About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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The Food Stagnation Blues

In Chinese medicine, they have this condition called food stagnation, in which the food you have eaten just doesn’t move. I have had food food stagnation only once, but it was memorable. It happened after a long and difficult airline flight with my children when they were small, and all the food I had eaten during that day just sat. It was like my stomach was closed for business, and the food wasn’t moving. I went out and ran a little, thinking I’d get things moving, to no avail. Finally, (spoiler alert; this is gross) even though this wasn’t a simple case of nausea, I vomited and immediately felt better.

Chinese medicine is all about flow–of energy, blood, your menses, and digestion.  When your digestive process slows down or stops, the result is food stagnation.   A more specific term for chronic food stagnation is food accumulation, and is due to the failure of your Chinese Stomach and Spleen to transform food into nutrients and energy.

This failure on the part of your digestion can be damage from a poor diet, such as eating too much at once, too many cold or raw foods, or too many rich or hard-to-digest foods. In many cases, however, food stagnation is the result of strong emotions, a very stessful situation, or an emotional shock. In this instance, the digestive process simply shuts down. In addition, I have seen patients with this condition likely caused by a rebound effect from using heartburn medications such as Prilosec, Nexuim, and Prevacid (proton pump inhibitors) in which these patients aren’t producing enough stomach acid to digest their food.

The symptoms of food stagnation most frequently affect the middle part of your digestive tract. They include abdominal pain that doesn’t like any kind of pressure, decreased appetite, a full feeling in your chest, a lump in your throat, belching, and acid reflux. Occasionally, food stagnation will affect the small or large bowel, causing serious constipation, distention, and fullness below the stomach or in the lower abdomen. It’s important to say that if you are experiencing abdominal pain of any kind, you need to be evaluated by a Western medical doctor first.

Treatment for food stagnation in Chinese medicine involves acupuncture, often combined with Chinese herbs and food therapy. Common acupuncture prescriptions include using points on the Ren pathway (Conception Vessel), such as Ren 21, Ren 12, and Ren 6, as well as points on the Stomach pathway, such as Stomach 25, Stomach 36 and Stomach 37. Stomach 36 and 37 is a powerful point combination that has a strong downward moving action that can be particularly effective for food stagnation.

Choosing a Chinese herbal formula for food stagnation depends on the nature of the patient and the severity of the food stagnation. For patients that tend to be weak or depleted, a formula, such as Bao He Wan, that dissolves and moves the stagnation is suggested. Depending on the patient and circumstances, formula that strengthens the Chinese Spleen/Stomach for better digestion. such as Liu Jun Zi Tang, may be appropriate instead. However if a patient has a strong body constitution and more severe food symptoms, a harsher formula that purges downward and moves the stagnation may also be used.

A practitioner of Chinese medicine would also offer some dietary guidelines to help relieve the symptoms of food stagnation or accumulation. In addition, they can provide tips for choosing foods that will prevent this condition from occuring again.

2 comments to The Food Stagnation Blues

  • Hi Lynn – thanks for anther lovely article! I wanted to add that within the chinese medical model, food stagnation can also be due to weak Lung energy – the Lung and Large intestine being linked. Perhaps a way of seeing this is that when we breath well, we breath deeply – hence we need to relax our intestines. As an old slogan states – a wise man breathes from the belly.
    All the best

  • Lynn Jaffee

    Thanks, Giles. So true–food stagnation is not a common diagnosis, and when it occurs, the mind often goes to the most likely culprits, the emotions or poor eating. It’s important to remember the interconnection between breathing, posture, and digestion.