In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the “rules” to promote and protect your health are not complicated, but they are not necessarily easy either. With our busy Western lifestyle, and this American diet we have come to consider normal, we can find it tricky to incorporate the suggestions given to us by health practitioners. Some are more critical than others and I would put this “rule” up at the top of the list as critical.
This is the 2nd rule of Traditional Chinese Medicine:
Do not consume cold foods and drinks, especially ice water!
From a TCM point of view, it damages our Spleen Qi. The TCM organ, Spleen, is the Western idea of the digestion. It can be considered the function of the stomach, duodenum, small intestine, and pancreas. The Spleen is in charge of transformation and transportation. It takes the food we eat, breaks it down, absorbs it, creates Qi and Blood from that food, and gets the nutrients and Qi to where it needs to be in our body at a cellular level. This is extremely important! The quality of the Qi, blood, and cells in our body are dependent upon the quality of food we are eating, the air we are breathing, and the emotions we are feeling. However, if we are eating the highest quality food on the planet, but we are not able to break down or absorb that food properly, we are not creating the health in our body that we are striving for.
So, think of the Spleen as our digestion or digestive fire to simplify things. Our digestion is like the oven in our body. If you throw ice into an oven, it now must work SO much harder to do what it is meant to. The food you have in the oven is going to have to sit in there longer just to get cooked. The same is in our body. If we throw cold foods and beverages into our digestion, our body now must work a lot harder to process and break down the food. It could be using that Qi and energy to perform other much needed tasks in the body, such as detoxification or restoration, but now all that Qi is “spent”. Over time, this depletes our Qi and energy and we can be left with such symptoms as fatigue, feeling tired after eating, bloated, constipation, or loose stools.
Now let’s look at this issue from a Western medicine point of view. We need HCL (hydrochloric acid or stomach acid) to digest our food, including breaking it down and assimilating it to absorb the nutrients from the food (Champagne, 1989). HCL is secreted when we eat food, which signals stomach cells to secrete pepsinogen, which is a protein digesting enzyme, which then becomes pepsin. HCL also signal the pancreas and small intestine to secrete digestive enzymes and bile and it kills bacteria, yeast, and even parasites that enter our bodies through our food (Bernard, 1995). If HCL or hydrochloric acid levels are low, we have a tough time breaking down our food, especially proteins. This leads to many problems including vitamin and mineral deficiencies, nausea, pain, heartburn, anemia, food allergies, bacterial and yeast overgrowth, bloating, and indigestion just to name a few (Mercola, 2011).
By now I’m sure you are wondering what causes low HCL? Good question. There are multiple causes, including aging, eating processed foods, antacid use, eating while stressed, and drinking ice water (Saltzman, 1994). This is because cold foods and beverages inhibit or stop the production of HCL and slow down the digestion process overall. If production of HCL is stopped, then the enzymes to break down your food do not get released and over time, you are left with the problems listed above. So PLEASE refuse the ice water when you go out to eat. Instead, ask for a cup of hot water, or even better, a cup of ginger tea, as this increases HCL production. Even so, you only want to sip fluids while you eat because large amounts of any liquid will dilute HCL, pepsin, and other digestive enzymes, making it more difficult to break down your food.
Other ways to help your digestive fire grow include relaxing before eating. When our bodies are under stress, initially we produce too much HCL, which can lead to ulcers, but over time our body gets exhausted when stress is chronic and eventually HCL is under-produced. So, relax while eating and if you are very extremely upset, worried, angry, or emotional, DO NOT eat at all. Relax your body before you eat, sit with your family at a table, and do not have any electronics or distractions at the table. TVs and cell phones are stress to our bodies and prohibit us to being mindful in the moment while we eat, which can not only hinder social relationships, but also stop us from chewing as many times as we should. Chewing starts the digestive process by secreting enzymes that break down our food, so chewing thoroughly is extremely important and is the first step of digestion.
You can also add fermented foods into your diet, such as sauerkraut. Fermented foods are unique in the fact they regulate stomach pH. Himalayan salt is also a powerful addition to your diet as it has 84 different trace minerals in it and stimulate HCL production. It is also important to avoid processed foods, such as refined sugar and processed grains, such as flours. Eliminate genetically modified (GMO) foods, additives, dyes, and artificial flavorings and sweeteners, all of which will alter your gastric pH and cause inflammation in your body. Instead, consume whole foods that have not been altered and use natural herbs and spices for flavorings. Make sure you cook all your food, rarely consuming raw or cold foods. Stop eating at 7pm to allow your body time to digest the food to have high quality sleep and prevent food stagnation.
If further support is needed, acupuncture and Traditional Chinese herbs can be a powerful addition to promote your health. It is so important to protect and stimulate your health daily. It is the everyday small choices that either foster and restore your health or cause more imbalance and disharmony. You must take responsibility for your health. It is in your hands and you are the only one that can make those changes. However, many people are available, including myself, to support you on your journey to health if you are willing to dive in!
P.S.- check back soon for the 1st rule in TCM!
Bernard, M. D., Papini, E., Filippis, V. D., Gottardi, E., Telford, J., Manetti, R., . . . Montecucco, C. (1995). Low pH Activates the Vacuolating Toxin of Helicobacter pylori, Which Becomes Acid and Pepsin Resistant. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 270(41), 23937-23940. doi:10.1074/jbc.270.41.23937
Champagne, E. T. (1989). Low Gastric Hydrochloric Acid Secretion and Mineral Bioavailability. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Mineral Absorption in the Monogastric GI Tract, 173-184. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-9111-1_12
Mercola. (2011, January 6). Problems with Digestion? Processed Foods May Be to Blame... Retrieved October 11, 2017, from http://www.mercola.com/
Saltzman JR, Kemp JA, Golner BB, et al. (1994). Effect of hypochlorhydria due to omeprazole treatment or atrophic gastritis on protein bound vitamin B12 absorption. J Amer Coll Nutr 1994;13:584-591.
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