Stress and its effects on digestion.

By Peter Loupelis.


In TCM the digestive system is comprised mainly of two organ-systems: the wei (stomach) and pi (commonly translated as spleen). Together these organs, as well as the absorptive functions of the intestines, are bundled together into a meta-system called the ‘Middle Jiao’ (burner, or heater). The purpose of the system is to take the food and drink we consume, transform it from dense matter into Qi and Blood and then distribute that to every cell in the body.


Unresourceful reactions to stress, worry, anxiety, and general emotional imbalance will impact the ability of the Middle Jiao to perform it’s important physiological function.


I like to use the following metaphor to explain how this works.


So think of a pot of food on your stove. If you have the heat too high, the food in the pot will dry out and eventually burn; have the heat too low, and the food won’t cook properly, leaving you with a disgusting sludge that probably tastes as bad as it looks. So the flame under the pot needs to be of an appropriate level, not too high, not too low.


Emotions are considered a particular expression of Qi, and Qi, like the wind, can be a soft gentle breeze, or a raging tornado. Too much wind will fan the flames, and the food in the pot will over-cook and burn. Not enough wind, and the flames will be starved of oxygen, making it too cold to cook anything properly.


And think about the full sensory experience of any emotion, one you do regularly. What does it feel like? Do you feel yourself get warmer, perhaps flushing of the face when you get angry and frustrated? What about when you feel tired, sad, or melancholic – do you feel yourself sink and have the energy to do anything?


How we choose to feel emotionally is going to have an impact on our physiology, not just the digestion. And this is why one the principles of TCM food therapy is that we should be calm and happy when we eat our meals. If that flame under the pot isn’t at the appropriate temperature, then what’s in the pot may not provide us with the necessary nutritional Qi we need to function on a daily basis.


What can you do about this?

Acupuncture is an ideal therapy to help regulate the system, as would herbal medicine. And there are of course things you can do at home, every day which will also help maintain and sustain the health of the Middle Jiao.


  • Eat regular, portioned meals comprised of foods that are appropriate for you.
  • Eat it in a calm, pleasant environment, surrounded by loved one. Turn off the TV, have a conversation, and enjoy your meal and each other’s company.
  • 20% of your time needs to be devoted to an activity or an experience that gives you pleasure. That may be exercising, meditating, writing, or simply sitting and reading a book.
  • Eat real food, fresh food, preferably organic food. If it comes with a list of ingredients, it’s probably not fresh (especially if those ingredients are either unpronounceable or are numbers).
  • Cook you’re food. It makes it easier for the Spleen & Stomach to transform and transport the nutrients. That doesn’t mean cooking it to death; veggies need just 60 seconds blanched or no more than 2 minutes steamed. Stir-frying is a few minutes in a hot wok. When the Middle Jiao is not overwhelmed, it means your system is better able to deal with the stressors external to you (the usual life stuff).


In many cultures, meal times are a ritual involving the household or the community; it is a celebration of closeness and nurturing, and a reflection of thriving existence. It’s something our culture seems to have lost somewhere along the way. How amazing would you feel if it became that again?


Want to book an appointment with Peter? Call us on 1300 318 817 or email