Digestive Issues


For thousands of years, digestive issues have been a very common reason why people seek the help of an acupuncturist. One of the classic Chinese medical texts is Li Dong Yuan’s Treatise on the Spleen and Stomach published in 1249. This text discusses and offers treatment protocols for numerous digestive disorders that are still relevant today.

There are a myriad of digestive problems and diseases including but not limited to:

  • allergies
  • appetite changes
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • cramping
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • gas
  • headache
  • heartburn

    colapsed artists figure

    photo credit Morguefile.com

  • indigestion
  • joint pain
  • low metabolism
  • nausea
  • celiac disease
  • colitis
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • GERD
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • ulcerative colitis

….I could go on and on.


Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can improve digestive issues immensely but before heading off to the acupuncturist or any other medical practitioner, it would be helpful to do some detective work to maximize the benefit of your treatments.


magnifying glass

photo credit Morguefile.com

Identifying the culprits:


Many things can throw our digestion here is a short—not exhaustive–discussion.


Western Pharmaceuticals:


Sometimes it’s obvious: chemotherapy is a well-known cause of nausea and vomiting. Giving up the chemo is not necessarily an option…at least not without the supervision and advice of a Western MD.


photo credit Morguefile.com

Look at you medications labels and discuss possible medication alternatives with your MD. Your acupuncturist/herbalist may be able to offer up alternatives to western medications, but be advised an acupuncturist/herbalist cannot advise you to stop taking ANY prescription medications. If you wish to reduce or stop taking western pharmaceuticals, that has to be done under the advisement of a western MD.

If you do suffer from any side effects from chemo and/or radiation, an acupuncturist/herbalist may be able to significantly reduce or minimize them. It is best to let your Western MD know that you are also working with alternative practitioners. These days, Western Mds are more open to these adjunct therapies.


Food allergies and intolerance:

So what is the difference between food allergies and food intolerance? The first causes a potential life-threatening reaction (swelling of the throat, tongue, face, skin reactions) and the second are non-life threatening negative reactions to ingestion of a food. In short, digestive issues are created.



photo credit Morguefile.com

If you know you are allergic to a food. Avoid it. Period.







photo credit Morguefile.com

So, if you suspect you are intolerant to a food but want confirmation, there are two ways of doing this.One is to undergo testing. This can be done by blood, stool, saliva and/or hair analysis. Insurance may pay for some tests and not others. Tests often have to be ordered by your Western MD. Acupuncturists in the state of California are authorized to order these tests. Determining which tests to undergo are something you will want to work with your MD or acupuncturist. The office staff of the medical practitioner will either help you work with your insurance, or they will have you directly pay the lab. This can be very pricey depending on which tests you order. Acupuncturists and nutritionists, as well as MDs, have their favorites!


The less expensive way can be quite difficult. Under the guidance of your acupuncturist or other healthcare professional, you can do an elimination diet. This diet requires you to eliminate common food allergens for a period of six weeks (generally speaking) and re-introducing one food item at a time. In this way, you can see (or feel) which food items trigger your symptoms.



photo credit Morguefile.com

Meanwhile, you can also just keep a journal before you go into your appointment noting what you eat when and then add any symptoms you have at what time of day. You may be able to see a pattern….such as 1-5 hours after you eat bread that you feel hazy or tired. Don’t worry, if you don’t see a pattern the acupuncturist or other practitioner may be able to see one.




Crohn’s and celiac disease are common hereditary problems. The gold standard test for celiac disease is a very invasive procedure, so elimination of gluten and noting improvement in digestive and overall health is often recommended instead. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if you have an allergy to gluten, as celiac sufferers have, or “merely” an intolerance to gluten. Bottom line: if you


photo credit Morguefile.com

eliminate gluten from your diet and your symptoms disappear you should stay away from gluten-containing foods. Trace amounts of gluten may not affect a gluten intolerant person and send the true Celiac into a tailspin, but either way, gluten should be avoided.





For complete information on celiac disease you can consult http://www.celiac.org/


Hereditary diseases cannot be “cured” by acupuncture or herbs, but the symptoms often can be alleviated or minimized. Also, the immune system can be strengthened through herbal formulas and acupuncture so the body overall is stronger and can function better.

moon 2

photo credit Morguefile.com


Many women regularly suffer from bloating, diarrhea, or constipation before their menstrual cycle begins. A Chinese herbal formula goes a long way in helping to avoid these upsets. A noticeable change can happen anywhere from the first to the third cycle after the commencement of a formula. Other PMS symptoms also can be addressed by this same formula. Acupuncture before bleeding begins can also be effective.





photo credit Morguefile.com

Individuals about to take the stage, give a presentation, meet a deadline, take an exam, deal with family members are met with “butterflies” in the stomach. Sometimes a more serious reaction to stress happen, so what to do?







Advice to all: Eating habits to enable the best digestion:

Cook your foodcooking chicken

  • Your mouth and stomach start enzymatic activity when you anticipate a meal through messages from your senses. Ideally, you should be able to smell food, say as during cooking, for 15 minutes before you start to eat. If you don’t smell food first and immediately eat, it’s like exercising without a warm-up.


Don’t watch TV, read, argue/get upset over a meal:

  • Any of these things take your mind off what you are doing and you may eat more than you want, not chew thoroughly, or eat too quickly. Mindlessly eating is not satisfying and can cause weight gain.
  • I have a client with GERD. Oftentimes when she had a meal with her colleagues, she would have to leave the table hurriedly…to gag or to vomit. She has learned that she cannot eat a meal if there is a heated discussion.
  • Food should be eaten in a social setting; good company and conversation slow down your intake

    eating together

    photo credit Morguefile.com


Eat regular meals

  • Three larger meals or five smaller meals at regular intervals allows the digestive organs to finish the entire process of breaking down food before beginning the cycle again. This allows for a smooth running system

Eat breakfast

  • Without breakfast, metabolism goes into “starvation mode” and hoards calories. Also, digestive organs are at their peak of energy between 7-11 am….that’s when you can get most from meals the most easily.

don’t eat and then lie down

  • It can cause indigestion.
  • Instead, take a short walk or relax.

don’t eat 3 hours before bed:

  • as above
  • It may cause disturbed sleep.

Moment of intention before eating

  • Think about what you are eating and why. Give thanks. Think about how the food came to your table (it was sown/grown, harvested, processed, trucked, prepared etc). Intention can shift your

    photo credit Morguefile.com

    state of mind away from the troubles of the day. You may experience better results from regular “moments of intention.”


Acupuncture and herbs

  • Talk to your acupuncturist/herbalist to find an individualized formula for you and your digestive unrest. He or she will also come up with an acupuncture treatment that is highly individualized for you.


If there is a particular subject you wish to have me discuss, I welcome requests.

Until next time, be well,

Kathleen Hiatt Cutter, L.Ac.