Three Chinese Herbal Formulas for Digestion
This is the time of year that a special diet and good intentions tend to be forgotten and hopefully, forgiven. Sometimes all it takes is a good reason for some needed holiday cheer to set aside principle in favor of a little indulgence. The consequences of a temporary dietary laxity may not be great, but sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad feeling of nausea or worse. Chinese herbal medicine can help with some of the most common aspects of taking in too much food and drink, bad food, or even contaminated food. Some of the frequent results of these types of food are an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, or nausea (which can precede vomiting), diarrhea or constipation. The following three Chinese herbal formulas are not meant to cure all digestive ills, but some of the more common ones. They are also not usually used for weight loss. The following formulas are popular for nausea, vomiting and the full feeling of eating bad food or too much food. Not all symptoms have to be present to be treated by the formula.
With a highly suggestive, yet vague, name about what it cures, this formula can seem mysterious, especially because it works so well. But what does it work for? It works for a broad range of digestive complaints that encompass some of all of the three formulas presented. I have found it to be very useful for nausea due to almost any reason.
Besides nausea, Curing Pills are useful in the widest range of digestive problems, including vomiting, overeating with feelings of stuckness, bloating, indigestion, and digestive pain. Symptoms can include frontal headache, belching, hiccough, and poor appetite. Curing pills can be helpful in cases of stomach “flu”, food poisoning, and acid stomach. This formula helps keep the food in the digestive tract going in the right direction. It can also be helpful with motion sickness or morning sickness.
The herbs in Curing Pills include Poria, Coix (a type of grass seed), and sprouted rice, which are useful for feeling of indigestion and heaviness. Magnolia, Agastache, Auklandia, and tangerine peel are included to help with appetite, move Qi, relieve pain and stuckness, and help with gas and bloating. Some herbs are also antimicrobial, like Angelica bai zhi, Auklandia, Agastache, Chrysanthemum, and mint. Other herbs help to balance the formula in direction with ascending the Spleen Qi, like kudzu root, within the overall descending nature of the formula.
Caution: Some brands made in mainland China (sometimes misspelled as Culing Pills, and tend to be packaged in vials of little round BB sized pills) may contain low levels of lead or arsenic (levels still considered safe and incidental). Formulas made in China or the US with GMP certification are safe, tested for heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, and for correct species of herbs that are used. Generally, brands made in the US from Chinese grown herbs are higher quality and are usually GMP certified, doing more testing for safety, correct ingredients, and have expiration dates. However, Chinese made brands like Mayway and Tanglong are good quality and also GMP certified. Achieving Health carries the Mayway brand which is GMP certified.
Curing Pills has a larger amount of ingredients and treats the most varied digestive symptoms. Curing Pills can be taken before or after eating. Curing Pills can be combined with other formulas like laxatives to help prevent cramping pains due to laxatives, or with influenza formulas to treat the digestive aspect while the flu formula is stronger to eliminate the virus. Curing Pills are a great general formula for nausea from any reason, and can be taken every hour or so, when the nausea starts to return.
Bao He Wan
Bao He Wan translates as “Preserve Harmony Pills.” This formula is the main formula used for “food stagnation.” Symptoms include nausea, bloating, distention, with low appetite, hiccoughs, or belching. If you’ve overeaten enough to have an aversion to food or to a particular food (hello pint of ice cream or bag of potato chips) with uncomfortable fullness you may have had food stagnation. It’s a great formula for when our “Eyes are bigger than our Stomach.”
Obviously, many of these similar symptoms overlap with all three formulas. In the case of Bao He Wan, it is used more for overeating, sometimes with phlegm or mucus involved (like having to clear the throat a lot after eating). It can also be used if emotions affect eating, like having an argument around a meal, causing indigestion. Sometimes the stagnation of food, Qi and phlegm that combines can cause mild feelings of heat or slight fever.
Bao He Wan includes herbs which help digest foods. Hawthorn berry is used to help digest meats and greasy foods. Leavened wheat and barley sprouts help digest starches and alcohol. Radish seed helps with preventing and dispersing phlegm. If heat from stagnation is produced the Forsythia seed helps clears it. Tangerine peel and Poria assist in dispelling Dampness causing heaviness and the feeling of distention.
Bao He Wan is usually used as needed for the feeling of avoiding food due to overeating, which may include indigestion, poor digestion, gas, bloating, belching with nasty smell, heavy or stuck feeling in the stomach area.
Modern research has shown this formula useful for indigestion, atrophic gastritis, and chemotherapy induced nausea. Like Curing Pills and Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Pian, these herbs help stimulate and regulate the gastrointestinal tract. Achieving Health carries the Evergreen company Bao He Wan, made in the US and GMP certified.
Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Pian
This formula is translated as Pogostemon Rectify the Qi Pills. Originally, it was used for nausea and vomiting while having a cold or flu with chills and fever, headache, aversion to cold, nausea, vomiting, heaviness or stuck feeling in the chest and upper abdomen, stomach and abdominal pain, and cough. Modern use includes being used for food poisoning symptoms that strike suddenly with vomiting and diarrhea.
Acute food poisoning causes the Qi to be disturbed from normal digestion where contaminated food products need to be eliminated from the body quickly. The digestive tract rebels upwards and downwards with vomiting and diarrhea. At the same time, cold or flu symptoms also can cause the stuck feelings in the abdomen with feelings of fullness and pain.
The formula includes Pogostemon (patchouli herb) Perilla, Magnolia, and Areca which help to rectify the Qi by returning it to it’s normal directions, thus reducing vomiting and diarrhea. Some of these herbs are antibacterial and antiviral in action.
Some modern uses of this formula include treating the nausea and vomiting of an alcohol hangover. Better to not overindulge, but the aromatic herbs described above help to cut through the turbidity created with food poisoning or hangover, and help to revive the appetite.
In modern research, Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Pian has been used to treat gastroenteritis, diarrhea, food poisoning, fungal infections and diaper rash (the last two when used on the skin). Some pharmacological effects that have been shown in research include antispasmodic effect in the gastrointestinal tract, antiemetic effect, and antibacterial effect against Salmonella, dysentery, and other food borne illnesses. Achieving Health carries the Evergreen company Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Pian, made in the US and GMP certified.
Besides these formulas, other ideas should be considered to maintain digestive health during the holidays:
a) Eat slowly to allow the stomach time to register as full and to prevent overeating.
b) Chew foods well, to help allow the flavors to be savored as much as to have the flavors let the digestive tract know what kinds of foods are coming down, which can help enzyme production for digestion of those foods. Chewing well also helps with eating more slowly.
c) Eat a range of healthful and fresh foods. Winter holidays seem to be associated with lots of meat and carbs, like turkey, potatoes and stuffing, and less healthful vegetable dishes like canned beans and canned mushroom soup, canned fruit and jello, or canned cranberry. Go ahead and make some vegetable dishes that are also popular for holidays, like roasted Brussel sprouts, mixed green salad, or peas with pearl onions. Frozen vegetables are almost as good as fresh vegetables for vitamin content as long as they’re not cooked to mush.
d) Eat holiday foods with a good attitude of thanks, but don’t keep them around for more than about a week so as to keep the vitality and vitamin content of freshly made food. You can also make up some frozen meals for later use. Just remember to label and date them.
To summarize, Curing pills have the widest application for most digestive problems, but especially nausea and vomiting. Bao He Wan are frequently used for overeating which causes a feeling of aversion to food. And Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Pian are often used for food poisoning from low quality or contaminated foods.
Wishing you the best in your holiday season and in your eating choices.