Guest Column — Chinese Acupuncture: Digestion

By Janice Dauw  

The biggest challenge for me when it comes to writing this column for the Big Island Chronicle is deciding on a topic. Recently, while I sat down to eat lunch, the rumbling in my stomach

gave me the idea to write about digestion and how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks upon this process we all experience daily.

Digestion is the mechanical and enzymatic breakdown of food into substances that can be used by the body.

In TCM it is primarily the yang stomach and yin spleen systems that oversee this process.  The spleen in TCM does not correspond to the spleen we now know lives just under the stomach in our upper left quadrant.  This is very confusing to the new TCM student but keep in mind that a few thousand years ago, when the ancient Chinese were developing their system of medicine, there was no imaging such as x-ray, CAT scan, or MRI.  According to TCM, the main function of the spleen is to govern transportation (digestion) and transformation (absorption) of food as well as control blood and hold things in place in the body.  The spleen qi is ascending in nature and should rise upward in a healthy person.  If spleen qi is descending or sinking, it is considered pathological.  The main function of the stomach, according to TCM theory, is to receive and decompose food. Opposite of the spleen, the stomach qi descends into the intestines.  If the stomach qi ascends, it is considered pathologically rebellious.

There are seven main TCM patterns seen in digestive complaints and often a person complaining of digestive disturbance will have more than one pattern. The differentiation of patterns are as follows:

1. Qi deficiency —  Stomach or spleen deficiency will both cause poor appetite. Spleen deficiency will also cause loose stools and a dull distended feeling in the abdomen.  Stomach deficiency pain will also be dull but will be epigastric (think above the navel) and will feel better after eating.

2. Qi stagnation —   Bloating or distension is the biggest symptom of stomach or spleen stagnation.

If the stomach qi is stagnant, the distension will be higher on the torso and if it is spleen qi that is stagnant, the distension will be lower or abdominal.

3. Rebellious qi — Rebellious or sinking spleen qi causes loose or unformed stools and/or diarrhea.         Rebellious stomach qi will cause belching, reflux, hiccupping, or vomiting.

4. Blood stasis —  This means that the blood is not moving thru the organ system.  Blood stasis in the spleen will cause intense stabbing pain in the abdomen with the possibility of blood in the stools.  Blood stasis in the stomach will cause fixed, stabbing intense pain in the epigastria with the possibility of vomiting blood.

5. Dampness — As we live in a very damp climate, this pattern is very common here in Puna.  The spleen is prone to dampness and this excess damp manifests as a full, heavy feeling with a sticky taste and diminished appetite.  If the stomach is involved, symptoms will be higher up in the belly.  If the spleen is involved, symptoms will be lower in the abdomen.

6. Phlegm —  TCM dictates that phlegm is produced by poor digestion.  It causes a strong feeling of oppression.  There may also be a sticky taste, poor appetite and nausea.  Phlegm most often affects the stomach so symptoms are felt more in the epigastric region  than in the abdomen.

7. Food retention —  This pattern is often seen in children or older, weaker people. The biggest sensation here is one of fullness.  There may also be sour regurgitation, lack of appetite, and nausea.

Chinese medicine in the form of both acupuncture and herbs provide very safe and affective

treatment for almost all digestive complaints.  A general rule of thought is that acupuncture is ideal for moving stagnant energy or reversing rebellious energy.  Herbal remedies are ideal for correcting deficiencies.  Both herbs and acupuncture are used for addressing excess damp in the body.  Nutritional counseling is also an important part of any visit to the acupuncturist.  If you are struggling with any digestive disorders, I urge you to give TCM a try.  Chinese medicine is a safe and gentle system of medicine that works!  Please feel free to call me or email me with any questions. I can be reached at 808-982-4309 or

Janice Dauw grew up in New York City and went on to receive her B.S. in Horticulture from Oregon State University. Later she attended the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine and received her masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in  1996.  She is licensed thru the Hawaii State Board of Medical Examiners and is nationally certified thru the NCCAOM.  While maintaining a very busy private practice for 11 years in the Corvallis, OR area, she also worked as the acupuncturist for Oregon State University Student Health services. In 2007 she and her husband moved to their land in HPP. She took a hiatus from her medical work for 2 years and helped build their new home.  Currently, she keeps busy seeing patients three days a week, immersing herself in her garden, and enjoying the beauty and aloha that Hawaii is so abundant in.  If you are interested in learning about how acupuncture can help you, or in scheduling an appointment, please call her at 808.982.4309.


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