Virtually every aspect of your health and wellbeing are influenced by the health of your digestive system, and the community of bacteria that live within it. Symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, heartburn and constipation usually indicate that your digestion needs support. Research suggests that gut health has a role to play in healthy weight management, inflammatory disease, mental health and immunity. Chinese medicine can help by supporting the nervous system, reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
Millions of bacteria inhabit our bodies; those bacteria form our microbiome. We collect them from our mother at birth, our home and environment, and they are as unique to each of us as a fingerprint. When our microbial community becomes unbalanced, or dysbiotic, it can contribute to the development of chronic disease. Causes of dysbiosis include antibiotic use, poor diet, medication and stress. Research is continuing into the use of probiotics for health, but the current consensus is that eating a diet rich in fibre and wholefoods is the best way to promote a balanced microbiome.
A harmonious digestive system can also contribute to good mental health, and supportive treatments for depression, anxiety and other mood disorders should include gut health. An extensive network of neurons, hormones and chemicals provides a constant link between our brain and our gut; our microbiota produce neurochemicals such as serotonin, that regulate mood, learning and memory.
Your nervous system has 2 main modes – sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”). When we experience stress, the sympathetic nervous system diverts blood and energy to the heart and muscles, preparing to fight or flee. When the threat passes, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks back in, returning the body’s resources to digestion and healing.
The chronic stress of modern life means that many of us spend too much time in sympathetic mode, and over time, the functioning of our digestion suffers. Chinese medicine can support a healthy digestive system by switching the body into parasympathetic mode, promoting healing and regulating digestion. Lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise are also important for good gut health.
Clinical research supports the role of Chinese medicine and acupuncture in the management of digestive disorders. A meta-analysis of 6 clinical trials found that acupuncture exhibits “a clinically and statistically significant control of IBS symptoms”. Another found that patients reported greater benefits from acupuncture than from commonly prescribed antispasmodic drugs. A clinical trial of acupuncture for Crohn’s disease has shown improvements in quality of life and general well-being, and a decrease in serum markers of inflammation.
Good gut health is the cornerstone of vitality and wellbeing; support yours with Chinese medicine.