Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Gluten-Intolerance

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Gluten-Intolerance

I have been trying to write my first article for the last few days, and I am having quite a hard time getting my thoughts to this page. I am trying to ignore what is preventing me from being able to explain digestion from a TCM perspective. However, today I realized I am ignoring what I really should be focusing on. I am having “gluten-brain”, and what perfect timing! It is never a positive experience, but why not turn this painful exposure to gluten into a learning experience I can write about?

For those who do not have an intolerance to gluten, or celiac disease, it can be very hard to understand the harm that gluten can cause. It is a very personal experience, with a wide range of symptoms, however, there is a symptom in particular that stands out for me. It’s when I feel that all of my energy has been sucked out of my body, in particular, my mind. This foggy-head feeling, or “gluten-brain” as I like to call it, is by far the worst symptom I can imagine.

I unintentionally ingested gluten the other evening. I was at a friends house for dinner, and they really went to a lot of trouble trying to make sure everything was gluten-free. Although there is so much awareness now, gluten is still a term that a lot of people do not full understand, or know enough about. It was a great 99% gluten-free dinner, but upon casually asking about the recipe, because it was so delicious, she listed off an very glutenous ingredient. Alarm swept through my body. I didn’t want to say anything as I knew she would be feel horrible, but immediately, panic set in. I knew how the next few days were going to unfold.

With years of experience, I can recognize my gluten-related reactions, but it makes me think about the people who walk around, sytemically fatigued, foggy-brained, and even depressed who have no idea that gluten is potentially the cause. It can be difficult to recognize the effects of gluten, without ever having a better state of health to compare it with. Until reaching the other side of a gluten-free life, one may never know their full potential of health.

This little protein called gluten can be extremely damaging to intestinal walls. Thus, preventing very important vitamins and nutrients from being absorbed. A study from 2006 reported that one-third of individuals with celiac disease also suffer from depression, and the rates for a certain population for having depression were 31% amongst those with celiac and only 7% for those without. With studies like this, the correlation of gluten-intake (and therefore malabsorption) and mental health becomes very evident, and suddenly I don’t feel alone in my misty state.

In the past, I would just wait it out, walking around in a intoxicated-like condition, not being able to focus on anything for a few days. However, this time around I decided I would be proactive and actually do something to help myself. I turned to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to work my way through this “gluten-attack”.

Firstly, it is important to know that TCM organs have different functions from those in western medicine. When thinking of anything compromising digestion and absorption, from a TCM perspective it relates to the Spleen’s (Spleen-Stomach) ability to transport and transform food and fluids. Qi, the body’s life-force energy, needs to be flowing smoothy, efficiently and fully for the body to function properly, without disease. For those who suffer from gluten sensitivities or intolerances, the Spleen’s Qi is most likely to become deficient and depleted. This can also lead to a TCM term: dampness, which will even further damage the healthy flow of Qi. The Small and Large Intestine are also involved in proper digestion and absorption, so these organs are also considered.

Also, it is essential to note that one of the main TCM principles is holism. When considering this concept, and looking at the whole body, leading a strictly gluten-free diet for the rest of one’s life is the other way we can say TCM will treat celiacs disease. Avoiding gluten will never cure celiac disease, but educating someone with a compromised digestive tract on how to eat properly, to digest the most nutrients, and what types of food to eat is extremely beneficial. During digestion, the body will warm the food to the body’s temperature. With the Spleen/Stomach Qi already being damaged and thus its ability to warm foods, it is recommended to avoid cold, raw food that would further injure the Spleen, and eat warming or yang foods that are at least partially cooked.

Other aspects of TCM such as acupuncture and chinese herbs work to strengthen the Qi, removed stagnated Qi and resolve dampness. The treatment protocol, and what I used on myself were points to tonify the spleen and the stomach Qi, regulate the digestive functions, dissolve dampness, heal digestive organs, relieve pain, and remove the “cloudy-mind” sensation.

The relief I felt after stimulating these points was like night and day. I did similar treatments for a few days, and each time feeling better. Although not a cure for Celiac disease, acupuncture can certainly help with the symptoms that result from ingesting gluten whether those be from an acute situation or the long term damage from eating gluten in the past.

I guess my opinion is bias, being a student of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, however, I can honestly say there is nothing that has helped my digestion better than TCM therapies.

Emma Dolan