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

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