A glimpse of Food Injury
In Chinese Medicine foods that cause an allergic reaction or any default in the digestive process for that matter is called food injury.
Foods can be useful or harmful, imperative or un-helpful and its important to understand how your body processes foods energetically to know what foods are ON the way or IN the way for your nutritional profile and overall wellbeing. There are general rules of thumb in Chinese Medicine nutrition, but each person has their own individual requirements and factors affecting health.
In Chinese Medicine; the energetics of food include action, flavour and temperature. However, I'm going to be discussing these properties in relation to food injury.
THE DIGESTIVE PROCESS
The stomach is the first organ to come into contact with food. Digestive enzymes or in Chinese Medicine we call it 'Digestive Fire', is vital for the initial breakdown of foods to be broken down into absorbable compounds.
This process requires lots of energy to utilise food to 'ripen' so as to transport those compounds to the small intestine & spleen which produces essential energy for the entire body (in science the small intestine absorbs the nutrients, spleen makes red blood cells from those nutrients).
With food allergies in particular, looking at the nature of the stomach is important. Is there a deficiency or an excess in 'Digestive fire'? Generally the answer is absolutely, yes. With allergies there is always a component of food injury.
The stomach thrives in an environment that is wet and is injured by dryness & susceptible to getting hot easily.
Whereas the spleen thrives in a dry environment, dislikes dampness / wetness & is susceptible to cold.
This is important when it comes to food choice and optimising digestive function.
A lack of digestive fire indicates coldness - cold nature of the stomach slows energy, thereby you have trouble breaking down food efficiently. Excess raw foods, prolonged juicing, tobacco and pharmaceutical medication such as ibuprofen, analgesics and aspirin weaken this. This could be prevalent in someone who has food stagnation.
Similarly, if your digestive fire is 'too hot' this may contribute to an inflammatory response to food - which activates the immune system. This could indicate an overload of bacteria in the stomach (such as H.Pylori) or ulcers. This can be exacerbated by excessive spices, alcohol, salt / sodium and coffee in the diet. This could be prevalent in someone who has a hypersensitivity to foods, such as allergies.
Either reaction can be a precursor for an allergic food response.
Other factors such as stress (excess cortisol), hormonal imbalances, liver or gallbladder weaknesses, lung (immune) weakness can also contribute to this reaction OR even are turned on by a disharmony in the stomach & spleen.
If there is a default here, initial injury to the digestive system includes weakening of the stomach and spleen functions.
This can lead to nutritional deficients and problems clearing waste from the digestive tract and having them stored in other places such as the respiratory tract, skin and nasal passages which correlates to a 'reaction'.
Other organs can later be affected once dampness (mucus), heat, dryness or coldness precipitates.
The internal human body thermometer ranges between 36.1 - 37.2 degrees celsius.
'Mucus producing' such as tropical fruits, avocado and dairy & 'cold natured foods' such as ice cream, icy drinks, raw salads disrupt this internal temperature regulator. The stomach, small intestine and spleen have to then work harder to 'warm up the food' to make it usable for absorption and clearance.
When there is reduced functions in the upper digestive tract organs, you can develop what is called 'cell mimicking' whereby you start reacting to everyday ingredients you would normally be okay with digesting. The immune system flags these foods as dangerous and produce a defensive response. This is how food injury develops into a systemic immune response. This explanation can also be attributed to what modern science label ' leaky gut syndrome'.
How do we then reverse and repair your digestion & treat the root cause of allergies?
Thats a huge question and requires an entire process that takes into account individual factors such as diagnosis and root cause / pattern.
Lifestyle, living conditions, occupation, patient compliancy, stress levels and how long the damage has been there play a role in recovery too.
Certainly, this is something to dive into with your Chinese Medicine practitioner, but there are ways at home you can start or support this process, as well as prevent food injury.
Here are a few handy Chinese Med tips
Eat well cooked meals
Chinese Medicine is huge on cooked foods. Boiled, baked, broths, soups, stews etc. Why?
Your eating to your internal thermo regulator
The food is more bioavailable for the digestive organs to utilise
You then absorb your nutrients better and more effeciently
You moisturise and lubricate the intestines
There is less bacteria on the food, as heat primarily kills most of it.
Eat regularly, avoid certain times & eat until 80% full
Our bodies are run by a internal timing regulator, better known as our circadian rhythm. If you look at the Chinese Organ Clock - you can see that digestion is optimal in the morning and declines in the evening. This is due to the rise in cortisol for metabolism in the first half of the day (coinciding with the rising of the sun) and the rise of melatonin in the second part of the day (coinciding with the setting of the sun). Alas the beautiful balance of work and rest.
Avoid eating a-lot before bed / or at night time - this injuries your digestive system as your body is not accustomed to metabolising food here.
Switch your intermittent fasting to the evening (not the morning), where food plays such as vital role in influencing that digestive fire.
Eat regularly and intentionally. Eat at similar times so you can train your gut to work for you, not against you. Have a date with your plate and be present in the moment whilst you eat. That brain - gut axis is strongest when your focus is solely on appreciation of chew, flavour, touch, swallowing etc.
A huge damaging factor to the stomach / spleen organs is........ overeating!
The digestive fire cannot keep up. If you are present with your food however, this generally is avoided.
Avoid the foods (for the time being) that are causing the problem
This is a no brainer!
Damp mucus producing foods, excessive raw foods, juices, refined sugars, processed foods and perhaps even corn, soy, dairy, gluten and eggs.
See how your body feels off them and then introduce them back in and connect the dots with your signs and symptoms.
Always seek medical advice as needed :)