It is my experience of 30 years of clinical practice that the majority of people I treat have a compromised digestive system. This is despite the fact that when asked in person and on my intake form, most people will report that their digestion is fine. There are two reasons for this.
First, people have sadly come to expect that anything other than serious disease counts as “fine.” A person might have reflux or an ulcer or colitis, but as long as medication is helping with symptoms or alleviating acute pain or discomfort, they report that there are no problems. There is a big difference between health and optimal function, and getting by with minor symptoms or medications. We seem to have low expectations for our own health and well-being.
Second, people do not understand what is meant and encompassed by digestion. For some, it only means the presence or lack of reflux. Even issues such as constipation or IBS do not qualify as digestive complaints to most people. Chinese medicine has a comprehensive concept of digestive function and consequential issues when there is imbalance. The famous 13th century Chinese doctor Li Dong-Yuan taught that most illness arises from the digestive tract. In Chinese pediatric medicine, the majority of infant and childhood illnesses are addressed through treatment aimed at the digestive system. Even in modern holistic approaches such as functional and nutritional medicine, the gut is now seen as the root of many disorders.
The Spleen is the primary organ of digestion in Chinese medicine. It transforms and transports food and liquid, making blood, and bodily fluids and delivering them to the muscles and tissues of the body. The Spleen is the root of the Lung in the TaiYin channel, and in this capacity functions as the root of our Wei Qi, or defensive Qi, which is the foundation for our immune system. The Spleen controls the blood, creating it through digestion and regulating it in the blood vessels. The Spleen is the root of thought and consciousness. It governs the muscles and holds all of our organs in place. All of our usable energy is made by the Spleen. If you extrapolate any of these functions, it is easy to see the importance of the Spleen and digestion, and how imbalance can lead to a variety of diseases.
Digestive system imbalance is not limited to reflux, gas, bloating, diarrhea or other symptoms within the digestive tract itself. Most symptoms in fact have some connection to dysfunction in the digestive tract; including common complaints of skin diseases, allergies, respiratory conditions, gynecological problems, autoimmune diseases, headaches, and chronic pain. They all have root in the digestive system.
Correcting imbalances related to digestive function is of primary importance in Chinese medicine, and must be addressed early in order for subsequent treatment to be successful. Proper treatment of digestive disorders often leads to resolution of many other symptoms.