What do you think about gut bacteria and the microbiome that lives inside your insides?
Do you view gut health in terms of function and form? In other words: proper function (things working well in your midsection) leads to a desirable form (goal weight)? A lot of people do. And everyone knows what weak digestion is and most of us have experienced its calling cards. Maybe it’s a bloated abdomen or irregular bowel movements. What about acid reflux or food sensitivities or allergies? Maybe you know the anxiety of your MD informing you that you are prediabetic or you’ve felt defensive if they said that you were overweight. There is more to a robust food processor than form and function though. When your gut bacteria and other microbes—the microbiota of your intestines–is healthy there is a far-reaching effect that manifests throughout your mind and body, from your waistline to your emotional state and more.
Let’s consider three key aspects of gut health and how they affect your overall wellbeing. And…do you know how much Chinese medicine actually can contribute to your gut and digestive health?
~~~A healthy weight means various things~~~
As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I help people to achieve their unique version of wellness. Metabolic and gut health provide a measure of the person’s whole-body health. Not their weight but, instead, their digestion and whether or not their overall being reflects a regulated gut. Size, shape, and metabolism are common concerns for just about everyone, though, so it’s worth mentioning the link between gut health and weight.
Are you trying to lose weight? If so, you may have heard about the set point theory. This holds that the body has a certain size range it prefers and will do what it needs to maintain it. Does this resonate? You drop a few pounds, and then you plateau; next, you may even gain more than you lost and then some. This is frustrating and discouraging. Mind you, I do not equate thinness with health, and I support health at every size, or HAES. Whatever your own comfortable and healthiest size is will be individual to you. And yet…if you are struggling and your goal is to lose weight, then your gut bacteria is worth considering.
Your healthy gut is a foundation of your healthy digestive process which can set the stage for your healthiest set point (whatever that looks like for you).
~~~Chronic stress and inflammation~~~
In Chinese medicine, we view chronic stress as a burden on Spleen function. In Western biomedicine’s view, similar things happen but they’re narrated differently. Whichever way we tell the story, we can agree that stress combined with chronic inflammation in the body can also interfere with insulin and glucose, leading to fatty liver in some cases; in others, water retention and edema are the visible signs of a stressed and distressed system. Don’t let me get started on the topic of inflammation and autoimmune disease (that’s a whole new blog post). And that’s not all. Current research is tracing the links between the gut microbiome and long COVID too. Long story short? What’s inside your gut resonates throughout your entire body. When you take good care of your gut you are taking great care of yourself.
Ancient traditions, from Chinese to Greek to Ayurvedic, all took into account the connections between long-term stress and ill health. Scientists today are viewing and reviewing the links between stress and inflammation. A good article for folks who like to read scientific papers is “Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases.” Even better, maybe, is the book A Silent Fire: The Story of Inflammation, Diet, and Disease by Shilpa Ravella, a physician and faculty member at Columbia University. This account reads like a detective novel and requires no interest in science to make it enjoyable. Also, I love that she gives credit where credit is due to 4th century China as the purveyors of the first fecal transplants (for a quick but thorough history, take a look at this fascinating article: “Fecal microbiota transplantation in metabolic syndrome: History, present and future”).
Long story short? If you’re inflamed, the path to healing starts with your gut.
~~~The path to inner peace runs the course of your intestines~~~
We can replace the proverb the road to hell is paved with good intentions with an even better aphorism: the road to health is paved by microbiota. Seriously!
Chinese medicine is holistic medicine and has acknowledged the connection between mind and body since its inception centuries ago. Current research is coming around to this, only rather than speaking of Liver qi stagnation or Spleen qi deficiency (to name but two ways we narrate the underpinnings of emotional challenges), allopathic physicians will refer to the enteric nervous system and the gut (see, for instance, “How to Improve Your Gut Health and Mental Health”). Chronic stress also brings with it increased cortisol. This can manifest externally via larger amounts of belly fat. Internally, long-term heightened cortisol can cause heart and lung problems, anxiety, depression, and more.
One of our super-star physicians, Li Dong Yuan (1180 – 1251 CE), founded what is known as the Spleen and Stomach School. Its philosophy holds digestion as the center of health and wellbeing and traces a direct line between gut health and mental wellbeing. Today, we see a fine tuning of similar ideas in contemporary research trends (take a look at “Gut microbiome composition and diversity are related to human personality traits” for a fascinating discussion of the gut and its expression via behavior and disposition).
No matter which medical tradition speaks louder to you, we all agree on the same thing: the mind-body connection that is a foundation for inner peace is nourished by your gut.
~~~So how can Chinese medicine help me?~~~
First, let me say that we have a lot more in our toolbox than acupuncture. Personally, I love acupuncture and so do most of my patients. But not everyone does, and not everyone wants to start with it. A blog post I wrote a few years back is still good now, so if you’re on the fence about acupuncture, take a look at “Acupuncture and More (Where to Start With Traditional Chinese Medicine if Needles Make You Nervous).” Yes, acupuncture is fantastic for digestive health. However, with Chinese medicine, gut health is central to whole-body and mind-body health. Consequently, we have a lot of ways to get you there. If you’re needle-averse, we can focus on your nutrition choices, give you herbal formulas, and include modalities like cupping or tui na (similar to massage) in your treatment plan. That’s a lot, if you ponder it!
In my practice, I also offer the option of wellness coaching. This is useful for distance clients and it also can be a valuable service for local people who come to me for acupuncture, herbs, and/or manual therapy. Different patients will have different needs. Some will want to reverse a prediabetes diagnosis. Others have digestive challenges, from extreme allergies to what, for them, are cosmetic concerns related to bloating and gas. Still others experience anxiety or the varying outcomes wrought by chronic stress or inflammation. I treat all of these concerns from the center: their gut.
What are your concerns when it comes to your microbiome? What interests you most about trying Chinese medicine to support and nurture your gut health?
Some people come to me with specific fitness goals in mind, or because they have an injury and want to heal faster, better, and without surgery.
Think about when you’ve invested in a personal trainer and worked really hard…only to not achieve your goals or, once you stop working with the trainer, the weight comes back. That is so frustrating, isn’t it? Well. If you manage your gut health first and strengthen your digestion and microbiome, then your work with your trainer enjoys an added boost that gives you greater success both inside and out of the gym. I can say from experience that the synthesis of my delivery of Chinese medicine for gut health combined with the expertise of the patient’s personal trainer can make a huge difference in their fitness outcome.
One of my niche specialty areas is acute injury, and this can be anything from a sprain to a broken bone. People who are given a small window of time before the orthopedic surgeon decides whether a cast is enough or that they need surgery will come to me and, I am very proud to say, I do have a great record of helping people to avoid surgery. A combination of acupuncture, herbal treatment, and manual therapy (I discuss the matter of acute injury in this blog post) is a big part of their success. Also very important? Nutritional strategies so that the patient’s blood sugar remains stable and their gut health is as optimal as can be during their healing process.
Coaching for lifestyle change is also key for my patients with histamine intolerance or autoimmune conditions. Altering one’s life in order to bolster gut health is difficult for most of us, and especially so when a person is working with multiple health challenges. Though I do hold a specialty certification in sports nutrition and, as a health coach I did study Western thought regarding nutrition, my coaching relies on Chinese medical theory. Patients and clients discover new ways to view their eating habits and we explore ideas about food that do not require stringent or restrictive habits. Support and education in combination with acupuncture and other modalities of Chinese medicine can be ideal for people with complicated health issues of these sorts.
Did you know, for instance, that indiscriminate use of probiotics can be detrimental to your goals? Probiotics are instrumental to building a healthy microbiome in many instances but too much of a good thing can be problematic. If you have a lot of sensitivities, including histamine intolerance, it is important to choose wisely,
What if you don’t want to eat Chinese food? That’s fine. There are a lot of ways to eat well. My personal habit leans more towards my own cultural background and so I filter my typical Mediterranean diet through the lens of Chinese medical theory regarding nutrition. What do you like to eat? How does your background inform your choices? Whatever your answer, coaching can help you to refine and improve your habits. Add this to any of the modalities of Chinese medicine for digestive wellbeing and you have a potent mixture for nourishing your gut and strengthening your overall wellbeing.
Long story short? Chinese medicine can do a lot for you when the focus is on your middle section. We have a centuries-old tradition of centering health on the gut, in fact. Do you want to look better, feel better, and achieve inner peace? (I think we all want that if you ponder it…).
The bottom line is this: If you have tried all the different ways to improve your digestion, achieve a healthy-for-you weight and size, reduce inflammation, and/find your bliss, but none have worked for you thus far…
Well, what are you waiting for?
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX office. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.
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Note: Material on this web site site is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease, illness, or ailment. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Material on this web site does not purport to identify syndrome patterns.