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Earth: Our Source of Daily Health

The development of Chinese medicine has been heavily influenced by the ancient Taoists’ observations of nature. With a keen sense of awareness they identified five elements in nature and believed that as it is so in nature outside of our bodies, so it is in nature inside our bodies. They observed that just as there are cycles of seasons, so are there cycles of growth and development within us. And to live in harmony with the seasons, with the rise and fall of the sun and moon, gives us the best chance at living a long and healthy life.

This is the first in a series of five seasonal articles that will address these elements and their correspondences to our own personal health and wellness.



Though there may be only four seasons, there are actually five elements.

Fall corresponds to Metal which corresponds to the Lung and Large Intestine
Winter corresponds to Water which corresponds to the Kidney and Urinary Bladder
Spring corresponds to Wood which corresponds to the Liver and Gall Bladder
Summer corresponds to Fire which corresponds to the Heart and Small Intestine

So where does Earth, the fifth element fit into the flow? Earth corresponds to late summer and the end of each season as it transitions and transforms into the next. As Earth is the center, all four seasons spin around it and return to it to replenish and restore their energies. Earth also corresponds to the Spleen/Stomach system in Chinese medicine, i.e. digestion. And digestion is about transforming that which we eat into energy and blood to nourish us and provide the life force necessary for living—much akin to what the Earth itself provides us to sustain our lives. And as the Earth element shows up between each and every season, this is a testament to the primacy of digestion in all aspects of health. In fact, there is even an entire approach to treatment called the Earth School, that says that if all you treat is the patient’s digestion, all else will work itself out and balance will be restored.

When evaluating a patient for Earth imbalances, I look for indigestion of any type—bloating, burping, gas, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, bad breath, low or excessive appetite, weight gain or loss, sweet cravings, etc. I also look for imbalances in the emotion associated with Earth: pensiveness and worrying. Think of the word ruminate. The root rumen means stomach. In fact, the Stomach channel runs through the jaw. Cows actually have six rumen; and what is the common image of them in a field? Standing there endlessly chewing on their cud, which is identical to the idea of rumination—rolling around with an idea, fixating on it, without actually coming to a resolution and understanding, without swallowing and digesting it. Worrying depletes the Qi, or energy, of the Spleen and Stomach and can cause all forms of indigestion. And once the Earth is imbalanced, the rest of the systems can be thrown off as well.

As this article is being written in September, let me speak to the role of Earth and digestion in the promotion and preparation for a healthy immune system in the Fall. Both Western and Eastern medicine would agree that the health of our immune system starts in our digestive tract. That is where we create most of our protective immune bodies and where we receive the calories and nutrients necessary to bolster and support all bodily functions including fighting off disease. In Chinese Medicine, we identify the Lung Channel as beginning literally in the stomach. And as late summer precedes the Fall, we say that “Earth is the Mother of Metal.” This is to say that the health of your lungs, a major component of your immune strength, depends completely on the strength of your digestion.

So as cold and flu season gets closer, if you know that this is the time of year you are most likely to get sick and are considering getting the flu shot, first look at your digestion and the health of your Earth element. Are you digesting food well? Are you choosing healthful and nutritious food that is not just “healthy” but is right for you? Are you constipated? Do you get tired after meals? Do you have food allergies? Do you often get sick when the weather changes?

When my patients need help unraveling their relationship with their food, I have them do a Food-Mood Journal. For 7 days, I have them write down:

• What they ate;
• When they ate;
• How they felt before they ate; or Why they chose what they ate;
• How they felt after they ate.

A little awareness goes a long, long way! You’d be surprised what revelations come out after doing this: connecting symptoms you routinely experience with foods that trigger them, seeing how little water you drink and vegetables you eat, and clearly identifying when you are choosing foods for emotional reasons rather than healthful reasons.

A large part of my focus with my patients is in prioritizing education around food, as food is the first to hurt and the first to help, and it is often the thing you have the most control over. Here are some basic food guidelines I tell all my patients about:

1. ZERO coffee; you can have all the tea you want. Coffee is highly acidic and inflammatory and can contribute to indigestion, all cardio-vascular conditions, and colon and bladder cancer.
2. ZERO dairy: cow’s milk is for cows, goat’s milk is for goats, and human’s milk is for humans. And we all stop drinking it after we are infants. Dairy is replete with loads bacteria and viruses, hormone residues, and the list goes on. And with all the milk substitutes to choose from, there is never a better time to stop using dairy.
3. MINIMAL sugar: no more than 2 pieces of fruit per day. Sugar is inflammatory and feeds all infections including those that occur in your gut. Stevia and Xylitol are OK.
4. It is best to cook your vegetables, especially leafy greens which are very hard to clean. Cooking kills all bacteria, which can upset the delicate balance in your gut, even those that are present on unclean raw fruits and veggies.
5. Eat plenty of fiber. Constipation is defined as having one or fewer dry hard bowel movements per day.
6. Eat small frequent meals. Stable blood sugar stems cravings and over-eating.
7. Always choose organic when possible.
8. Vary your protein choices and limit the quantity to 4-6 ounces at a time (the size of your palm). Legumes are a very good source of veggie protein.
9. Drink more water—8-10 glasses a day.
10. Chew your food more thoroughly—20-30 times. Digestion begins in the mouth with your saliva coating the broken down food.
11. Take time during the day to enjoy some deep breaths.


After the age of 7, our daily health is greatly determined by the air we breathe and the food we eat. And as we saw earlier, the health of our lungs is influenced by the strength of our digestive system.

Fall is just around the corner. Use this time to work on better food choices, to eat more slowly, to get your bowels flowing, and to reclaim a healthier relationship with that which nourishes you: the food you eat and the Earth it comes from.




© Jordan Hoffman, L.Ac., Dipl. OM, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

The information presented here is not medical advice, is not intended as medical advice, and is intended to provide only general, non-specific information related to Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture and is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. You should consult a licensed health practitioner before using any of this information.

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2001 S. Barrington Ave. Ste 116 Los Angeles, CA 90025  l  310-729-9061  l  © Jordan Hoffman Acupuncture 2010
This site and any articles on this site are not medical advice and are not intended as medical advice and are intended to provide only general, non-specific information related to Chinese Medicine and acupuncture and are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. You should consult a licensed health practitioner before using any of the information on this site and any articles.