The face is the mirror of what is going on inside the body, and more closely, the digestive tract. If you take a look at the face chart to the left, you can see that the governing vessel, conception vessel, stomach, gallbladder, small intestine, large intestine, urinary bladder, and triple warmer meridians all travel along the face. A problem within any of those meridians, or organs, will always eventually become evident on the face.
Last month’s article touched on how certain organ disharmonies will present themselves in regards to skin and aging, but today I want to focus on our two main digestive organs in TCM, the spleen, and the stomach. The stomach is considered to be the most important of all yang organs, and its paired yin organ is the spleen. It is considered to be the root of all postnatal qi, or qi that we create in our bodies from food and water. It is what gives us energy on a daily basis. The stomachs' job is to break down the food through "rotting and ripening," while the spleens' job is to "transform" that matter into nourishment for our bodies, and "transport" it to organs and extremities.
In order for the yang stomach to function properly, it relies on healthy yin (fluids and cooling properties) to maintain a moist environment for fermentation. This would be equivalent to our stomach acid and other digestive enzymes and fluids. Our stomach relies on a fine internal balance, not too hot, not too cold, with an ample amount of digestive fire or energy to carry out its function. If we eat too many hot or dry foods, such as spicy food, BBQ'd food, alcohol or greasy, fried food, will overheat the stomach and dry up the yin. If too much cold and frozen food is eaten, such as frozen fruits, ice water, raw veggies, or ice cream, the digestive fire becomes weak and digestion slows. When the stomach qi, or digestive fire is weak, we may experience low appetite, weakness, stomach pain, loose stools and puffy face. If the stomach begins to overheat, we can see symptoms like constipation, excessive thirst, dry mouth and lips, heartburn, and acne on the chest and back.
The spleens' main job is to aid the stomach in digestion, as well as distribute nutrients to all parts of the body. When our spleen has sufficient energy or spleen qi, we are able to extract nutrients from our food into "food qi," which is a vital part of the process of making qi and blood.
Just as the stomach had a preferred environment, the yin spleen functions best under dry, warm (yang) conditions. If we eat too many rich, creamy foods, or cold and icy foods, the spleen qi will weaken, digestion will be sluggish, we may experience heavy limbs, a buildup of phlegm, lack of concentration, weak muscles, sagging skin and fine lines and wrinkles. When the spleen qi is weak, the transformation process slows down and phlegm, fat, mucus, and plaques build up and deposit all over the body.
So what food CAN we eat to maintain a happy spleen/stomach balance, and optimal internal environment for proper digestion to occur?
Whole grains - short-grain brown rice, oats, and buckwheat
Beans, pulses, and legumes - chickpeas, soybeans, adzuki beans, and peas
Vegetables - all winter squash, carrots, cabbages, peas, fennel, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yams, shiitake and other mushrooms, green beans, and lotus root
Nuts and seeds - peanuts, chestnuts, and almonds
Animal foods - beef, chicken, duck, pork, lamb, beef and chicken bone broth, eggs, trout, salmon, catfish
Fruits - red dates, sweet cherries, peaches, red grapes, raisins, apples, figs
Beverages/Teas - warm liquids, ginger, licorice or fennel tea
Herbs/Spices - thyme, rosemary, chives, vanilla, fennel, cardamom, star anise, ginger root, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon.
The health of our digestive tract depends on maintaining an optimal internal environment for our spleen and stomach, so basing our diets around these foods listed above, and limiting foods that disrupt this equilibrium, will ensure that we look and feel our absolute best. Now that we have a basic understanding on how our nutrition impacts our digestive tract, we can start to look more in detail at how we can use TCM diet therapy and Acupuncture to improve the look of many skin problems, by healing the body from the inside out.
Please check next month’s newsletter for an in-depth look at treating three of the most common aging complaints we hear from our clients at the spa.