Western Medicine Vs Chinese Medicine

A couple of weeks ago I was at a wedding and saw at the reception that my friend Cathy wasn’t eating anything. I asked her about it, and she said after years of searching for answers, she finally got diagnosed with celiac disease. She has to eat before going to any parties or social gatherings because she can’t tolerate any gluten.

I totally feel her pain. Suffering from severe food allergies can definitely kill your social life, and sucks the enjoyment out of eating, although having adopted a mostly paleo lifestyle, I must say that eating healthy can definitely be delicious.

There’s a connection between digestive health and fertility, and the Chinese medicine perspective on food is dramatically different than Western medicine. I often tell my patients that your health starts in the gut, and I can usually tell the state of someone’s digestive health by asking them three simple questions without running any tests, which I’ll get to in a bit. Digestive health is one of the best indicators of fertility because the digestive organ in Chinese medicine is also one of the key players in helping to sustain a pregnancy, which means it reduces risk of a miscarriage.

While Western medicine treatments are based on symptoms and Chinese is based on a collection of symptoms, the two medical systems do share a number of similarities in their views on the digestive system. From a Western nutrition perspective, the digestive system takes the food that we eat, breaks it down through series of chemical and mechanical processes into smaller pieces, and then these small pieces are distributed to the areas that are needed— whether it’s to make hormones, enzymes, tissues, or to be used for energy. Likewise, in Chinese medicine, the digestive system is also where food is broken down and energy is extracted for use.

But here are the major differences:

The Western version of the digestive system consists of the entire digestive tract, from mouth to esophagus to stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum. In Chinese medicine, there is only one organ that is the driving force behind the process of digestion, and it’s not the stomach, it’s the spleen. You might be scratching you head and saying, “But you can live without a spleen. Isn’t the spleen a dispensable organ?” Not so in Chinese medicine. This medical observation is 3,000 years old, a time when people were more in-tune with nature, their bodies and the interactions between the two. I don’t want to get too technical here about Chinese medicine, but it developed the concept of Qi, loosely translated as “energy,” based on observations of the human body and nature. What you need to know about Qi is that it’s in everything, and every organ every cell in your body has Qi. When Qi is flowing smoothly, we’re healthy. When Qi is stuck, we get sick.

So back to the spleen. The spleen is like a factory. The stomach still does a lot of the mechanical breakdown of foods, but it’s the spleen energy that extracts energy from foods and distributes them to the rest of the organ systems in the body such as liver, heart, kidneys, and most importantly, ovaries and uterus. It helps to boost egg quality and help to thicken the lining of the uterus to help with implantation and preventing a miscarriage.

Let’s talk about spleen energy and fertility for a bit. When the spleen is functioning at 100%, your energy supply to the body and energy flow should be optimal. When it’s not functioning well, the energy supply slows down. When the energy supply slows down, the energy flow slows down. When the energy flow slows down, it impacts the ovaries and the uterus: They won’t be able to get the nourishment they need. This is a super-simplified version, but the point is that spleen energy impacts the overall energy flow of the entire body.

Quick note: In Chinese medicine, we used the word “deficient” a lot to say that an organ’s energetics are weak. It does not mean that there’s something physiologically wrong with that organ.

You’re probably thinking, just tell me already how I know if my digestion is healthy! So back to those three questions I referenced earlier, which are indicative of your spleen energy’s function. If you experience any or all of the following, your spleen energy is low.

  1. Bloating after a meal
  2. Chronic diarrhea or loose stools
  3. Food coma

All of us experience these symptoms from time to time. Don’t worry if you get bloated once in a while, or have the occasional diarrhea or food coma. That’s not a sign of spleen energy weakness, those symptoms are caused by an imbalance of another organ system that temporarily affects the spleen.

You may have always thought these symptoms are normal, and that everyone has them. But that’s not true. If you experience these three symptoms often, then your spleen is definitely sluggish. You should be able to digest food without bloating, have stools that are solid and formed — diarrhea is a sign that nutrients are not being absorbed properly — and you should feel energized after a meal and not sluggish. Think about your body as a car, and the spleen is the engine, and food is the fuel. If the engine is not functioning, the car is not going run very well. Even if you’re using premium fuel, it won’t matter because the problem is at the engine. So in my friend Cathy’s case, celiac disease is a severe form of spleen Qi deficiency. She has to stick with a strict diet, otherwise she’s miserable.

There are many causes for weak spleen energy. It can be constitutional, which means you were born with tendency to develop spleen energy deficiency. It can happen as a result of a major imbalance in another organ system impacting the function of the spleen. Most commonly, you’re eating the wrong types of foods. There are many wrong types of foods for the spleen, but those details are for an entirely different post— I will, however, get to one you can cut out today that will make a huge difference.

Before I expound on it, I have to point out another major difference between Western and Chinese medicine in regards to digestive health and nutrition. Western medicine emphasizes calories, fat percentage, protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, so on and so forth. This concept of micronutrition doesn’t exist in Chinese medicine. From a Chinese medical perspective, all foods can be divided into five temperature categories: cold, cool, neutral, warm and hot.  These are the properties of foods before they’re prepared or cooked. For example, spinach is considered a cool vegetable, watermelon is a very cold fruit, and beef is warm protein.   When you cook your food, the property shifts because you are adding warmth. Spinach that is steamed or sautéed becomes a neutral vegetable; cooked chicken shifts into the neutral category too. Knowing the categories is useful because that’s how you can adjust your diet according to your Chinese medicine pattern, or diagnosis, because each temperature category benefits a certain pattern.

This brings me to the one type of food to cut to instantly boost your fertility. Before I begin, I want to stress the importance of what I’m about to tell you. It applies to everyone who is trying to conceive, not just those who have digestive issues. Here it is: Raw and cold foods, raw and cold foods. These include any type of raw vegetables such as salads, baby carrots, celery sticks, broccoli, also sushi, ice water, frozen fruits, yogurts, ice cream. If you’re in shock right now, don’t worry, the reaction is totally normal and I’m used to it. Here’s why stopping eating raw and cold foods can boost your fertility.

It turns out that the spleen is most affected by raw and cold foods because raw foods are hard to digest and require more energy to digest them, and cold foods require more energy to warm them up. Remember how the spleen supplies energy to the ovaries and uterus? If the spleen is overworked by eating excessive amounts of raw and cold foods, it becomes sluggish and energy production slows down. For an analogy: Let’s think of your spleen as an oven. When you put something raw in the oven, it takes a lot longer to cook and uses a lot more energy than if you are heating something already cooked.

When you ditch the salads and start eating more cooked foods, think of it as preheating an oven. You wouldn’t want to throw a casserole in the oven without pre-heating first.  Same thing when it comes to getting pregnant. We want to preheat the uterine oven, so when that little embryo travels down to the uterus, it has an inviting home to become a sticky bean (that’s the term I like to use for a successful pregnancy!).

What about fruits? Do you need to cook an apple, or an orange, or how about a banana? So in general, room temperature fruits are preferred. If you store the fruits in the fridge, let them warm up a bit before eating. The only time you need to cook fruits is if your have chronic diarrhea that is very very watery. The quality of bowel movements is one of the best ways for us to identify energetic imbalances. If you have watery stool early in the morning, or have bowel movements that are always watery or if your bowel movements have undigested foods in them, then cut out raw stuff from your diet AND cook your fruit as much as possible, like making jam, baking or poaching.

Before I wrap this up, I want to tell you about the two freebies pertaining to this post. First, I’m giving you two recipes for cooked fruits that are not only delicious but fertility friendly. You can download them here: www.adrienneweifertility.com/003a.

The second is for those who are curious about which foods are in which temperature categories. With this list, you’ll be able to understand very quickly why certain foods absolutely need to be cooked. You can download this list from www.adrienneweifertility.com/003b.

The big takeaway here is that digestive health is super-important for fertility because it provides nourishment to all the vital organs. When the digestive system is weak, the energy flow slows down. Cutting out raw and cold foods will immediately boost your fertility because in Chinese medicine, the organ that is responsible for digestion — the spleen — can become overworked and cause energy flow to slow down.

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SIGNOFF,

Adrienne

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