An increasing number of children are growing up with acupuncture and Chinese herbs as an integral part of their lifestyle and healthcare. It is important to remember in caring for children that they are not “mini-adults.” Their energy and organs are susceptible to their own immaturity and therefore it is vital for children to be properly nourished and their responses closely observed. They can suffer from imbalances of QI and from various infectious childhood diseases. The holistic lense of Chinese medicine allows that a wide scope of health conditions can be treated in acute phases and outbreaks, and the root catalysts of their imbalances to be addressed in day-to-day maintenance. Childhood illness are quick to accumulate and show signs, so diagnosis and prompt treatment is necessary. Children’s health concerns can be well-served through the practices of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and very importantly, with dietary and lifestyle habits. The following is essential in pediatric treatments and caring for the delicate digestive system.
A simple picture of digestion as seen in oriental medicine: Children are delicate and in specific, have delicate, developing digestive energy. Their developing post-natal organ QI forms largely from nutritional status and everyday care. Having an immature system, a child’s state of health quickly manifests changes. Although it is the same with a person of any age, it is crucial to adjust factors that restore balance at the very first signs of a developing imbalance in children. If not, soon thereafter medicinal treatment is often needed.
The stomach and spleen are digestive organs: In conjunction they transform and transport essence and matter derived from the food we eat. At every age, this is true. The stomach can be regarded as a soup pot which must be kept warm to effectively break down ingested food. Food that is served cooked and warm is more nourishing to the stomach than food which is raw and cold. The spleen (in TCM) is the transporter of food’s ‘essence’. The lungs are the first to receive this digestive essence in the form of a ‘mist’. The mist is utilized by the lungs to support the QI of the lungs and to maintain the mucus membranes of the nasal-sinus cavity. The spleen’s function also facilitates transportation of the relatively ‘impure’ portion of the stomach’s digestate downward to the small intestine for further breakdown and elimination.
The two ways that diet can be problematic are as follows: 1.) A diet that promotes raw or uncooked foods, or food and drink that are cold in temperature, hinder the stomach’s digestive efficiency. 2.) When heavy and dampening foods are consumed the spleen can only foster turbid fluid instead of mist-like essence. Dampness is a turbid substance. It is heavy and is obstructive to QI circulation which has measurable effects within the body. When QI flow which is yang in nature is impeded, heat is generated and typically presents as conditions with fever, flushed cheeks and rashes, persistent coughs and earaches; typical symptoms in children. Since dampness is heavy and descending it often interferes with the bowels causing looseness or constipation. According to TCM, dampness is always traced back to the digestive system and then stored in the lung. In children as well as in many adults, this simple pattern is the basis for so many preventable health complaints.
Attention to healthy, particularly organic, foods is greatly encouraged.
In children’s diets and others with delicate digestive systems, wheat, soy, corn, sugar, fruit juices, white, red and yellow potatoes, breads, pasta, peanut butter, ice cream, yoghurt, cheese, milk, meat, and large portions, are often what create ‘allergies’ because they promote dampness and stagnation from their sweet and cooling nature and their sheer density. Often, introducing a wide variety of foods that the body must assimilate is not beneficial. In feeding infants and children, and those with significant digestive sensitivities, begin simply, with plenty of cooked vegetables, steamed greens, soups, slow roasted stews with only very small amounts of meat if any. Cooked whole grains are recommended because they are usually easily digested, particularly millet and soft-cooked unpolished white rice, such as sushi and jasmine varieties. Accenting the cooking process with warming, aromatic herbs like cardamom, fresh ginger, black pepper and fennel are good catalytic heaters to support the spleen and stomach. A cup of miso, clear broth, or herbal tea is also healthful for sipping with each meal.