Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Digestive System

Traditional Chinese medicine has a number of herbal formulations that treat disorders of the digestive system. In this article, we’ll describe Chinese patent medicines that relieve common digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal discomfort. We’ll give the Chinese name for each medicine, and describe its indications and functions in detail.

Most of these medicines come in the form of easy-to-swallow, tiny round pills (wan) or tablets (pian). Some of these highly effective remedies for stomach ailments have been made by the same family for generations and many are based on traditional formulas that have been in use for more than two thousand years.

First, let’s look at a medicine that treats a common travelers’ illness: diarrhea. Continue to the next page to learn how Chinese medicine can relieve this uncomfortable condition.

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Traditional Chinese Coptis Extract Pills

The next time you travel, consider packing Traditional Chinese Coptis Extract Pills to relieve symptoms of traveler's diarrhea.

Chinese name: Huang Lian Su Pian (hwahng lyan soo pyen)

Also known as: Coptis Extract Tablets

Indications

Diarrhea, infections, or dysentery due to damp heat; frequent bloody or watery stools with abdominal pain accompanied by vomiting and fever

Functions

Decreases inflammation, clears damp heat and fire toxins

Description

This formula is essential for travel to areas of the world with primitive sanitation or questionable water quality. It is remarkably effective in killing the pathogens that cause the dreaded traveler's diarrhea.

The extract is prepared from the rhizome of Coptis chinensis (huang lian), and the active ingredient is berberine, a powerful constituent with strong antibiotic effects. Also found in North American goldenseal and Oregon grape, berberine gives these pills their beautiful golden color.

Huang Lian Su has strong effects, inhibiting the bacteria that cause strep throat, pneumonia, and dysentery.

Studies conducted in China have shown it is as effective as sulfa drugs in treating dysentery, without their serious side effects. Clinical trials have also proved it effective in treating influenza, pertussis, typhoid, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, and diphtheria.

As this list of conditions illustrates, Chinese herbal medicine is highly developed and is used by practitioners to treat serious disease as well as minor ailments. This formula should not be used for diarrhea due to deficient cold conditions.

Manufacturer: Min-Kang Drug Manufactory

Dosage: 2 to 3 tablets, three times a day. This remedy is for acute conditions; it is not intended for long-term use. Do not take longer than one week.

Most of us have suffered from stomach flu at one time or another. In the next section, learn about a powerful herbal medicine that provides relief for the flu's unpleasant symptoms.

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Traditional Chinese Patchouli Pills

Traditional Chinese Patchouli Pills harness the power of an aromatic herb to relieve nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting -- often in just one dose.

Chinese name: Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan (haw shahng jung chee wahn)

Also known as: Lophanthus Antifebrile; Agastache Qi Normalizing Pills

Indications

Summer damp stomach flu, with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sticky stools

Function

Regulates the digestion, eliminates dampness, repels wind

Description

The chief ingredient in this formula is Agastache (huo xiang), also known as patchouli. This highly aromatic, easy-to-grow plant is in the category known as "aromatic herbs that transform dampness." The specific action of herbs in this category is to wake up the spleen with their strong aroma and eliminate dampness in that organ. Dampness in the spleen is characterized by symptoms of nausea, vomiting, fullness in the abdominal area, lack of appetite or thirst, and diarrhea.

These symptoms usually arise as a result of acute gastroenteritis -- what we often call stomach "flu" -- which is effectively treated with this formula.

Highly effective, this formula often relieves symptoms with just one dose. This patent should not be taken alone in the case of fever, since it is warm by nature. When there are heat signs, such as fever, it can be taken along with Gan Mao Ling, Zhong Gan Ling, or Yin Qiao Jie Du Pien. It is best to take it for an additional day after symptoms subside to give digestive function a chance to return to normal. Manufacturer: Lanzhou Foci

Dosage: 10 pills, three times a day

Our next traditional Chinese medicine contains berberine, ginger, hawthorn berry, citrus peel, and several other medicinal herbs. Get valuable information on this indigestion and diarrhea treatment in the next section.

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Traditional Chinese Qi-Regulating Pills

According to Chinese medicine, a smooth flow of qi is needed for the digestive organs to function normally. Chinese Qi-Regulating Pills are designed to eliminate stagnation in the digestive tract.

Chinese name: Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan (moo shahng shuhn chee wahn)

Also known as: Saussurea Qi-Regulating Pills

Indications

Food stagnation, indigestion, diarrhea, and flatulence

Functions

Regulates stagnant qi in the digestive organs, relieves pain in the stomach and intestines, disperses food stagnation

Description

This formula is especially effective for traveler's diarrhea and gastrointestinal discomfort when used along with Huang Lian Su. The two formulas have a powerful synergistic effect (they enhance the action of the other): The berberine in Huang Lian Su kills the pathogens that cause the digestive problem, while the carminative herbs (which relieve gas and bowel pain) in Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan restore normal digestive function. Even in simple cases of gas or fullness, such as after eating too much or too fast, Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan can be quite effective.

The chief ingredient in Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan is Saussurea lappa, also known as Aucklandia lappa. This herb is very aromatic due to its high content of volatile oils, giving rise to its name, mu xiang, meaning fragrant wood. Normal function of the digestive organs requires a smooth flow of qi; stagnation of qi results in pain, distention, and abnormal activity in the organ.

Saussurea helps promote the flow of vital energy both in the stomach and the intestines, thereby relieving pain and distention and stopping diarrhea. It acts as an antispasmodic to smooth muscle, thereby relaxing the intestines, and it inhibits the bacteria that cause dysentery.

This preparation has other positive effects in the stomach as well: It contains ginger to relieve nausea and vomiting, radish seed and hawthorn berry to move stagnant food out of the stomach, and citrus peel and barley sprouts to strengthen stomach function. Manufacturer: Lanzhou Foci

Dosage: 8 pills, three times a day

The next section of this article has detailed information on a traditional Chinese laxative that contains rhubarb. Read on to learn about this natural remedy.

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Traditional Chinese Mild Laxative Pills

Traditional Chinese Mild Laxative Pills treat constipation with a combination of cannabis seeds, peach pits, rhubarb, and more. For best results, follow the dosage instructions below.

Chinese name: Run Chang Wan (ruhn chahng wahn)

Also known as: Moisten Intestines Pills; Peach Kernel Pills

Indications

Constipation due to excess heat

Functions

Lubricates the intestines, promotes bowel movement, purges heat from the intestines

Description

Peach Kernel Pills act as a mild laxative, working both as an intestinal lubricant and a purgative to the large intestine when constipation due to dryness occurs. Cannabis seeds (huo ma ren), peach pits (tao ren), Cistanche (rou cong rong), and Angelica sinensis (dang gui) all act to lubricate the intestine, while rhubarb root (da huang) is a purgative. Therefore, this formula is best for constipation due to internal heat or dryness associated with small, hard, and difficult-to-expel stools or a burning sensation.

It's important to remember that a proper diet is the key to the prevention of constipation: A person with this type of constipation should drink sufficient water and consume high fiber foods.

Manufacturer: Lanzhou Foci

Dosage: 4 to 8 pills, three times a day. The patent contains rhubarb, which stimulates the action of the bowels, so do not take this patent for more than a few days. The bowels may become dependent on any type of laxative used regularly.

In the next section, we'll tell you about a traditional Chinese stomach remedy that is popular in both China and the United States.

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Traditional Chinese Pill Curing

Chinese Pill Curing, also known as Healthy Quiet Pills, alleviates a variety of stomach disorders. This is a good medicine to have on hand for bouts of nausea, acid indigestion, and more.

Chinese name: Kang Ning Wan (kahn ning wahn)

Also known as: Healthy Quiet Pills

Indications

Disorders of the stomach, such as nausea, vomiting, fullness, acidity, motion sickness, or acid regurgitation

Functions

Regulates the digestion, calms the stomach

Description

Another very popular remedy both in China and the United States and a must for every medicine cabinet, travel kit, and purse, Pill Curing is a highly effective patent medicine. Its action centers on the stomach, where it quickly alleviates nausea, vomiting, belching, excessive stomach acid, and low appetite. It can be taken 30 to 60 minutes before travel to avoid motion sickness. In case of gastrointestinal distress accompanying the common cold, Pill Curing can be taken with Gan Mao Ling.

Manufacturer: United Pharmaceutical

Dosage: 1 to 2 vials, three times a day, or as needed. Each vial is filled with tiny pills; it is quite easy to wash down a whole vial of pills with water.

Those suffering from ulcer pain and discomfort can also get relief from Chinese medicinal herbs. Learn about an ulcer treatment in the next section.

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Traditional Chinese Ulcer Relief

Taken on an empty stomach, Chinese Ulcer Relief soothes gastric and duodenal ulcers by coating the stomach lining. This remarkable medicine can also be used topically to treat a rash.

Chinese name: Sai Mei An (sai may ahn)

Indications

Irritation to the stomach lining, gastric or duodenal ulcer without bleeding

Functions

Neutralizes excess stomach acid, stops pain, clears heat

Description

Sai Mei An treats ulcers in the stomach or duodenum, decreasing excess stomach acid, relieving pain, and coating the stomach lining. It contains the powders of a variety of shells, such as oyster or clam, giving it an acid-neutralizing, astringent effect. It also contains borneol camphor (bing pian), which helps relieve pain.

Take this remedy on an empty stomach, about half an hour before meals. It coats the stomach lining, preventing irritation of the ulcer from digestive juices and food. To continue the healing process, continue taking Sai Mei An for two weeks after symptoms subside.

Sai Mei An can also be used topically for damp skin irritations, such as poison oak or ivy rash. Its astringent ingredients help dry out the vesicles, while the camphor relieves itching. To use topically, pour the contents of one or more capsules (depending on the surface area to be treated) into the palm of the hand; slowly drip water into the powder, and mix with a finger to form a paste. Dab the paste onto the rash and allow it to dry.

Dosage: 3 capsules, three times a day

Indigestion, diarrhea, bloating, poor appetite -- traditional Chinese medicine has one herbal formulation that treats all of these maladies. Get the details in the next section of this article.

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Traditional Chinese Codoniopsis, Poria, and Atractylodes Pills

The Chinese have relied on Codoniopsis, Poria, and Atractylodes Pills for years to alleviate diarrhea and other digestive ills. The formulation has even been used to treat chemotherapy patients.

Chinese name: Shen Ling Bai Zhu Pian (shen ling buy zhoo pyen)

Also known as: Codonopsis, Poria, and Atractylodes Pills

Indications

Digestive problems due to deficient spleen, such as loose stools, bloating, weak digestion, and belching

Functions

Tonifies spleen qi, clears dampness, harmonizes digestion

Description

Shen Ling Bai Zhu Pian is a reliable treatment for chronic diarrhea or loose stools associated with qi deficiency. In such a pattern, the digestive dysfunction is due to internal weakness, not an infection from a virus, bacterium, or parasite.

Typically, the symptoms develop over an extended period and appear as indigestion, poor appetite, loose stools or diarrhea, fatigue, and a pale face. All are classic signs of spleen qi deficiency, an impairment of the body's ability to digest and absorb food. For this reason, the components of the patent either strengthen digestive function and vitality or act as an astringent to the intestines. Drawing fluids out of the colon helps make stools more firm.

This formula derives its name from three major ingredients: Shen refers to dang shen (Codonopsis pilosula), a tonic herb often used as an inexpensive substitute for ginseng. In addition to improving digestion, many herbs that tonify qi also act to fortify the immune system. In other words, these herbs build up the immune system to prevent illness. Dang shen helps the body fight off invading pathogens that threaten the immune system.

It has also shown an ability to increase the production of both red and white blood cells, which is especially significant for chemotherapy patients. Chemotherapy destroys some disease-fighting white blood cells in addition to cancer cells, reducing the body's ability to fight off disease. Chemotherapy often causes diarrhea and other digestive system symptoms as well.

The word Ling in the name refers to fu ling (Poria cocos), a wild fungus that grows around the roots of pine trees. It strengthens the spleen and harmonizes the digestive organs, assisting in fluid metabolism and promoting immune function. The words Bai Zhu refer to Atractylodes macrocephala, which is an aromatic qi tonic that strengthens spleen qi (the qi of digestion) and dries the damp gastrointestinal environment that leads to diarrhea. This herb also increases endurance and immune function.

Manufacturer: Plum Flower

Dosage: 6 to 12 pills, three times a day before meals

A properly functioning liver is essential to good health. For this reason, Chinese medicine has a specific formulation that regulates the liver. Learn more about this liver-soothing pill in the next section.

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Traditional Chinese Liver-Soothing Pill

In traditional Chinese medicine, qi must flow freely for the liver to function properly. Chinese Liver-Soothing pills contain Bupleurum root and other herbs that regulate the liver.

Chinese name: Shu Gan Wan (shoo gahn wahn)

Also known as: Soothe Liver Pill

Indications

Digestive disorders associated with liver imbalances, which become worse under stress; symptoms include abdominal distention and pain, nausea, belching, poor appetite, gas, and loose stools

Functions

Regulates the liver, relieves stagnation, improves digestion, relieves pain

Description

This formula is used in the condition colorfully known as "liver attacking the spleen." In this pattern, the liver is not properly functioning to allow for the smooth flow of qi. This imbalance transfers to the digestive organs, bringing on such symptoms as gas, belching, abdominal pain, indigestion, poor appetite, or loose stools. Typically, symptoms become worse when the person experiences stress.

In addition to herbs that improve digestion and relieve pain and fullness, this formula contains Bupleurum root (chai hu), a major herb for clearing stagnation of liver function. In this way, the formula treats both the symptoms and the underlying imbalance that causes the disorder.

Manufacturer: Lanzhou Foci

Dosage: 8 pills, three times a day. Do not use during pregnancy.

Next, discover a combination of digestive herbs that soothe a number of digestive system complaints, including belching, nausea, and diarrhea.

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Traditional Chinese Six Gentleman Teapills

Ginseng, Chinese licorice, Atractylodes, citrus peel, Poria, and Pinellia rhizome are the six major ingredients in Chinese Six Gentleman Teapills, a time-tested remedy for digestive ills.

Chinese name: Xiang Sha Liu Jun Wan (shahng shah loo juhn wahn),

Also known as: Aplotaxis Amomum Pills; Saussurea and Cardamon Six Gentlemen Pill

Indications

Weak digestion due to spleen qi deficiency, with symptoms of poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, belching, and chronic diarrhea

Functions

Tonifies spleen qi, reduces phlegm and dampness

Description

A modern patent based on an ancient remedy, the classical formula Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang combines a qi tonic with digestive herbs. The tonic aspect of the formula consists of four herbs known as the Four Gentlemen: ginseng (ren shen), Atractylodes (bai zhu), Poria (fu ling), and Chinese licorice (zhi gan cao). These herbs make up the base of numerous formulas that treat deficiency of qi in the lungs and spleen with such chronic symptoms as fatigue, shortness of breath, pale face, lack of appetite, indigestion, and loose stools.

The addition of citrus peel (chen pi) and Pinellia rhizome (ban xia) creates Six Gentlemen, a formula more appropriate for treating more acute cases of digestive imbalances with nausea, vomiting, and distention. The addition of Saussurea (mu xiang) and cardamon (sha ren) further increases the formula's ability to rectify digestive weakness and distress. It is especially appropriate for people who are pale, weak, and qi deficient with accompanying digestive weakness.

Manufacturer: Lanzhou Foci

Dosage: 8 to 16 pills, three times a day before meals

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain are just a few of the digestive system ailments that can be successfully treated with Chinese medicines. Use the information in this article the next time you need a time-tested remedy for a sour stomach.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Bill Schoenbart is licensed in both herbal medicine and acupuncture and has an M.A. in Chinese medicine. He is editor of The Way of Chinese Herbs and Biomagnetic and Herbal Therapy.

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.