Chinese Medicine and Digestion

Chinese Herbs

Within the Chinese traditional medicine view, the gut is the center–the organizational nexus–of bodily life and social relations. The Chinese greeting, “Ni hao ma?” translates literally as “Have you eaten yet today?”. The industrialization of food production, along with the mechanization and acceleration of cooking and eating, have profoundly altered a primal pattern of behavior, interrupting ritual preparation and ceremonial meal times.

As is commonly assumed, but rarely acknowledged, good feeling, both toward oneself and others, as well as a sense of optimism and clarity, are affected by and dependent upon good digestion, with its consequent feelings of hardiness, contentment, and conviviality. The opposite, indigestion, induces a plethora of discomforts: bloating, heartburn, cramps, irritability, lethargy, and melancholy.

The source of indigestion lies in the disruption of the Digestive Network, governed by the Stomach and Spleen. This network is responsible for the processing of food and nutrients that form the basis of the body constituents — Qi, Moisture and Blood. It is also responsible for distributing these constituents, upward and downward through the abdominal region, and outwardly to the four limbs. When these essential activities are impeded by over-consumption of food, or weakened by under-nutrition, the vigorous, rhythmic, contractile waves of the gut become deranged. This leads to inefficient transformation, diminished absorption, the formation of gas, and the retention of undigested material.

These conditions lead to the syndrome of Qi Stagnation and Food Accumulation, producing symptoms of lingering hunger and uneasiness after eating, distention and aching of the abdomen, belching and flatulence, heartburn and reflux, irregular bowel movements, and a loss of the ability to discriminate between unreasonable cravings and true hunger. Indulging cravings, as well as eating too quickly or too much, leads to fleeting relief and persistent discontent, while satisfying true hunger produces deep feelings of pleasure, affirming the soundness of the body’s instinctual intelligence. Chinese herbs as well as acupuncture can increase the efficiency of the digestive system, which in turn enriches vitality and resilience.

Sign up for my free weekly newsletter
And Receive The First Chapter Of My New Book

...and how you can stay young, slim and happy

  • A wonderful summary here — people would be so much happier and the world might be a generally better place, if we could sort out the incredible volume of digestive problems brought on by “modern living” and the widespread ignorance of first principles regarding diet, portions, food-types and nutritional content, etc. Thank you for this column!

  • Dinki

    “Ni hao ma?” (你好吗?) does not mean “Have you eaten yet today?”. Not literally and not in any other possible translation. Literally it means: “Are you good?” since NI means YOU, HAO means GOOD and MA is a question particle. There is however a possible sentence that does mean “Have you eaten today” and it goes like this: “Chi le ma?” (吃了吗?).

  • AdaLovelace

    “Hi hao ma?” (你好吗?) does NOT translate to “have you eaten today.” The literal translation of “ni hao ma?” is “are you good?” I believe what you are thinking of is “chi le ma?” (吃了吗?) , which literally translates to “have you eaten?”

    Also, “chi le ma?” is a common greeting primarily in mainland China, but will sound a little odd in other Chinese-speaking places, like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. “Chi le ma?” became a customary greeting in mainland China due to the many famines that had plagued China in the 19th and 20th centuries. Widespread food insecurity led to people expressing concern for their fellow human beings by greeting each other with the question “have you eaten?”