We made it!

We got through Qi, Blood, Cold and Damp stagnations, and now we are on the fifth and last one: Food Stagnation. This one is perhaps the easiest to understand and relate to because certainly most of us have experienced over-eating during holiday meals. All you have to do is remember how you felt after eating too much food, and you’ve got it.

Generally, Phlegm and Food stagnate in the Middle Warmer, the location of the Stomach. However, symptoms may also arise in the Lower or Upper warmers. In fact, people often go to the emergency room thinking they have heart problems while actually it’s acute Food Stagnation causing heart symptoms.

Food Stagnation may be either acute or chronic. The acute type is how you feel after over-eating; with the chronic type, you may not experience any symptoms or you may have any of those listed below.

Ayurvedic medicine calls chronic Food Stagnation ama. Ama is like rotten sludge, the undigested food particles that lodge in the organs and channels of the body. Similar to Damp Stagnation, it has a consistency of sticky paste with a foul smell. Chronic Food Stagnation arises when digestion becomes impaired and the body can no longer fully digest or absorb nutrients. In this case, food overwhelms the Stomach, preventing its normal descent and the Spleen’s normal ascent. It then either results in stomach symptoms of sour regurgitation, reflux or vomiting, belching and/or hiccupping, or it passes on to the intestines causing foul gas or loose stool or diarrhea with foul-smelling stools. The partially digested food then lingers in the body, congesting the organs and channels and slowing the circulation of Qi, Blood and Fluids.

Food Stagnation is itself an Excess condition regardless of whether it occurs in someone with Deficiency or Excess. It may be associated with either Cold or Heat and this is reflected on the tongue as either a white or yellow coat respectively.

Signs of Food Stagnation

Pulse and Tongue

  • Pulse: full, slippery 
  • Tongue: thick, greasy coating, which could be white or yellow; possibly swollen tongue body

Food Stagnation by Location

Upper Warmer: Acute – Heart palpitations or stuffiness around the heart along within the epigastric region (Food Stagnation prevents Heart Qi from descending)

Middle Warmer: Acute – No appetite; fullness and distention of the epigastrium which are relieved by vomiting; insomnia with a full feeling in the stomach region (Heart Qi cannot descend); unrelieved hiccupping; epigastric spasms; nausea, vomiting. Chronic – Foul breath; sour regurgitation; belching; certain types of insomnia; abdominal fullness and bloating; poor distribution and/or assimilation of nutrients.

Lower Warmer: Chronic – Lower bowel stagnation; constipation.

Abdominal Diagnosis of Food Stagnation

 Tightness of the muscle under the epigastrium and/or ribs (could also be Qi stagnation) or of upper abdominal muscles; tightness of lower intestines (could also be Qi stagnation); I’ve also felt and seen that thickening of the fat layer over the upper abdomen is a reflection of Food Stagnation.

Causes for Food Stagnation

There are many factors that can cause food to stagnate. Here are several:

Pathogenic Influences: Invasion of Cold into the stomach or intestines, especially combined with poor diet or over-eating

Emotions: Worrying while eating; emotional eating; PMS eating (eating too much and then nothing); eating disorders such as bulimia

Diet: Excessive consumption of: fatty, fried and greasy foods (for example French fries, hamburgers, pizza, and cheese), cold foods and drinks (including raw foods, fruit, tofu, soy milk, iced drinks, salads, ice cream and other refrigerated or iced items), and simple carbs (especially flour products like muffins, pastries, crackers, breads, toast, pasta, cakes and chips of all types)

Lifestyle Habits: Overeating, especially of hard-to-digest foods; eating too quickly; eating while in a hurry; irregular eating times and amounts; working while eating; driving while eating

In Part II we will discuss treatments and therapies for Food Stagnation. However, if you feel stagnant just by reading all of this, I suggest you – you guessed it! Immediately get up and MOVE! Movement is one of the great keys to circulating all substances in the body. Walking and stretching are particularly good for Food Stagnation as are any bending postures that compress and release the stomach.

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