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
Though there may be only four seasons, there
are actually five elements.
Fall corresponds to Metal
which corresponds to the Lung and Large
Winter corresponds to Water
which corresponds to the Kidney and Urinary
Spring corresponds to Wood
which corresponds to the Liver and Gall
Summer corresponds to Fire
which corresponds to the Heart and Small
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
When evaluating a patient for Earth imbalances,
I look for indigestion
of any type—bloating, burping, gas, nausea,
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
• 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
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
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
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
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
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.