Ever noticed that when you are feeling stressed, anxious or sad that your appetite goes, bloating gets worse and digestive food becomes basically impossible? This isn’t a coincidence, for thousands of years Chinese medicine has understood emotions to be a key influencer to how well our body digests food.
Our emotions are a core element to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and can be closely linked to our digestion. The TCM model works around the premise that every organ is linked to an emotion and if these emotions are out of balance we suffer specific symptoms. Our emotions are of course a natural part of being a human, being sad, hungry, excited and joy are experiences we all feel every day. It is believed that when these emotions become excessive that our organs can be thrown off balance. Equally if our organs are off balance so too can our emotions be. For example, prolonged anger is said to be linked to an imbalance of the liver, yet at the same time an imbalance of the liver can cause symptoms of anger, leading to a viscous little cycle.
While western science uses the endocrine system (hormones) to describe the workings of our emotions and stomach relationship – TCM uses a system called the Five Elements; earth wood, fire, metal and water. It is the balance of all of these elements working in harmony that is understood to be good health.Each element links to different meridians and organs in the body as well as emotions and functions and according to TCM any emotion we hold on to can affect the digestive process.
The 7 core emotions that are focused on through TCM and the organs they link to are as below:
Anger –The liver
Joy – The Heart
Worry – The Spleen
Pensiveness – The Spleen
Sadness – The Lungs
Fear – The Kidneys
Shock – Adrenal Glands
The two core emotions linked to digestion problems are worry and anger; thus the Liver and Spleen. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the Liver is associated with the emotion of anger. The liver is widely responsible for the storage of blood within the body and in TCM, is considered the master in ensuring the smooth flow of ‘qi’ – otherwise known as energy flow and the smooth the function of bodily organs and meridians- . In other words, when the liver functions smoothly, so does the physical and emotional activity in the body. When the ability to spread ‘qi’ smoothly through the body is disrupted, often other organs such as the stomach, spleen and lungs can be affected and put under stress too. It is when these organs are under stress that functions such as digestion slow down, causing a bunch of symptoms such as bloating, tiredness, constipation and IBS.
The Liver is also closely linked to the spleen and in times of stress, anger or resentment it can attack the spleen. In TCM, The spleen is responsible for food digestion and absorption within the body, thus closely paired with the stomach. It is also the organ that is associated with the emotions of worry and overthinking. Our continuous worries can deplete and weaken the spleen, meaning that it cannot turn food in to qi efficiently, leading to poor digestion, abdominal discomfort, tiredness and loss of appetite. The spleen In this context is therefore viewed very differently to the role it is seen to have in western medicine.
It is reported that imbalance of the spleen can be caused by not only by worry and overthinking but also poor lifestyle habits such as bad diet, exposure to damp environments (mould) and prolonged use of steroids and antibiotics.