How to Treat Indigestion with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Ginger tea is used to treat certain types of in traditional Chinese medicine. See more pictures of traditional Chinese medicine.

Overeating or combining foods that are difficult to digest leads to acute indigestion or a condition known in Chinese medicine as food stagnation. Symptoms include a lack of appetite and an aversion to food, a full, bloated feeling in the stomach, nausea, vomiting, bad breath, and acid belching. The treatment principle is to move qi in the stomach, thereby stimulating digestion and moving the contents of the stomach into the intestines. In these cases, Pill Curing is especially effective.

Another possible cause of acute indigestion is eating while under stress: The liver becomes hyperactive and impairs the digestive function of the spleen. Treatment involves soothing the liver while simultaneously stimulating digestion, and an appropriate remedy is Shu Gan Wan.


Chronic weak digestion is commonly due to a deficiency of qi or yang in the spleen, the principal organ of digestion in traditional Chinese medicine. When the qi of the spleen is deficient, it is unable to perform its functions of digestion. In addition to the typical qi deficiency signs of fatigue and pale face and tongue, symptoms of chronic weak digestion include poor appetite, weight loss, fullness and sleepiness after eating, and loose stools.

A useful remedy for this condition is Six Gentlemen Teapills, since it contains herbs that relieve indigestion along with herbs that strengthen spleen qi. If spleen yang is also deficient, all the same symptoms are present with the addition of cold hands and feet, a desire for warm food and drinks, abdominal pain and discomfort after eating cold foods, and diarrhea with undigested food in the stools.

In this case, the above patent formula should be taken along with strong ginger tea. Ginger tea can be purchased in tea bags or made fresh by simmering slices of ginger root in water for a few minutes. The diet should consist primarily of soups and cooked foods but no cold or raw foods. Moxibustion to Stomach 36 and points on the abdomen also boosts the qi and yang of the spleen, gradually increasing the body's digestive strength.

Acute cases of indigestion are quite easy to treat, usually responding to one acupuncture treatment or a tube of Pill Curing. Chronic cases of indigestion due to an underlying spleen qi deficiency can take a few weeks to resolve. The classic point for all types of digestive weakness is Stomach 36, which responds equally well to moxa or acupuncture. If the person fails to change unhealthy dietary habits, the condition will be very difficult to treat.


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Bill Schoenbart has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 1991, when he earned a Masters degree in TCM. He teaches TCM medical theory and herbalism at an acupuncture school in California, and also maintains a clinical practice.


Ellen Shefi is a licensed massage technician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered dietician. She is a member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the American Herb Association, and the Oregon Acupuncture Association.