Unfortunately, last month I suffered from food poisoning I contracted from a restaurant. As the hellish experience unfolded, I found myself examining the color of my tongue and checking which acupoints were sore on my abdomen. Despite the harrowing experience, it was remarkable to watch how the human body handles such a toxic assault AND to track the course of the illness with Chinese medicine diagnostic tools. This experience has happened to most of us in one extreme or another. Sometimes a parasite is to blame, sometimes a virus but in most cases, bad bacteria is the culprit. Here’s more on the subject:
When we ingest polluted food or liquid, our bodies react forcefully to try and rid the toxins. Usually the cases of food poisoning are caused by bacteria (e.g., staphylococcus, e. coli) that contaminate through the unclean handling of food, or from food that has been left out too long or is undercooked or not washed properly. Raw shellfish or fish can also cause food poisoning, as can food that is prepared with or washed with unclean water. Symptoms usually start a few hours after ingestion and involve abdominal pain, vomiting/nausea, diarrhea, headaches, weakness, and fever and chills may also occur.
Food poisoning is especially dangerous for children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems. If you fall into one of these categories and contract food poisoning, contact your medical doctor immediately for instruction. Most cases resolve in a couple of days on their own, but serious complications like kidney problems or chronic immune problems can result, so it should be watched carefully. Life threatening cases from botulism, poisonous mushrooms, listeria and the like can also occur, so if symptoms are severe, or if symptoms do not resolve, if they worsen, or are accompanied by things like dizziness, high fever, or blood or pus in the stool, get medical attention immediately.
TCM View on Digestion and Food Poisoning
The Traditional Chinese Medicine view of food poisoning is generally classified as dampness and heat in the spleen, stomach and intestines. Digestion is controlled by the spleen and stomach in TCM theory. The spleen is thought to transform the food we consume into qi or energy that the rest of the body can utilize. Therefore, if something disruptive like a food-born pathogen assaults this system, the whole body is affected, not only the digestive organs. When food-born toxins invade, the food stagnates, its
transformation and transportation are disrupted and this often causes stomach qi to rebel upwards resulting in acid regurgitation or vomiting. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, abdominal points may be very tender to the touch (such as ren 4, ren 12 and stomach 25- points around the naval). These points reflect the condition of digestive organs they correspond with- namely the stomach, small and large intestines. The tongue has a thick and often yellow sticky coating. The pulse usually feels slippery and forceful during the illness. These are precisely the signs I presented with during my bout and as my health returned, the tender spots on my abdomen dissipated and the yellow coating on my tongue slowly disappeared. Acupuncture treatments during such a condition focus on regulating digestion, and liminating dampness, heat & toxins and stagnated food. Moxibustion may also be applied.
One key point is to stay hydrated. Taking over-the-counter medicines that stop diarrhea may be a bad idea, as diarrhea is a way for your body to purge the toxins. However, if you have diarrhea and cannot drink fluids, you may need an intravenous infusion to prevent dehydration. “Cleanses” are very popular these days and that’s exactly what your body is doing when it gets attacked in this way. Help it along: when you are able to eat small amounts of food, first, eat what you can. When you are able to eat a bit more, try sticking to things like steamed greens and herbal teas such as dandelion and ginger. Adding lean protein should also help you feel stronger. Charcoal tablets may be helpful as well. I used a mix of bentonite clay and psyllium to clean out my gut and supplemented with probiotics and an anti-parasite tincture for good measure. I advise anyone to take probiotics at a strong dosage consistently for at least two months after this experience. This will help replenish the healthy flora to your gut and fight the bad stuff. (Please ask me about brands that I recommend if you’re interested in knowing more about this.) I also suggest a few Chinese herbal formulas to regulate digestion and
eliminate dampness and toxins (Curing Formula and Ease Digestion formula- based on Kang Ning Wan and Jia Wei Kang Ning Wan respectively- are my two favorites).