6 Eupeptic Herbs That Help With Digestion

A banquet table with different colorful snaks

The holiday season is a time of many festive celebrations when people gather together and engage in more overindulgence than any other time of the year. Even though we all know for a fact that there is a threshold to the amount of food our stomach can accommodate, on holiday feasts somehow we tend to get carried away and fail to perceive that limit. 

Whether you suffer from indigestion due to overeating, or due to eating something that your digestive system can’t cope with, taking digestive herbs is a natural way to help your gut to deal with food stagnation and indigestion. There are a several natural medicines that can cure your indigestion. In this article you’ll learn the specific use of each digestive herb according to oriental medicine.

Table of Contents

How to Avoid Digestive Issues

A gentle reminder before it is too late: if you can avoid suffering from indigestion before you have it, then do it. Here are some tips to prevent indigestion from happening:

1. Take the time to have a good look at your plate and feel the smell of your food.

According to conventional physiology, up to 60% of digestion takes place before the food reaches our mouth. When we are about to eat, our brain notifies our stomach that a meal is coming. As a result, the muscles of the stomach loosen in anticipation, and gastric juices start to be produced. 

Eating with mindfulness has many benefits. When we pay attention to the food we are eating, it is more likely that we will notice when our stomach is full, even while consuming very rich foods. 

2. Chew your food properly.

There is a good reason why we should masticate our food properly. When we’re chewing, the aliments are crushed and soaked into saliva, this process alone digests part of the nutrients and carbohydrates, in addition to regulating the pH of the food bolus (food after being chewed).

On the one hand, grinding well the food directly contributes to the better efficacy of the digestive fluids. On the other hand, the longer mastication takes more saliva is excreted, and the better the digestion becomes. It is recommended that we chew from fifteen to fifty times each mouthful (depending on the texture of the food). 

There are four major muscles that are responsible for mastication. When mastication happens, the growth of structures engaged in the action is stimulated. For children, it is indispensable to practice and strengthen their movements until they can use both sides of their jaws to chew.

It is convenient to mention that the higher an animal in the evolutionary pyramid, the bigger their ability to chew. To have control over mastication is a sign of evolution and consciousness.

3. Never fill up your stomach to its full capacity. 

Traditional medicine divides the stomach into three parts; one part for the food, one part for the drinks, and one part should always be left empty. The stomach digests the aliments by churning them through various muscular contractions. When our stomach is completely filled, the mixture inside can travel back through the tube linking your mouth and stomach (esophagus). When we fill up our stomach to its full capacity, we might have symptoms like acid reflux (known as Counterflow Qi in TCM), nausea, and other symptoms related to dyspepsia.

Another problem implied in overreaching our stomach’s capacity according to Chinese traditional medicine is that the food takes longer to be digested. When food sits inside our gastrointestinal tract for long periods it starts to accumulate a pathogen termed Dampness that can weaken the function of the Stomach in both short and long term. 

The Digestive System in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, all the organs of the gut are resumed into four zangfu whose functions are related to the processing and formation of different types of qi. They are:

  • Stomach. The Stomach is a fu known as the “sea of water and grain” in Chinese medicine. The liquids inside the Stomach, called Jinye, pre-digest the food. Its paired zang is the Spleen, which complements the functions of the Stomach. 
  • Spleen. The Spleen transforms and transports the pure essences of the food (which are represented by the flavors in TCM) from the Stomach in a process called “the raising of qi”. The digestive function of absorption has an ascending direction, following the circuit of the portal vein and coming from the Stomach, Spleen, and Intestines.
  • Small Intestine. The function of the Small Intestine is to receive the chyme from the Stomach and separate the pure from the turbid. Its function is related to the mingmen Fire, which is the source of metabolic Heat according to Chinese medicine. 
  • Large Intestine. Transform the residues and reabsorbs the fluids, sending them to sanjiao, which distributes the liquids from the Large Intestine throughout the body. 

Herbs that Improve Digestion 

There are many oriental herbal medicines that can improve digestion, yet, their effects are not all the same. The therapeutic effects that the bioactive compounds contained in herbal medicines can have in the digestive process vary. Some of these effects are:

  • To stimulate the secretion of digestive juices;
  • To stimulate intestinal peristalsis;
  • Contain enzymes that enhance digestion;
  • Carminative effects;
  • Other complex eupeptic effects.

It is worthwhile noticing that herbal medicines that release food stagnation do not necessarily strengthen the gut, but rather accelerate gastric emptying. In cases of indigestion due to a previous debility in the gastrointestinal tract, consult with a qualified health care professional.

1. Daikon Radish Seeds (Lai Fu Zhi)

Daikon seeds on a white surface.

Semen Raphani is the pharmaceutical name of daikon seeds. In classic Chinese medicine, daikon seeds are found in the category of herbs that disperse food stagnation. Besides its traditional uses, a Chinese patent medicine called Qingxuanjianyia which contains majorly daikon seeds’ water extract lessens hypertension in patients with high blood pressure.

Traditional therapeutic effects of daikon seeds: addresses digestive difficulties that present as bloating and heaviness in the Middle Jiao, unpleasant belching, acid reflux and abdominal cramping with diarrhea.

In Japan, both daikon and its seeds are widely consumed. The seeds are often put into salads and other raw dishes with the purpose of harmonizing the effects of foods that are hard to digest. It has a spicy and nutty flavor that adds taste to the food. 

Daily dosage: 6-9g

Notes:

2. Malt (Mai Ya)

Malt
Photo by Lutz Wernitz on Unsplash

The traditional use of malt in Chinese medicine is to help the digestion of fruits and starches. Due to its tropism to the Spleen (Chinese gut), malt is traditionally indicated to stimulate appetite in conditions of debility in the digestive system. 

Traditional therapeutic Effects of barley sprouts: disperse food stagnation resulting from starch and various kinds of fruit; it also helps toning the Stomach. Malt is also suitable for kids with difficulty to digest milk.

The pharmacological effects of malt include boosting metabolism and reducing cholesterol levels. It is indicated for the recovery of intestinal problems like diarrhea, gastritis, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Malt contains the enzyme amylase which promotes the degradation of starch, as well as maltose, glucose, and vitamin B. Malt also have probiotic effects. 

Daily dosage: 9-30g

Notes:

  • Malt decreases milk production during lactation.

3. Hawthorn Berry (Shan Zha)

A bow with sliced hawthorn berries.

Dry hawthorn berry is considered a potent natural medicine for digestion in oriental traditional medicine. The therapeutic effects of hawthorn are mainly directed at helping in the digestion of meats and fats.

Traditional therapeutic effects of dry hawthorn berry: Boosts digestive process and reduces food stagnation, especially those caused by greasy products and meat. Breaks up accumulation that causes abdominal pain. The roasted form is used to treat chronic diarrhea. 

The pharmacological effects of hawthorn berry are many. It prevents the hardening and thickening of the arteries (anti-atherosclerotic), reduces cholesterol levels, has a positive inotropic effect, dilates blood vessels, decreases oxygen consumption of the heart muscles, lowers blood pressure, boosts gastric acid production, and is antibiotic. Additionally, it has also been used medicinally to treat boils and wounds on the skin due to its antibacterial properties.

Daily Dosage: 9-30g 

Notes:

  • Caution when combining with digoxin-containing drugs.
  • High doses during pregnancy can cause fetal death.

4. Fennel Seeds (Xiao Hui Xiang)

Fennel seeds are important carminative remedies that relieve gas and bloating. In India, fennel seeds are normally consumed after every meal. In Indian restaurants, the candied version of fennel seeds are a customary treat offered to clients as a courtesy. In Chinese medicine, they are found in the category of herbs that Warm up the interior of the body and expel Cold. 

Traditional therapeutic effects of fennel seeds: Heats up the core and descends Counterflow Qi. It is used to treat bloating, gases hiccups, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and loss of appetite.

Fennel has been proven to have expectorant, and spasmolytic effects. It can be used to address mild digestive issues, abdominal distention, intestinal tract wind, coughing, bronchitis, hernias, and hydroceles. Animal research also revealed that fennel acts as an inhibitor for ciprofloxacin.

Daily dosage: 3-9g

Notes:

  • On uncommon occasions, people have experienced an allergic reaction after ingesting fennel. In addition, those who are allergic to celery have reported a cross-reaction.

5. Dry Tangerine Skin (Chen Pi)

Dry tangerine skin
https://www.chineseherbshealing.com/proven-herbal-remedies/citrus-peel.html

Dry tangerine skin is used as a remedy for gut and chest ailments in oriental traditional medicine. In China, chen pi can be found in small packages at regular food shops, and is consumed like chips. In traditional Chinese medicine, tangerine skin is found in the category of medicines that regulate qi.

Traditional therapeutic effects of tangerine skin: Promotes the flow of qi, balances the core of the body, and eliminates blockages of qi that cause symptoms such as fullness and bloating in the epigastric or abdominal area, burping, and nausea/vomiting (due to its descending nature).

The pharmacological properties of tangerine skin are: stimulates peristalsis, may act in the dilation of the bronchi. It is used to treat mastitis, chronic bronchitis, cholelithiasis, and when applied topically dry tangerine skin treat burns.

Daily dosage: 3-9g

6. Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

One piece of fresh ginger.

Although fresh ginger is primarily utilized as a diaphoretic remedy in oriental medicine, its digestive properties are also considered relevant. Ginger has an important toxicity neutralizing effect that is very handy in cases of food poisoning. 

Traditional therapeutic effects of fresh ginger: moderates the toxicity of other herbs. Ameliorates the toxic effects of eating spoiled fish and sea-food with symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea, and digestive disorders. 

Ginger is used pharmacologically to stimulate the production of digestive juices and saliva, activate intestinal peristalsis, stimulate bile production, and perform antiemetic functions. It is also deployed to address cases of reduced appetite, dyspepsia, and motion sickness. 

Daily dosage: 3-9g

Notes:

  • Dry ginger is traditionally used to Warm the core of the body and strengthen the digestive system before eating.

Chinese Medicine’s Approach to a Good Digestion

Taking digestive herbs can naturally help the digestive system to deal with food stagnation. The measures to prevent indigestion from happening include eating with mindfulness, chewing properly, and not overfilling the stomach.

Daikon radish seeds, malt, hawthorn berry, fennel seeds, tangerine skin, and fresh ginger are six herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to help improve digestion. These herbs have many associated pharmacological effects that can reduce cholesterol levels, break up intestinal stagnation, improve appetite, promote digestion and have antibacterial properties.

Herbal medicines are not meant to replace the advice of a health care provider. In case you have any doubt concerning the effects that taking herbal medicines can have on your health, consult with a qualified professional. 

References

  1. García F. & Vilardebó D. (2012). Materia Medica I. Tarragona: Fundación Europea de MTC.
  2. Hempen C. H. & Fischer T. (2009). A Materia Medica For Chinese Medicine. Plants, minerals and animal products. Munich: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

 

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