Common Digestive Disorders
The modern low-fiber diet has wreaked havoc on the digestive systems of millions of people. It is rare to find someone with a healthy digestion and smooth elimination. Digestive disorders are so common that that most people regard them as a normal part of life.
Tight, narrow lips are a sign that the digestive system has become tight and constricted. This more yang condition is caused by too much animal food and not enough fiber. A lack of whole grains, beans, and fresh vegetables is a common cause. If the upper lip is thin and tight, the stomach and solar plexus are tight and blocked. Among modern foods, chicken and cheese frequently cause tightness in this part of the body. This tightness interferes with smooth digestion and may be a sign of hypoglycemia or chronic low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia arises when the pancreas becomes tight, hard, and blocked, as a result of the repeated consumption of foods such as eggs, chicken, and cheese. In this condition, the pancreas is unable to secrete sufficient glucagons, the hormone that causes the blood sugar to rise.
Tightness in the lower lip is a sign of tightness in the intestines. The cause is similar to the above: repeated consumption of meat, chicken, cheese, and other forms of animal food, and not enough grains, vegetables, and other plant fibers. Tightness and constriction in the large intestine is a common cause of chronic intestinal stagnation and constipation.
Puffy or swollen lips have an opposite, or more yin cause. A swollen upper lip is a sign of possible stomach disorders, including heartburn, overacidity, and ulcers resulting from tile repeated consumption of sugar, caffeine, spices, alcohol, soft drinks, refined flour, potatoes and other nightshades, and other yin extremes. When the stomach becomes loose and swollen, the muscular valve, known as the cardiac sphincter at the opening of the stomach relaxes or operates inefficiently. The sphincter is normally closed when food is in the stomach. The contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, are regurgitated into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest and neck after a meal. This symptom, commonly known as heartburn, affects millions of people daily. Heartburn drugs, most notably antacids such as Tums, Rolaids, and Myanta, or acid blockers such as Zantac and Tagamet, are currently a $5 billion industry in the Uuiited States.
A swollen lower lip is a sign of chronic overexpansion in intestines resulting from too many yin extremes in the diet. In this condition, the intestines lose the contracting power of peristalsis. Stagnation occurs and the result is chronic constipation. As we can see, constipation can result from overly-expanded or an overly-contracted condition.
When the diet is deficient in whole grains, vegetables, other foods rich in fiber, a person tends to produce small stools. These stools accumulate in the large intestine, and cannot be passed without straining. Constant straining at stool raises the blood pressure in the veins, causing them to become permanently dilated, leading to hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Eventually, the outward pressure caused by the accumulation of small hard stools can cause small pockets, called diverticuli, to form in the wall of the colon. About 40 percent of those over 65 have this condition. When these pockets bleed and become infected, the condition is known as diverticulitis.
Irritable bowel syndrome, sometimes called spastic colon, is also the result of modern eating habits. The intake of sugar, chocolate, honey, milk, ice cream, strong spices, tropical fruits and refined foods, in combination with yang extremes such meat, chicken, and cheese, can cause symptoms such alternating constipation and diarrhea, abdominal pain, discharge, and the passage of small-caliber stools. These symptoms are known collectively as irritable bowel syndrome This condition is exacerbated by the chronic use of antibiotics, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. These medications kill normal intestinal bacteria and disrupt the healthful ecology of the colon. Up to two thirds of persons using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs suffer from inflammation of the small intestines.
The use of medications, in combination with the modern diet, can also lead to overgrowth of intestinal yeast (candida) and an increase in intestinal permeability, a condition known as "leaky gut syndrome. Foods such as sugar, soft drinks, tropical fruits, spices, and chocolate accelerate these disorders.
Easing Digestive Disorders
The macrobiotic understanding of energy-balance can help us determine the type of home remedies to use when treating common digestive disorders. Diarrhea, for example, represents an overly-yin or expanded condition. Its symptoms can be categorized as follows:
- A watery condition
- Overactive energy
- An overacid condition
An internal remedy with the following energy characteristics would help offset these symptoms:
- Gathering energy
- Solidifying effects
- Stabilizing, soothing. or calming effects
- Alkalizing effects
Based on these criteria, our remedy of choice would be ume-sho-kuzu. Kuzu is a root that grows deep in the earth. It is strongly charged with yang or contracting energy. It is used often as a thickener in macrobiotic cooking, and has contracting or solidifying energy. It helps consolidate the bowel movement and has a quieting effect on an overactive stomach and intestines. Umeboshi neutralizes excess acid. An overly acid condition promotes diarrhea. Moreover, umeboshi has strong antimicrobal power. It can neutralize micro-organisms, including those that cause dysentery.
There is a constant balance in the stomach between the hydrochloric acid secreted by one set of gastric cells and the mucus secreted by another set of cells. Both hydrochloric acid and gastric mucus are yin. Since likes repel, the gastric mucus that coats the inner 1ining of the stomach prevents gastric acid and enzymes from irritating, ulcerating, or even eating-away the stomach wall. Kuzu has a thick, viscous consistency, not unlike that of gastric mucus. It coats the stomach and protects it from excess hydrochloric acid. Umeboshi plum, which is strongly alkaline, neutralizes the harmful effects of excess stomach acid.
As we can see, ume-sho-kuzu is broad-spectrum remedy that benefits the digestive system as a whole. Together with a balanced macrobiotic diet, it can be used to relieve such conditions as stomach ulcers and heartburn. The fiber in kuzu, in combination with the anti-inflammatory effects of umeboshi, are helpful in easing the symptoms of acute diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Moreover, because it is contractive, ume-sho-kuzu can reduce intestinal permeability, thus relieving "leaky gut syndrome." Ume-sho-kuzu can sometimes be made with grated ginger. However, ginger is an energy-activator, and for acute conditions involving inflammation, or in cases of active diarrhea, it is omitted. Ume-sho-kuzu can be taken once a day for several days until the condition improves. In addition, it is important to make dietary changes so as to allow the digestive organs to heal and prevent a recurrence of the condition. It is also important chew well, eat regular meals, and not eat before bedtime. These practices ease chronic distress in the digestive system resulting from modern eating habits.
A Soothing External Remedy
As we saw above, diarrhea is a more yin condition. Its characteristics are looseness, a watery condition, and a state of overactive energy. Diarrhea is a form of active discharge. To offset these symptoms while helping the body discharge in a more normal manner, we need an external remedy that produces contraction and dryness, and that has calming or soothing effects. Sea salt, which is yang, concentrated, and high in minerals, can be used for this purpose.
In order for the salt to be effective, it must have a deep, penetrating effect. Heating the salt on the stove liberates its potential energy and creates this effect. This remedy, known as a roasted salt pack, is commonly used in macrobiotic health care to soothe, calm, and strengthen the intestines. The roasted salt pack helps the large intestine to absorb water, this aiding in the formation of a more normal, solid bowel movement.
To prepare a roasted salt pack:
- Dry roast one and one-half cups of sea salt in a stainless steel or cast iron skillet until it is very hot.
- Wrap the hot salt in a thick cotton towel and tie securely with string. (The salt can also be placed in a pillowcase first and then wrapped in a cotton towel.
- Lie down and place the hot salt pack on the abdomen.
- Change the salt or reheat when it starts to cool off.
- Save the salt as it can be used to make another salt pack. Discard the salt when it becomes gray and no longer holds heat.
In addition to diarrhea, the roasted salt pack can be used to ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, stomach ulcers, and "leaky gut" syndrome. It can also be used to ease tension in other parts of the body: for example to relieve stiff or sore muscles, the pain from arthritis or rheumatism, or menstrual or other cramps. Like ume-sho-kuzu, the roasted salt pack is a broad-spectrum natural remedy that is safe, effective, and easy to prepare at home.
Relieving Intestinal Stagnation
Constipation can be caused by extremes of either yin or yang. Yin constipation is the result of repeated intake of sugar, tropical fruit, chocolate, ice cream, soft drinks, nightshade vegetables, and other yin extremes. These foods cause the intestine to become expanded and loose. Peristalsis, the contracting rhythm that moves digested food through intestine, becomes weak. The result is stagnation and a lack of movement. Yang constipation occurs when the intestine becomes tight amid contracted. When the diet is deficient in whole grains, vegetables, and other foods rich in fiber, and high in animal food, a person tends to produce small hard stools. These stools accumulate in the large intestine, leading to stagnation and chronic constipation. Too many hard, baked products and salt can also lead to tightness and blockage in intestines.
Regardless of whether the cause is too much yin or too yang, constipation represents a blockage and stagnation of energy. In order to counteract this, and encourage the move of energy in the lower body, we need an external remedy with energy-activating effects. The ginger compress fulfills this. When applied to the lower abdomen, hot ginger towels increase the circulation of blood and energy, release stagnation, and encourage active movement.
To prepare the ginger compress:
- Bring about four quarts of water to a boil.
- Use a fine grater to grate a baseball-sized clump of ginger.
- When the water comes to a boil, reduce the flame to and place the ginger into a double-layered cheesecloth sack with a string and squeeze the juice from the sack into the water.
- Place the sack into the pot and let it steep, without boiling, for about five minutes.
- Dip a towel into the ginger water, wring it out tightly, and apply it to the abdomen. (It is best if you are able to lie comfortably and have someone else give you the compress.) Cover the first towel with a second dry towel to hold in the heat.
- Change the towel every two or three minutes, replacing with a fresh, hot towel. You can do this by using two towels and alternating them so that the skin does not cool off between applications.
- Continue applying hot towels for about ten to fifteen minutes, until the abdomen becomes warm and pink.
Because the ginger compress has strong energy-activating effects, it is better not to use it on someone with a serious illness such as cancer, or when fever, irritation, or inflammation are present. Therefore, it would generally not be appropriate for the digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, and stomach ulcers. The roasted salt pack, which has calming or soothing effects, would be more appropriate in these cases. The ginger compress can be applied every day for several days to relieve chronic constipation, or two or three times a week for about a month to strengthen and activate the intestines.
As we can see, the ginger compress can be used for both types of constipation. However, when it comes to internal remedies, these must be adjusted to offset the cause of the condition. Therefore, for yin constipation, a more yang remedy can help bring relief; and for constipation caused by yang, a more yin remedy would be beneficial. The large intestine is in the lower body and, although it is a long hollow tube, it is compressed into a small space. Overall, energy moves through the large intestine in a downward direction. These are characteristics of more yang energy. In Oriental medicine, the large intestine was viewed as an example of condensed or "metal" energy.
Roots grow down below the surface of the earth and are also charged with yang energy. They strengthen the intestines and lower body. Among roots, kuzu (or kudzu) is especially strengthening and beneficial. In macrobiotic healing, we use kuzu as a kind of neutral base for a variety of remedies. Kuzu preparations can be adjusted toward yin or toward yang depending on the other ingredients that are added to it. Therefore, for yin constipation, we can make the kuzu more yang by adding more yang ingredients. For yang constipation, we make it more yin by adding yin ingredients.
For constipation caused by overly expanded intestines, the ume-sho-kuzu drink described above can be used. In this preparation, umeboshi plum and shoyu (naturally fermented soy sauce) are added to the kuzu to give it a more yang, salty and alkaline quality. This drink can be taken for several days in a row or several times per week to strengthen weak intestines.
For constipation caused by tight intestines, a more yin preparation would be appropriate. We can give kuzu a more yin, sweet quality by adding rice syrup (Ame) to it. This drink is known as ame-kuzu.
To prepare ame-kuzu:
- Dilute one heaping teaspoon of kuzu several tablespoons of cold water.
- Add one cup cold water to the diluted kuzu.
- Add one or two teaspoonfuls rice syrup.
- Heat over a medium flame, stirring constantly to prevent lumping, until the liquid becomes translucent. Drink while hot.
If rice syrup is not available, you can use the same of barley malt instead. Sweet kuzu can also be prepared with apple juice. Simply substitute one-half cup of apple juice place of the rice syrup. As with ume-sho-kuzu, these sweet kuzu drinks can be taken once a day for several days or several times per week to relieve chronic constipation. Ame-kuzu also helps relieve tension and stress and the symptoms of hypoglycemia.
Source: This essay is from personal notes and lectures.
From Contemporary Macrobiotics
By Edward Esko
© 2000 Edward Esko