There are many paths to choose when it comes to losing weight and making healthy food choices. What choices are best for your individual body, is the most important aspect to focus on. Constitutionally, our bodies are different and therefore need different things. What works well for one person, might not work as well for the next. In Chinese medicine, nutrition involves looking at the person’s tongue, observing their pulse and looking deeper into the patient’s symptoms to prescribe the foods that well be most beneficial for that patient.
This article will go into some of the main diagnoses we see at Lakewood Community Acupuncture in regards to patients trying to manage their weight. We will further elaborate on how acupuncture can help balance the body to increase metabolism, improve digestion and support overall healthy weight management.
SPLEEN & STOMACH DISHARMONY: When the spleen and stomach are not properly communicating, digestion is off. The spleen and stomach are the two organs of the Earth element, our center. If our center is off, it is impossible to remain balanced. These two meridians within the Earth element allow us to receive food and drink, turn it into the proper digestive fluid and then distribute it to all of our vital organs and systems as fuel.
The Spleen is called the Official of Transportation and Distribution. Everything that moves in the body due to the Spleen’s function. If the Spleen energy isn’t present, organs, functions, and systems will suffer when they are deprived of the Spleen’s nourishment. You do not need to physically have your spleen organ, for this energy to be present. The Spleen in Chinese medicine also includes the energy of the Pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for providing the chemicals needed to digest foods properly.
The Stomach meridian helps with the Spleen meridian in the assimilation of Qi from food and fluids through digestion and absorption. The Stomach is called the ‘Minister of the Mill’, the ‘Sea of Nourishment’, and the ‘Root of Postnatal Life.’ In addition to digesting foods and liquids and moving them to the small intestine for extraction and assimilation, the Stomach also has an important energetic job. It extracts energy from foods and fluids, and coordinates with Spleen to transport that energy to the lungs. There it combines with Qi from the air we breathe. When the Stomach is imbalanced, digestive and stomach problems will manifest such as abdominal pain, distension, acid reflux, bad breath, edema and/or vomiting.
When the Spleen and Stomach aren’t properly communicating then digestion, extraction, assimilation, movement will all fail to happen properly. Acupuncture points to balance the Spleen and Stomach include but are not limited to: UB20, UB21, CV12, ST36, SP 3, SP 4, SP 6, SP 8. Specific herb formulas and diet recommendations can be given after your initial consult at Lakewood Community Acupuncture since everyone is different and should have specialized formulas and food recommendations.
DAMPNESS & PHLEGM
When the Qi is not properly flowing through the Spleen and Stomach officials (along with some other meridians involved in fluid metabolism) then dampness and even phlegm start to accumulate in the body. Dampness and phlegm can manifest as edema, swelling, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, mucus production in throat/lungs/stomach/nasal passages, asthma, eczema, allergies, productive cough and many more symptoms.
The main dietary culprits for damp and phlegm are sugar, dairy, greasy/fried foods and gluten. We highly recommend to patients with the above symptoms to cut out these phlegm-contributors from their diets. If you are trying to get pregnant or lose weight, changing your lifestyle to exclude gluten, dairy, sugar and greasy foods will prevent the body from going into an inflammatory response and show health benefits immediately.
Herbs that dissolve phlegm and dampness are moving and drying in nature. Astringent herbs that are sour in taste can help to absorb dampness in the body when used in moderation. ST 40 and SP 9 are great acupuncture points for damp in the body and LU 7 and KD 26 help with all phlegm disorders. Other points for phlegm and damp are chosen depending on the temperature of the disorder.
SPLEEN QI DEFICIENCY
When looking at people with weak Spleen Qi, the patient may be stuck in self pity, may lack the ability and motivation to move toward goals, may feel ungrounded, uncentered, uncomfortable in his own skin, disjointed, isolated, unsatisfied, jealous that others are being cared about, but not him. Thoughts may become muddled and there can be feelings of fogginess and fatigue. The lack of motivation and want to sleep constantly make it hard to motivate towards fixing these problems. Herbs and acupuncture are a great start for these patients.
Acupuncture points to build Spleen Qi include, but are not limited to, LU 9, ST 36, SP 3, SP 4, SP 6, CV 4 and GV 4. These all play a roll in building the Spleen Qi either directly through the Spleen meridian or with the use of paired channels and deeper energetic connections. For example, GV 4 tonifies Kidney Qi and Yang, which in turn improves the function and strength of Spleen Qi. Some key herbs for tonifying Spleen Qi are codonopsis (dang shen), ginseng (ren shen), astragalus (huang qi) and jujube dates (da zao). These herbs can be found in many Chinese herbal formulas which strengthen the digestive system and increase metabolism.
Once the patient is feeling more balanced and energized with acupuncture and herbs, working more towards diet and adding in foods that boost Spleen Qi are highly recommended. What we feed ourselves is what nourishes our mind, body and spirit and is of utmost importance.
KIDNEY DEFICIENCY (Qi and/or Yang)
Kidney Qi and Yang deficiencies will also manifest with severe grogginess, fatigue and lack of willpower and drive. Low back pain and urinary issues are also common with this diagnosis. If Kidney Yang deficiency, signs of cold will also be present such as cold abdomen, cold hands/feet/limbs and poor circulation. The Kidneys are important in digestion because they provide energy to the Spleen, so if the Kidneys are deficient, the Spleen is also.
The Kidney dislikes cold. Cold foods deplete kidney yang and blocks its ability to warm the body. When talking about digestion, the kidney yang can be seen in the digestive process as the digestive fire needed to effectively transform food into qi and blood. If the digestive fire is weak, it cannot provide enough warmth and energy to digest our food and results in diarrhea, bloating, poor appetite and dull abdominal pain.
To support the Kidney through diet it is nourishing to consume bone broths and stews cooked at low temperature, slowly. Celtic sea salt will help with adrenal health which is linked to the kidneys as long as it is used in moderation. Incorporate foods with strengthening and warming action. Cabbage, chives, fennel, leeks, onions, potato, radish, scallions, sweet potato, yam cherries, grapes, mulberry black beans, lentils, chicken, duck, goat, lamb, pork, venison, lobster, oysters, mussels, smoked fish, salmon, shrimp, trout, tuna, walnuts, chestnuts, pistachio, lotus seeds, sesame seeds, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, corn, ginger, garlic, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, chive, basil, and spiced tea will support the kidneys. Make sure to check with your practitioner on which of these will be best for your body’s constitution. It is important to avoid sugar, artificial sweeteners, coffee, alcohol, highly processed foods and excessive intake of salt. Avoid raw and cold foods/drinks or ice water. Minimize eating raw foods, like salads especially in the winter. Don’t overeat and don’t eat late at night because these habits damage the kidneys, especially when already weak.
Some of the acupuncture points used to build Kidney Qi and Yang are GV 4, KD 3, KD 6 and KD 7. Warming points are important to include when tonifying Yang. Herbs and foods are very important when building our Kidney energy. Nutritional supplements, such as vitamins and minerals, are vital for the Kidney energy and adrenals proper functioning. The Heart Sound Recorder at Lakewood Community Acupuncture, can help monitor essential minerals and nutrients the body is lacking. Read more here: https://lakewoodacupuncture.org/nutrition-for-the-heart-program/.
LIVER QI STAGNATION
When the Liver energy becomes stagnant, it begins to attack the Spleen and Stomach making digestion nearly impossible. Stress, anger, lack of exercise and movement, alcohol, fatty/greasy foods and poor sleep patterns all lead to Liver Qi stagnation. Once Liver Qi is stagnant, symptoms become exacerbated with more stress, more anger, headaches, PMS, hay fever, vertigo and of course, digestive problems as the Liver meridian begins to damage the Stomach and Spleen meridians.
There are powerful points in acupuncture and acupressure that help to move stagnant Liver Qi. The most popular point used being Liver 3 (between the 1st and 2nd metatarsal bone on the top of the foot). Popular formulas prescribed to decrease Liver Qi stagnation and support the Spleen energy are Shao Yao San, Chai Hu Shu Gan San and Bao He Wan.
As for dietary intake, now is the time to eat your leafy greens. Bitter greens are even better, such a dandelion greens, arugula and kale. Some spice can help move Liver Qi but don’t overdo it on the heat because excess heat will dry up fluids and lead to stagnation. Eliminate foods that congest the liver like saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, excess amounts of nuts, and highly processed foods. Eating habits can stagnate and congest the liver as well, so don’t skip meals, eat quickly, overeat, eat late, or eat when emotionally upset. Relax and enjoy the meal you prepared.
Relax and enjoy your healthy meal, is a great motto to live by. As for a mantra, “I am what I eat,” can be helpful to think of when walking through the grocery store and choosing the food that will nourish you throughout the week. Shopping the perimeter of the store is a great way to avoid processed food and quite literally a lot of toxic, junk food. Fresh fruits, vegetables, fats and proteins tend to be kept on the perimeter of the store. So stay out of those middle aisles and out of those fast food lines and remain calm and healthy. Your vitality is depending on it.
About the author: Crystal Jancovic, L.Ac is co-founder of Lakewood Community Acupuncture in Lakewood, Colorado, which is the first nonprofit community acupuncture clinic in the state. She believes fully in offering affordable healthcare to her community and becoming an active community member through supporting local businesses, growing her own food with her family, attending community events and keeping her patients healthy and happy.