Diet and Spirituality: Feeding the Mind, Body, and Soul

By freelance writer Sally Perkins

The idea that food can be a direct route to health and happiness is a belief that’s been long held by proprietors of traditional Chinese medicine. Recipes have passed down through generations that are used to help prevent and treat disease, slow down the aging process, or simply improve overall fitness. To this day, many households that use a traditional approach to health consider the pantry to be synonymous with the medicine cabinet.

In traditional Chinese medicine, food is more than just sustenance. It’s a healthy lifestyle choice that has a significant impact on your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Practitioners of traditional medicine promote the idea that a carefully crafted diet plan should be the first line of defense against any illness or ailment. Traditional medicine has shaped many common Chinese dishes that include a wide variety of vegetables and meats considered to have positive health benefits. Different health call for different ingredients, including herbs, spices, and vegetables that are known to have healing properties.

Dampness

Foods that are damp in nature can slow the digestive system and interfere with the flow of energy throughout your body. This blockage can lead to pain, disease, chronic allergies, and even arthritis. Signs of dampness can include congestion and excessive mucus formation, indigestion, weight gain, and swelling in the joints.

Foods to Include

  • Cooked vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans, lentils, and legumes
  • Lean protein
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Seaweed and kelp
  • Nuts and seeds

Foods to Avoid

  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Refined sugars
  • Processed flour
  • Coffee and alcohol
  • Bananas and avocado

Yin Deficiency

Responsible for keeping you cool, a deficiency with your yin can lead to overheating and fever. Yin is closely associated with the kidneys, which function to remove toxins from your system. An imbalance in your Yin can be the result of stress or overwork, but it may also be due to an inadequate diet.

Foods to Include

  • Barley, millet, and other whole grains
  • Beans and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Fruits such as apples, pears, and bananas
  • Seafood and red meat

Foods to Avoid

  • Hot or spicy foods
  • Caffeine, cigarettes, and other stimulants
  • Sugars

Yang Deficiency

Also often a result of improper kidney functioning, a deficiency in Yang energy is characterized by soreness in the joints and lumbar region, cold sensations in the limbs, difficulty urinating, incontinence, and a decreased libido.

Foods to Include

  • Berries and nuts
  • Red meats such as lamb and venison
  • Seafood
  • Strong spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, peppermint, and more

Foods to Avoid

  • Cold foods and liquids
  • Raw food

According to traditional Chinese medicine, a balance between flavor and nutrition helps to promote both physical and spiritual well being. By eating the right foods, you can keep your body in balance and reduce or alleviate the symptoms of certain chronic conditions.

 

**Beautiful featured image by Blair Fraser on Unsplash


The Spleen and Dampness in Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The Spleen is an extremely important organ in Chinese medicine and imbalances in the spleen system are some of the most common. It is sometimes confusing to refer to the spleen, as it is very different than the spleen of Western medicine. In Western medicine, the spleen is part of the immune system, where the blood is purified and red blood cells are recycled taking things like iron and cycling them back into the bloodstream so they can be used by the body. The spleen is the largest lymphatic organ and plays an important part in the body's immune system by helping it to recognize foreign invaders. The spleen also holds a reserve of blood which is valuable in case of hemorrhage. It is possible to survive without a spleen, with the liver taking over many of its functions. Removal of the spleen, however, does make one more susceptible to certain infections. The spleen is approximately 3x1x5 inches in size, weighs seven grams and is located in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen, between the 9th and 11th ribs on the left hand side, beside the stomach.

The spleen in Chinese medicine is quite different. The spleen is considered the major organ of digestion, and is partnered with the stomach. The spleen in yin and the stomach is yang. There are many factors that affect the spleen.

Emotions

Every organ in Chinese medicine has an emotion associated with it. The emotion of the spleen is worry and overthinking. We live in a culture where both of these things are extremely common. We work long hours, often don't eat properly and don't get enough sleep. We eat at our desks, multitasking, which puts more of a burden on the spleen because it is responsible for taking in not only the food and drink we consume, but all the stimulus as well. This is why doing one thing at a time and doing it mindfully takes the load off the spleen. Chewing your food very well and not eating too many raw foods will also help take the burden off the spleen. Intense thinking, concentration, studying, brooding and obsessing are all emotions that, if in excess, also weaken the spleen.

Nutrition

What we eat is of vital importance to the spleen. This is good news, because there are many foods that are beneficial for this important organ. The spleen likes to be warm and dry, so eating warming foods that do not create too much moisture are excellent for the spleen. Also, the colour associated with the spleen is yellow, so as a rule, yellow foods are healing for the spleen. Below is a handy chart.

Foods The Spleen Loves

  • Corn
  • Celery
  • Watercress
  • Turnip
  • Pumpkin
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Button mushrooms
  • Radish
  • Caper
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Amaranth
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Kidney beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Lentils
  • Small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
  • Small amount of whole fruits (as opposed to just the juice), lemon
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Seaweed
  • Kelp
  • Green tea
  • Jasmine tea
  • Raspberry leaf tea
  • Chai tea
  • Raspberry
  • Peach
  • Strawberry
  • Cherry
  • Walnut
  • Chestnuts
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Lamb
  • Venison
  • Lobster
  • Mussels
  • Prawns
  • Shrimp
  • Trout
  • Black pepper
  • Cinnamon bark
  • Clove
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Turmeric
  • Thyme
  • Horseradish
  • Cayenne
  • Nutmeg

 

Spleen Foods : Chinese Medicine Living

Foods That Hurt The Spleen

  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Cold drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Processed foods
  • Refined flour, pastry, pasta, bread
  • Cold raw foods
  • Refined sugar and sugar substitutes
  • Coffee, alcohol
  • Deep-fried foods
  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Bananas
  • Avocado

The Spleen and Dampness in Chinese Medicine

The concept of dampness in Chinese medicine is related to a deficiency of the spleen's function of transporting and transforming body fluids. When the spleen becomes deficient, it will cause it to produce more dampness, creating a vicious cycle. Dampness can come from both internal and external factors.  The characteristics of dampness are that it is heavy, sticky, difficult to get rid of, slows things down and tends to settle in the lower parts of the body like the legs and abdomen. Dampness often starts in the legs and can work its way up to the organs in the abdomen. If it settles in the female genital system it causes vaginal discharges, often with a foul odour. If it settles in the intestines it will cause loose stools and if it gets into the bladder it will cause cloudy urine, difficulty, frequency and even a burning sensation upon urination.

Dampness has several clinical manifestations, which can be broken down into a few categories. Each has specific symptoms associated with it. Below are some common symptoms of dampness.

Dampness Symptoms

  • A feeling of being tired
  • A heavy feeling in the limbs
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning and getting going
  • A heaviness or fuzzy feeling in the head
  • Unclear thinking
  • A feeling of fullness or oppression of the chest
  • Cloudy urine
  • Urinary difficulty
  • Vaginal discharges
  • No appetite
  • Sticky taste in the mouth
  • Dull ache and swelling of the joints
  • Skin diseases with weepy discharges
  • A thick, sticky tongue coating

External Dampness

Dampness can be acquired externally by living in damp conditions (like moist basements), being out in damp weather, wearing wet clothing or sitting on damp ground. It can then get into the channels causing the above symptoms. External dampness generally invades the lower body, typically the legs and can cause aching and swelling of the joints. It can work its way up the leg channels and cause symptoms in the urinary system, female genital system, and intestines. Because of the heavy, sticky nature of dampness, especially when it mixes with heat, it is difficult to get rid of and tends to return again and again.

Being careful to stay covered up and warm as well as staying out of damp environments as much as possible is the best defence against an invasion of external dampness. If you are out in the rain, dry off right away so dampness doesn't set in.

Dampness in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

Photo by Dannyst @ Deviantart

Internal Dampness

Internal dampness mainly affects the spleen, but can also affect the kidneys. If the spleen becomes deficient and its ability to transport and transform fluids is affected, it will lead to the accumulation of fluids, creating dampness. The symptoms for both internal and external dampness are the same, the difference being that internal dampness will have a slow onset, as external dampness' onset is more sudden. Another difference is subtleties in the tongue and pulse. In external dampness, the tongue will have a thick, sticky coating, whereas in internal dampness, the tongue coating will be thin. The pulse in both internal and external dampness will be slippery, but with internal dampness, it will be fine, or weak and floating. An external damp pulse will be slippery and full.

Acupuncture as well as Chinese herbs are used in the treatment of dampness. Most commonly points on the spleen meridian are used to clear dampness and strengthen the spleen, and Chinese herbal formulas are used to drain dampness, expelling it from the body (often through urination), as well as building the spleen so that more dampness is not created. Dampness can be difficult to treat because of its heavy, sticky nature, but with nutrition therapy - eating foods that strengthen the spleen and drain dampness - as well as acupuncture and herbs, you can get rid of dampness, and have a happier spleen as a result - which is what we all really want. :)

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The featured image is this adorable spleen, brought to you by the nice people at I Heart Guts

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Candida - Causes & Food Therapy in Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Chinese Medicine & the Immune System

Chinese medicine's view of the immune system is based on Qi. In Chinese medicine there are many types of Qi, and the body is protected by a specific type of Qi, called Wei Qi or protective Qi. This Qi circulates on the exterior of the body, protecting it from external pathogens - one of the causes of disease. When Wei Qi is strong, viruses and climatic factors like cold and wind attempting to enter the body and fought off easily. If our Wei Qi is weakened, then we will be susceptible to colds, flus and respiratory infections which are considered exterior diseases. If Wei Qi is very deficient, then the disease will penetrate into the interior levels of the body, where it is able to affect the internal organs, and is more serious. In the last 50 years, allergies, degenerative diseases and other signs of poor immunity have reached epidemic proportions. On the list of illnesses that are caused by a taxed immune system are candida infections. Wei Qi & the immune system Candidiasis is the overgrowth of a yeast like fungi in the body and illustrates the concept of dampness in Chinese medicine. Symptoms of dampness are heaviness, sluggishness, mental dullness and edema. Excess candida often exists in high levels in people with a weakened immune systems. Everyone has candida in their bodies, it only becomes pathological when it is present in excess. Candida exists in the digestive system where its function is to help create balance in the gut, but when out of balance it inhibits proper assimilation of nutrients and essential amino acids. A healthy body also has plenty of lactobacillus acidophilus - a healthy bacteria which is important in digestion, and has the opposite effect of candida in the digestive system. When candida is in excess it weakens the immune system and consequently, the entire body.

Although candida exists in the digestive tract of healthy individuals, it can get into other parts of the body where if untreated, it can cause systemic candida infections. Candida slips through weakened areas of the gut lining, or can be spread from the anus to the sexual organs - especially in women causing yeast infections. A systemic candidiasis infection can be life threatening if left untreated, and some believe is the precursor to many major diseases. An extremely weakened immune system makes the body more susceptible to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus. Candida in excess levels also produces deadly toxins in the body which cause allergic reactions from everything from food allergies to environmental factors. If the infection progresses, systemic poisoning will result and the person will experience allergic reactions to almost everything. symptoms of candida in Chinese medicine   Below are some common symptoms that you may have excess candida in your system.

Candida Symptoms

  • Chronic Tiredness
  • Mental Sluggishness
  • Difficulty Organizing / Cleaning
  • Digestive Problems
  • Mucous in the Stools
  • Catching Frequent Colds
  • Cravings for Sweets, Breads, Chocolate
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Itchy Anus
  • Chronic Yeast Infections
  • Recurring Fungal Infections - athlete's foot, aginal yeast infections, fungal toenails, ringworm, jock itch, tinea
  • Itchy Eyelids
  • Bad Breath

Those suffering from a systemic candidiasis infection may suffer from the above symptoms accompanied by symptoms like a scattered and unfocussed mind, depression, memory loss and and in severe cases delusions.

Candida in Chinese medicine

Candida Causes

One of the biggest contributors to candida infections is repeated use of broad spectrum antibiotics. Antibiotics kill both the good and bad bacteria in our bodies, destroying the balance, making us more susceptible to overgrowth of candida. It is always a good idea if you have to take antibiotics, to supplement with acidophilus afterwards to boost the good bacteria in your digestive system and avoid overgrowth of candida. It is also important to consider that if you are eating a diet that consists of commercial meat, dairy, poultry and eggs that you are ingesting antibiotics that these animals are receiving daily in their feed. There are foods which also contribute to an overgrowth of candida, and in Chinese medicine they are foods that cause dampness. These include foods that are cold in temperature, those that produce mucus and foods that have gone stale or become rancid. Many raw foods as well contribute as they are considered very cold and it takes the digestion a lot of extra energy to break them down - accompanying symptoms of diarrhea with watery stools are a clue that too many cold foods may be hampering your digestion. Other foods that produce yeast are alcohol, many fermented foods, yeasty breads and most intoxicants, especially alcohol. Eating complicated meals with too many ingredients can promote pathogenic fermentation in the gut, and yeasts thrive in this environment so simple food combining will help support your digestion if you are having problems with excess yeast.

Candida and the Diet

Carbohydrates should be used in moderation as they can be both acid and mucus forming, conditions ripe for yeast overgrowth. If you must eat carbohydrates, then whole grains and other unrefined complex carbohydrates that are chewed very thoroughly become more alkaline and produce less mucus. Aduki and mung beans are particularly beneficial for yeast conditions, even more so if sprouted first as it makes them easier to digest. Soy bean sprouts are also recommended and are some of the best foods for limiting candida growth. To establish the beneficial acidophilus culture in our digestive systems, cabbage, garlic, green plants, kelp and other seaweeds and raw sauerkraut should be aded to the diet. Garlic has the added medicinal properties of being anti-viral, anti-fungal and does not damage the beneficial bacteria in our digestive systems. Garlic can also be used to treat vaginal yeast infections. A clove of garlic can be threaded through with a cotton pull string and inserted vaginally for a few nights a week for a month. If there is a burning sensation and the garlic feels too hot, leave on a few layers of the garlic's outer peel for extra insulation. Douching with garlic teas during the day are also helpful. Candida infections are extremely common and often don't get treated right away because many people find them difficult to talk about and don't get treatment when they first notice symptoms. The good news is, that there are many simple things you can do like removing some foods from your diet and including others that can help restore the balance of candida in the body. With our busy lifestyles, balance is what we want, but often is not so easy to achieve. The key is to listen to your body and help it to rebalance before the imbalance becomes severe. Letting our bodies know we are listening and doing things to support them go a long way in keeping us happy and healthy. Candida in Chinese medicine