How to use foods to strengthen digestion.


Digestion and gut health are increasingly becoming a hot topic as more information on the microbiome comes out.

Chinese medicine has long known that digestion is essential for health. In many ways, it is believed that digestion is the pivot point and central to health of all the organ systems because it is associated with the Earth element which is often seen at the center of the 5 elements.

The health of our digestive system in Chinese medicine is called our “digestive fire”. Digestive fire is a term used to describe the ability of our body to produce sufficient enzymes, stomach acid, and bile to break down our food into tiny particles which can be absorbed through our intestinal tract.

The more that I study functional medicine and the microbiome the more I appreciate the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine and realize that they just use different terminology for similar things.

With a strong digestive fire we can keep our immune system and health strong. The bad news is that our ability to properly digest our food can easily be disrupted by chronic stress, poor diet, environmental toxins, pharmaceuticals (acid blockers or PPIs are particularly problematic), age (stomach acid starts to drop off in our 30’s and 40’s), and chronic illness, and often it is hard to determine which came first, the illness or the gut dysfunction.

Some signs you have weak digestive fire:

  • Skin conditions (acne, eczema, rosacea, etc)

  • Food and environmental sensitivities or allergies

  • Heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD

  • Gas and burping

  • Undigested food in stools

  • Stomach upset or pain after meals

  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)

  • Infections (yeast, bacteria, parasites)

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Anemia

Luckily there are ways to optimize and strengthen your digestion with foods and herbs. Because we want our digestive fire to be warm (obviously because who wants a cold fire?!), it’s important to follow the basic of food energetics.

These basics include: eating with the seasons, eating cooked veggies in the winter, raw veggies in the summer, and more or less not over consuming cold foods.

The following are some specific foods and herbs to strengthen digestion:

  • Organic raw apple cider vinegar – take one Tbsp before meals to increase digestion and nutrient absorption

  • Eat more bitter tasting foods such as chicory, dandelion, arugula, radicchio, endive, artichoke, lemon and black radish – bitter foods stimulate digestive function & strengthen the digestive organs (liver, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, etc.).

  • Thyme – stimulates the production of gastric juices

  • Cumin – reduces inflammation, prevents gas, relieves diarrhea and promotes secretion of gastric juices.

  • Ginger – relieves nausea, heartburn, gas, soothes and relaxes the intestinal tract Cayenne pepper – provides a cleansing effect on the bowels

  • Trikatu – an Ayurvedic blend of ginger, black pepper, and long pepper. Supports digestion & overall gastric function, stimulates digestive enzymes, promotes rapid absorption of nutrients.

  • Garlic – prevent bacterial infections such as h. pylori

  • Sea salt – stimulates stomach acid production

  • Dandelion tea or dandelion greens – increase production of stomach acid

It’s important to have strong digestion because if you aren’t digesting and assimilating your foods in creates an environment for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, parasites, and candida. Once you are in that situation then it is much more challenging to use food remedies alone to regain balance.

If you are interested in learning more information about how Dr Nancy can help you optimize your digestion and help you regain your health, send an email to

Living in Harmony with the Water Element


Winter is upon us.  (Well, at least most of us).  Technically we still have a couple weeks to go but I know my body has moved energetically into the water element, the element of Winter.

As you may know, each season has an associated element and with each element we are given powerful lessons and medicine to improve our health and awaken our spirit.  

Our health is beyond just what we eat and the exercise that we do.  It is also our emotional landscape and the beliefs that we hold.

Each season we are allowed the opportunity to gain a new perspective and understanding of ourselves.  Like peeling away layers of an onion, we get closer and closer to True Selves.

In Chinese medicine, we believe that all imbalances and disease are in most cases rooted primarily in an imbalance of energy and emotion.  This will eventually manifest into the physical.

The “negative” emotions of the Water element are fear and anxiety. When you feel anxious and your fears rule you, you begin a cycle of fear, tension, and pain that can wreak havoc on the body.  This stagnates the natural flow in the body.

Peaceful introspection turns to phobic fears; calmness becomes pathological detachment and dissociation; resilience turns to constant low-level fatigue or exhaustion; integrity turns to rigid belief patterns.

If the energetic imbalance in the Water element continues, it begins to block physical functioning as well, and symptoms such as lower back pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, vertigo, dizziness, high blood pressure, occipital headaches, infertility, lack of excitement, vaginal dryness, premature ejaculation, hearing problems, tooth loss and problems with urinary retention begin to occur.

The medicine for an imbalance in the Water element is trust, faith and surrender.  

Allowing ourselves to simply be still and quiet, containing our energy within ourselves, is to stand in the energy of the Water element. Living in a society of continual striving and exertion, we expect instant results and immediate answers. But nature has another idea: everything to its season. Within nature are already all the answers, we just have to be quiet enough to listen and be empty enough to be filled.

When we follow this natural rhythm of life, we are given all that we need.  We will have all the energy we need for Spring and the creation of goals. We are also given the health we desire because Winter truly is a time to rest and repair.  

Here are some practical tips on how to align yourself to Water element:

  • Drink enough water.  Sounds easy but many people forget to drink when it’s cold outside.  Room temperature or warm beverages are best. You want to avoid sodas, coffee, juice, milk and alcohol as much as possible as it requires digestion.  Water purely hydrates you.

  • Eat blue, purple, and black foods. These foods are associated with the Water element, and, not surprisingly, modern research has shown that the anthocyanins that give them their color concentrate in the kidney and brain. These anthocyanins have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and atherosclerosis and have protective effects against age-related neuronal and behavioral declines.

  • Eat warming foods.  Now is not the time of morning smoothies or daily salads.

  • Avoid added sugars. Sugars interfere with the absorption of anthocyanins. Added sugars have also been directly linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver cirrhosis and dementia, among other chronic health problems.

  • Get more rest.  This is nature’s season for rest, repair, and regeneration—a phase important for our next cycle of growth.  Try to rise and fall with the sun.

  • Quit your addiction to being busy and schedule in time for contemplation.  The winter season is an especially good time to begin the practice of meditation.

Now I want to hear from you! Share with me in the comments below.

What is your experience in the Winter? Do similar emotional patterns or health issues come up>?

Have you used any of the diet, lifestyle or supplement therapies in this article? What did you experience? Share with me in the comments.

Vegetable Broth

After my last blog entry about bone broth, I realized that I left my non-animal protein eaters out of the picture.

I do feel that bone broth offers healing benefits that cannot be obtained otherwise, but I also completely respect someones choice to not eat meat.

Here’s a simple veggie broth recipe that can be used throughout the cold months to balance and revitalize.


  • It’s alkalising

  • It’s mineralising

  • It helps flush toxins from your system

  • It helps regulate blood pressure

  • It supports and nourishes the kidneys and adrenals

  • It’s a great source of hydration, including for the skin

  • It contains nutrients which boost immunity

  • Provides Beneficial Probiotics.

  • Helps Improve Digestion.

  • Has Positive Effects on Blood Pressure.

  • Has Anticancer Effects.

  • Good Source of Nutrients — Including Copper, Manganese and Vitamin K.


4 quarts of filtered water

4 carrots chopped

4 scrubbed potatoes

4 chopped celery stalks

4 cloves garlic

1-2 piece kombu seaweed

1 bunch parsley

Any juice pulp or veggie scraps you want to use/get rid of.

Miso Master white miso (organic, gluten free, non gmo).


Peel the potatoes. Use the potato for something at the restaurant. Place the potato peelings, carrots, celery, garlic, seaweed and additional veggie scraps you want to use in large pot of filtered water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 min. Add parsley and simmer for 5 more minutes. Strain the broth. Stir in miso paste to taste. Start slow so you don’t add too much. Allow to cool. Store in freezer if not used within one week.

Hormones, Gut Health & Bone Broth


Bone broth is one of those fad foods that you are hearing a lot about. Not only do you hear people speaking about drinking bone broth but now there are all sorts of bone broth products on the market.

I am a huge fan of bone broth and I probably would have been even if it wasn’t sexy right now to drink it. Bone broth has been a long time tonic in Oriental medicine and has been used for centuries to aid in healing and recovery.

Bone broth is a simple food that even the most deficient ill person can consume. And when you are needing to reset the body after illness, drinking a mono diet of bone broth for a few days will get you onto a speedy path to recovery. It’s nutrient dense and easy to digest. It’s no wonder it’s used in almost every traditional culture!

In Oriental medicine, bone broth is considered to strengthen and nourish our essence, qi, and wei qi, as well as warm the yang and build blood. The broth is said to enter and nourish our Kidneys, Liver, Lungs and Spleen. What that translates to is….it is a tonic for the body.

It is typically rich Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Silicon, Phosphorus, Sulphur and other trace minerals. The other unique and powerful substances found in bone broth are Marrow, Cartilage, Glycine, Proline, Collagen and Gelatin.

Since all of my clients are typically suffering from an imbalanced gut and hormone imbalance, I wanted to share with you the top ways it benefits both digestion and hormones.

  1. Bone broth heals gut issues. Gut health affects your hormones and vice versa. If you have a leaky gut then your body is not able to absorb the nutrients and minerals it needs to even produce hormones! Bone broth is fabulous for healing intestinal permeability. It contains collagen, which nourishes the intestinal lining and reduces inflammation. Plus if you make it into a soup, the veggies add the benefit of prebiotic.

  2. Bone broth assists in detoxing estrogen. Bone broth is full of the amino acids proline and glycine. Amino acids are essential for hormone production and for the hormone detoxification process that allows your body to get rid of the excess, rather than having them stagnate and cause imbalance issues like estrogen dominance.

  3. Bone broth supports the adrenals.  In Oriental medicine, the adrenals are considered part of the kidney system. Bone broth detoxes and nourishes the kidneys.

How to make bone broth

Last year, I wrote a short article about things to keep in mind when making bone broth. You can read it here. Below I have included a recipe my clients receive on how to make bone broth at home. I hope you enjoy. It can easily be stored in the freezer and taken out as needed.

What your skin is trying to tell you.

Photo by Anna Yarrow

Photo by Anna Yarrow

Diving into an article about skin health is similar to jumping into a rabbit hole. It’s not 100% straight forward and there are many causative factors. That being said, I feel like the information that I do know about skin health is important to share because it’s completely transformed my life and the life of many of my clients.

The above picture was a photo taken of me a few weeks ago. I have no make up on my skin, so what you see is what is real. Now I know that my skin is not completely flawless. I have definitely seen better on social media. BUT, my skin is flawless for me and I am completely content with it.

For years, I battled adult onset cystic acne. And by years, I mean for over a decade! My acne was one of the biggest contributing factors to my commitment and study of health. I was determined to heal the root cause because I knew without a doubt that there was an internal factor that I was missing. I was completely correct. Unfortunately, it just took me a very long time to decipher the messages my body was giving to me. My hope is that if you are struggling with a skin disorder that you are able to take this information and use it to make the shifts you need to create transformation.

Oriental Medicine on Skin Health

Skin in Oriental Medicine is ruled by the Metal Element. The Metal element is one of 5 elements that influence all of life and health. (you can read more about this in my ebook A Quick Guide to Eating with the Elements). The organs associated with the Metal element are the Lung and the Large Intestine. This cues us to look at the health of both of these organ systems. For example, in Asia eczema is called 'skin asthma,' due to the fact that many of the children with eczema will also develop, or already have, asthma. Typically when one organ system is affected, it will show up in other associated organ systems. This is also true when treating. When one organ system is treated, typically the other will clear as well. So if the asthma is treated, the eczema will clear and vice versa.

A good place to start with a skin disorder is to ask yourself how is the health of my lungs? What is my gut health like? In my clinical experience, I have found that most skin disorders will have a gut health component.

Other causative factors in Oriental medicine for skin disorders is dampness or heat. The term 'heat' refers to distress in the body which can be caused by overwork, emotional stress (such as jealousy or anger), and/or over-activated hormones. The insufficient flushing of waste and toxins from the body, as well as water retention, and a humid or moist environment can cause 'dampness' in a person.

Dampness has also many times been translated in the gut microbiome as dysbiosis or overgrowth of bacteria, parasites or fungi. Heat can also be translated as inflammation. So you can easily see how dampness and heat could have an impact on gut health.

The best ways to decrease dampness and heat in the body is to focus the diet on whole unprocessed foods. Limiting processed foods, sugar, dairy, wheat, corn and soy. Also, making sure that 75% of each of your meals are vegetables. Stress reduction is also crucial. This includes emotional and environmental.

Other Internal Factors

Gut health is not the only factor in skin health, though I would say it is a big gun! Hormones play a role as well. This also includes the functioning of the liver.

The liver performs about 200 vital functions, most of which are vital for good health. Detoxification of the blood, protein synthesis, excretion of bilirubin, hormones, cholesterol, drugs, and production of bile (an alkaline compound which helps in digestion through the emulsification of lipids).

The liver plays a role in the digestive process which means that it will contribute to overall gut health. The liver produces bile, which helps in digestion through the process of emulsification of lipids. A sluggish liver produces less bile, causing many digestion problems.

The liver plays an important role in eliminating toxins from the body and maintaining the efficiency of the body’s immune system.

If the process of eliminating toxins is hampered, as is in the case of a sluggish liver, skin irritation or skin allergies occur, which are considered the first sign of liver damage. A person in such a case would develop: rashes, psoriasis, eczema, boils, acne, moles, or itching,

The liver also plays a role in your hormones. The liver is responsible for filtering out mutated hormones. A person with a sluggish liver would be quite affected by the hormonal (and neurotransmitter) imbalance. Signs that you have a hormonal component to your skin issues would be that you also would exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Sleep and mental disturbance

  • Mental confusion

  • Depression

  • Sensitivity to medicines

  • Heavy or clotted menstruation in women

  • Irregular periods

  • Fibroids in breast or uterus

  • Hot flashes

  • Cysts on ovaries

  • Mood swings or any menopausal problems

A few ways to insure that you are keeping your liver health and happy are to follow the gut health dietary suggestions. Exercise regularly. Avoid drugs, alcohol and other toxins.

Face Mapping

The Chinese face map can be very useful when wanting to decipher more information that your body may be giving you about your internal health. In a traditional face map, the parts of the face are broken down into organ systems such as liver, lungs, kidneys etc. But unless you have studied Oriental medicine, that information will not translate easily for you. The image below is a good description of causes.



When looking at your complexion in the mirror, you can look for blemishes, psoriasis, eczema, dry skin, redness etc and then use the map to see if the suggested correlations make sense for you. Remember that with skin disorders (and any health issue), there is no one size fits all approach.

Topical Treatment

The last approach to skin health is typically the first aspect that most people address. Most people attempt to heal skin conditions through topical treatment. In my experience, that is literally and figuratively the most superficial aspect of the problem.

Skin conditions are almost always an INSIDE problem. That being said, topical treatment is a great adjunct therapy.

First, it is good to know that your skin has a microbiome of it’s own. The skin is the human body’s largest organ, colonized by a diverse milieu of microorganisms, most of which are harmless or even beneficial to their host. It is important to have healthy diversity of these microorganisms to have healthy skin. Without diversity, it leaves the skin susceptible to bacterial and fungal overgrowths.

Ways to insure this healthy diversity of the skin microbiome is to treat the skin gently. I personally recommend that soap is not used on any part of the body except for the pits and privates. Oil cleansing the face and body allows for the natural health bacteria to thrive and also utilizes beneficial oils that penetrate deep into pores to dissolve grime and build-up.

For my body, I dry brush in the morning then do a self massage (abhyanga) with a sesame oil with ashwagandha, which is a soothing nervine that can help anxiety, fatigue, and stress. Then I take a warm bath or shower and wipe off any excess oil with a towel. My skin is left clean, hydrated and soft.

For my face, I do something very similar but I use products from a London based company called de Mamiel. I wash my face with their oil cleanser. Wipe extra off with damp wash cloth. Then use toner and face oil. Again, my face is left glowing, hydrated, and supple. Soap never touches my face.

Remember your skin and gut microbiome are also connected (think the Metal element!) No part of the body’s microbiome exists in a vacuum, which is why it is important to continue to understand the different parts of the biome and how they interact. The skin is home to trillions on lymphocytes that interact with the rest of the immune system via lymph nodes. Just like the bacterial organisms in the gut, they comprise a valuable part of the immune system.

I hope that this information was useful for you. Again, remember that there is no one size fits all approach but I definitely feel that this will get you started in the right direction. If you would like to dig deeper into the underlying causes of your skin disorders, I would be happy to help you.

I am currently accepting applications for my next Inside Out Program where we address both gut and hormonal health, getting the root of chronic conditions. Email for more details.