Traditional Chinese Medicine Case Study on the Digestive Organs

Botanist Christopher Hobbs cracked Marsha’s digestive organ problem after months of discomfort.

| July/August 2004

  • Goldenseal may help kill Helicobacter pylori, a common type of bacteria.
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    Christopher Hobbs
  • Goldenseal may help kill Helicobacter pylori, a common type of bacteria.
    Christopher Hobbs

Her doctor had given up, Marsha said. The names of some of the tests she’d been through over the last few years were not easy to pronounce, and I could tell she had some practice at it — she’d been through a sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, magnetic resonance imaging and a Helicobacter pylori antigen test.

Despite the normal test results, Marsha continued to have burning pains in her upper abdominal area after each time she ate anything. “I can’t eat an apple slice without feeling discomfort,” she said. “When I try to go out to dinner with my friends, it’s no fun. I have a bowl of white rice and a little cup of chicken soup, and then a cup of peppermint tea while they feast on aloo gobi or kung pao chicken.”

Marsha’s doctor had ordered every standard test, and they all came up negative. “Then I went to a naturopathic physician who ordered exotic tests like optimized parasite recovery, pancreatic elastase 1 and short-chain fatty acids and butyrate,” she said. Still all normal. “Then I went to a psychiatrist and tried an antidepressant.”

I had to marvel at Marsha’s persistence. She told me she had improved somewhat over time, while taking lots of different supplements and undergoing other treatments. She felt better overall, but still had the same fundamental lack of digestive strength.

Making a Diagnosis

When faced with such a challenging set of symptoms and health history, I depend on the time-honored skills of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Most TCM practitioners will pay more attention to their patient than to the numbers on a laboratory test. I do look at the tests, but as we all know, just because the numbers are normal doesn’t mean an imbalance doesn’t exist. A potential imbalance could be in the beginning stages but still produce symptoms.

I asked Marsha to move over by the window so I could take a careful look at her tongue and feel her pulse (important diagnostic tools in TCM). Her tongue was revealing. It had many crisscrossing lines in the middle, showing the chronic nature of her underlying condition. The coating was thicker than normal, greasy and slightly grayish-yellow — signs of food stagnation and perhaps a little inflammation in the lower bowel area.

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