The Importance of Digestion in Chinese Medicine by Travis Clarke

In Chinese medical theory and practice, the role of the digestive function has always been placed at the highest importance when it comes to understanding the healthy functioning of all of the physiology within the body.  The concept of the role of digestion in maintaining our overall health was first extensively detailed in the Chinese medical text called the “Nan Jing”, or “Classic of Difficulties”, written in the late Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD).

Yes, that’s correct, this book was written 1800 years ago, and the theories and concepts outlined still form the basis of the medicine we practice today.  Now, some critics would say that concepts conceived so long ago would not hold true in this modern age of scientific knowledge and discovery.  Interestingly, these concepts have been continually studied, refined and expanded upon and put to the test through constant clinical application throughout the past 1800 years, and still hold true to this day.

Among many things discussed in this text the central key role that the digestive system plays in maintaining our health and vitality is clearly explained.  You see, in Chinese medicine we recognise that the vital energy that is required to fuel and ‘drive’ the multitude of physiological functions in our body needs to be supplied via a balanced and healthy digestive system. Makes perfect sense as we can’t survive without the energy and nutrients we receive from our diet.

The Chinese medicine understanding of our internal organs has a far more integrated and expansive understanding than what scientific medicine has been able to deduce.  In terms of the digestive function, the two organs that control and facilitate this are the Spleen and Stomach.  As Chinese medicine has a greater focus on the functionality and energetic integration of the organ systems, it’s important to understand that here we are talking about the energetic motivating force (or Qi) that drives the various aspects of our physiology that perform the digestive functions.

Therefore, falling under the banner of the Spleen’s influence is what we recognise in scientific medicine as pancreatic function, although classically Chinese medicine does not recognise the pancreas as an organ unto itself.  It is also worth noting that Chinese medicine does recognises the Liver and Intestines in the digestive process, but these are not the primary governors of the digestive energies and processors.

In an ideal state of good health, the Spleen and Stomach are energetically strong and balanced and ensure that the digestive function works optimally in processing foods, liquids and herbs/medicines.  This ensures that the digestive process works easily and robustly in extracting the maximum levels of nutrients and energy from the diet. A strong and healthy Spleen and Stomach also ensures that the digestive process does not tax and drain energy from the system, which is counterproductive.

The functional energy that is produced via the digestive system is fundamental important in supplying the energy that all other organ systems and physiological processors need, to function correctly in the body.  This obviously highlights the importance of healthy, nutritionally dense foods which can be challenging in our modern age.

In clinic we treat many people with obvious digestive complains, and acupuncture and herbal medicine are a great way to correct these and strengthen the performance of the Spleen and Stomach.  Interestingly, we also treat many issues where we determine that the Spleen and Stomach’s performance needs to be improved so that more optimal digestive processing can take place, and the person’s system can benefit from better energy supply via the digestive function.

We all know it to be true, but the quality of our diets, and the functional performance of our digestive system is vital to our health and wellbeing both physically and mentally.  Please also remember that to extract the most out of any herbs or supplements you may be taking it’s also important that you have the digestive energies to process these well and maximise the benefits.

If you suspect that your digestive system could use a tune up, please give us a call at MCM to discuss how Chinese medicine can help.

Take care.


Travis works Monday and Thursday from 9am-2pm and Tuesday and Wednesday from 2pm-8pm.

138 Tanti Avenue, Mornington, VIC

03 5973 6886

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