Keeping the human body running takes a lot of energy.
Body temperature, blood pressure, blood pH and sugar levels all have to be maintained within narrow ranges and must be constantly adjusted. Each day between 50 and 70 billion cells die of natural causes and need to be replaced.
Adding stress, disease or recovery from an injury to the equation and energy demands go even higher. The body’s main source of energy and materials for all of these repairs and maintenance operations is the food we consume each day.
Having a healthy digestive system, one that can harvest nutrients, extract energy and eliminate wastes efficiently is one of the cornerstones of good health.
The importance of digestion in maintaining good health was recognized by the early practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.
They observed that people with poor digestion would exhibit signs and symptoms such as loose stools, more frequent bowel movements, abdominal fullness after meals, fatigue and apathy.
If not treated, patients could begin to have insomnia, more frequent illnesses, easier bruising and increased difficulty healing from injuries.
TCM places a heavy emphasis on what today would be called preventive medicine because during its development the most highly regarded physicians were the ones who could spot and correct health problems before they developed into serious issues. Consequently, TCM offers many simple and effective ways of addressing poor digestive health.
Picture your digestive system as one department in a busy company with a budget of $100 a day. This budget represents the energy available to the digestive system for all its different functions.
Say harvesting nutrients and energy from food is $50, maintaining the digestive organs themselves is $20 and eliminating wastes is another $30. If everything adds up and falls within budget then the system operates well and the digestive system is healthy.
Many factors, however, including stress, illness, poor eating habits and bad food choices can force the system to run over-budget. Continued long enough, these patterns can leave a digestive system that is chronically running in the red, forced to cut corners and definitely not functioning at peak capacity.
One of the best and easiest ways to get the digestive system back on track is to lower its operating costs by avoiding cold and raw foods.
Chemical reactions, including those involved in digestion happen more efficiently at higher temperatures.
If the digestive system is chilled by cold food or beverages the body first has to expend energy warming the food up to a temperature where digestion can occur efficiently. Having hot tea — especially ginger tea — with your meals rather than cold drinks saves the body that extra work.
You can make the digestive system’s job even easier by planning simple meals with fewer ingredients, and choosing lightly steamed vegetables over raw salads, at least for a time. Raw vegetables are best in terms of overall nutrient content, but that fact becomes moot if they are not being digested completely or efficiently.
These changes leave more money in the budget for maintaining the digestive and eliminating waste. Once the system is operating properly the effects spread throughout the body.
Often patients who begin paying attention to their digestive health see quick dividends—more energy, better mood, less illness and improved sleep.
If the digestive system has been malfunctioning for months or years the changes may be slower to manifest, and some cases definitely are more complex than others. But regardless of their starting point everyone has the power to move towards better health and vitality.
Tyler Webster is an East Asian medical practitioner whose office is at 5 W. Alder St., Suite 240. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-593-4959.