The Stomach in TCM is responsible for ripening and rotting of food. It is called the ‘sea of grain and water’. It’s function is digestion but this term should be taken in a much wider sense – the stomach ‘digests’ thoughts, emotions, worries and anxieties as well as food.
It is interesting to note that modern medicine is discovering there are more nerves and connections between our gut and brain than any other organs in the body. In a very real way, ‘trusting our gut’ may be more than just a proverb and when we fail to deal with our worries and stresses, physical problems can show up in the gut or stomach area.
After ripening or fermenting the food, the Stomach sends it to the Spleen to extract the essence of the food. The remainder of the food is sent by the Stomach to the Small Intestine for further processing.
Paired with the Spleen, it also controls the transportation of food essence to the whole body. A Primer of Medical Objectives (Yizong Bidu), 1637 (From Li Zhongzi) states that, “Once the food enters the stomach, it is transported to the six fu organs, and thus there will be qi. It will be appropriately dispensed to the five zang organs, and thus there will be blood. Human beings must rely on this type of nourishment in order to stay alive. It is for this reason that the spleen is called the source of postnatal energy.”
The element of the Stomach in TCM is the earth. Just like Mother Earth, the stomach feeds all the organs within us. So the Qi generated by the stomach is important to all organs within us. The Stomach opens into the mouth so things like mouth ulcers can signal problems with the stomach and spleen. Similarly, it’s taste is sweet so sweet cravings can serve as a warning sign to watch our digestion. Our muscles are also dependent on the stomach and spleen and any problems with tiring easily or muscle growth/fatigue may be traced back to these two organs.
When food is ripening in the stomach it causes ‘turbid dampness’ as a by-product. This rises to cause the coating on the tongue that we examine so much in traditional chinese medicine (TCM). A thin white coating on the tongue means the stomach is functioning properly. No coat means the Qi of the Stomach is impaired or not functioning.
The functions of the Stomach can be summarised as;
- Controls the ripening and rotting of food
- Controls transportation of food essense
- Controls the descending of Qi
- Stomach is also the origin of fluids (it dislikes dryness)
The peak hours of stomach Qi are 7am-9am. Foods good for balancing the stomach are all the ‘earthy’ foods such as carrots, turnips and parsnip (i.e. root vegetables). Yellow or orange foods are also beneficial to stomach health.