome’, and how poor digestion is linked to all kinds of diseases, including those that are autoimmune, well this is the simplified Chinese medicine point of view of the same thing. In reality, it is just common sense. How our body absorbs what is good, and eliminates what is bad, will play a vital role in our health status.
Wishing you good health,
Dr. Trevor Erikson