Digestive Disorders

Close up of woman's hands on belly

In traditional Chinese medical theory, the Spleen is the key organ involved in gastro-intestinal disorders. The Spleen has primary responsibility for “transforming” and “transporting” food essence in the body, including the excretion of waste material.

The Spleen and Stomach are Yin/Yang partners, and each one can develop characteristic problems. The Spleen needs to be somewhat moist in order to function well, but if it becomes deficient in Chi, it will become overwhelmed by moisture, and a pathological condition of Dampness (or Damp Heat) can settle into the body.


The Stomach, on the other hand, needs to be on the dry side to function well, and when its balance is upset, it can easily overheat, and a painful condition of Stomach Fire can develop. Other organs, especially the Liver, can also contribute to gastro-intestinal distress.


The four most common patterns seen when gastro-intestinal problems are differentiated are as follows: Spleen Chi Deficiency, which is caused by chronic fatigue or chronic illness; Damp Heat Retention, which is caused by improper diet, environmental factors, or infections; Disharmony of Liver and Spleen, which is caused by emotional disturbance; and Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency, which is caused by chronic illness or aging.


Acupuncture hands


To treat these imbalances, Chinese medicine commonly uses acupuncture, herbal medicine, and moxibustion. When applied properly, these modalities balance Yin and Yang, harmonize Chi and Blood, nourish the organs, and eliminate Damp Heat.


Conditions which respond well to acupuncture, moxibustion, and herbal medicine include:

Gastrointestinal infections such as virus infections from rotavirus

Bacterial infections from salmonella, shigella or escherichia coli

Inflammatory diseases such as chronic gastritis, atrophic gastritis, chronic enteritis, and gastroenteritis

Peptic ulcers such as duodenal ulcer and gastric ulcer

Circulation problems in the gastrointestinal system such as gastrointestinal tract bleeding and intestinal cramps

Gastrointestinal tumors such as stomach cancer, tumors of the small intestine, or colon cancer

Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and short bowel syndrome.



Scientific Support

How do we explain these beneficial effects of Chinese medicine modalities in a modern clinical sense? How does it work from the viewpoint of biomedicine? Numerous modern studies, most of them conducted at China’s leading research and teaching institutes and in hospital settings, show that acupuncture, moxibustion, and herbal medicine can bring about bio-chemical changes.


The following are a few examples:

Excretory Rate of D-Xylose: The excretory rate of D-Xylose is an index of the absorption function of the intestines. Patients with chronic gastritis, chronic enteritis, or peptic ulcer tend to have a lower excretory rate of D-Xylose. A number of clinical studies in China show that acupuncture and moxibustion can increase the D-Xylose excretory rate significantly.


Serum Gastrin: Gastrin is a hormone in the digestive tract, secreted mainly by cells in the stomach in response to eating food. Gastrin causes the stomach to produce more acid and also stimulates contraction of muscles in the wall of the stomach, ileum, and colon. This contraction propels food through the digestive tract. A very recent study at the Affiliated Hospital of Sichuan Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that moxibustion (moxa made with astraglus, codonopsis, etc.) at acupuncture points St 36, Ren 4, and Ren 12 can raise the serum gastrin level.


T-lymphocytes and their Subgroups: T-lymphocytes and their subgroups reflect the status of cells’ immune functions. Substantial evidence shows that Spleen Deficient patients have a lower immune function at the cellular level. Clinical studies in China show that acupuncture and moxibustion can increase T-lymphocytes and their subgroups in the blood.


Immunoglobulins: Many patients with gastro-intestinal disorders seem to have a lower-than-normal immune response. Immunoglobulins are proteins in the blood serum and tissue fluids that are produced by cells of the immune system. They help to destroy antigen-bearing microorganisms in the bloodstream and tissues. Extensive research shows that moxibustion at acupuncture points St 36, Ren 12, and Ren 8 can increase the levels of Immunoglobulins Ig A, Ig G, Ig M, and thereby benefit a variety of health conditions such as chronic gastritis, antral gastritis, gastric ulcer, atrophic gastritis, gastroduodenal ulcer, and gastroptosis (stomach has “dropped” from normal position).



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