The Digestive Fire, Part 1: Does your fire need tending?

If you suffer from digestive difficulties, your digestive fire may need tending.

Whether it’s gas and bloating, loose stool, sluggish bowel, constipation, low morning appetite, low energy or other issues, your digestive fire may be weak.  What is the digestive fire and how do we tend to it?

Every day, our body and activity wax and wane with the sun.  The fiery sun rises, and so do we.  We are active, alert and busy all day, and in the evening we wind down, and fall into stillness as we rest for the night.  And our digestion follows this same path: ideally it is strong and ready in the morning and afternoon, and is left to rest in the evening.  Our digestion is like an engine: it uses heat to take in food, extract nutrients, and transform them into usable qi and blood. The heat of our digestive fire manifests as the spark of our appetite, a full and easeful extraction of nutrients, and the motility of our intestines.    If the engine is too cold, it can’t do this important work, and we are not getting the full benefits of the nutrition we take in, resulting in low energy and the signs listed below.   Maintaining our digestive fire is a lifelong project toward longevity and wellness.

Signs your Digestive Fire is running low:

·      Low or no appetite in the morning – no spark

·      Gas/bloating – an inability to easefully process food

·      Loose stool – no fire to remove nutrients and water

·      Sluggish bowel/Constipation – no force to push the bowel

·      Low energy midday and/or after eating – when the digestive fire is weak, it struggles to do the work of digestion.

Reasons your Digestive Fire may be low:

·      Too much cold food has dampened the fire.  Smoothies, salads, iced drinks, dairy, soy, cereal, and other cold foods really put out your fire!

·      Cold or no breakfast.  When the sun is strong, so is the digestive fire.  This means breakfast and lunch are our strongest times for absorbing nutrients, and the most important time to stoke the fire with warm foods.

·      Large dinners, eating late.  In the evening, as our energy naturally wanes, so does our digestive fire.  After 7pm, our belly simply does not have the oomph it needs to take in a large meal, especially a cold one.  Late night eating and large dinners require a lot of work to digest at the time of day when our fire is low and it is time to rest.  After all this work, we may wake in the morning with a dampened fire and no interest in breakfast.

Do you think your digestive fire is low?  We can help you make a plan to get your digestion back on track, with herbal medicine for your specific needs, and acupuncture to integrate your hard work.  Click HERE to make an appointment – Shift Acupuncture Collective is open 7 days a week to help you get started!  And look out next week for PART 2: How to Stoke your Digestive Fire





Herbs for Stress Incontinence in Pregnancy

Dodder Tree / Cucustae / Tu Si Zi

Dodder Tree / Cucustae / Tu Si Zi

By Rona Luo

Just weeks after finding out I was pregnant, I started leaking urine every time I coughed, sneezed or laughed. This type of stress incontinence usually sets in during the third trimester, when the fetus puts more pressure on the bladder. However, my incontinence only worsened in the second trimester – I had to use the bathroom with increasing frequency, could only sleep 1.5 hours before waking up to urinate, and experienced a few mortifying incidents in public in which a cough brought on not just a leak but a complete emptying of my bladder down my legs.

According to conventional medicine, the solution for pregnancy incontinence is kegels and other pelvic floor strengthening exercises. While pelvic floor strengthening is absolutely essential, these exercises take 6-8 weeks to take effect, and not every type of pregnancy incontinence can be resolved with kegels.

At one point, my midwife suggested that I wear adult diapers (which are necessary postpartum), but I was determined to try addressing the issue with herbs. In Chinese medicine, our kidneys are responsible for both reproduction and processing urine. Kidney energy nourishes the developing fetus during pregnancy, and therefore, can become sapped and less able to perform its function of transforming fluids and holding urine in the bladder.

After consulting with my coworker and acupuncturist Amy Mosley, I added the following three herbs to the formula I was already taking to support my pregnancy – Tu Si Zi, Wu Wei Zi and Du Zhong. These herbs work together to nourish kidney energy and strengthen the kidney’s ability to hold urine in the bladder. Just days after starting these herbs, I was able to extend my sleep to getting up every two and half hours, and after a week, getting up every four hours. I never experienced complete bladder emptying again, and leaks became more minor. I cannot tell you how much this has improved my overall ease and helped me get more rest at night.

While these herbs are safe during pregnancy, it’s important to emphasize that they are not meant to be taken alone, but in combination with other herbs appropriate for the pregnant person’s specific constitution.

Tu Si Zi / Cuscutae Seeds / Dodder Seeds

Tu Si Zi / Cuscutae Seeds / Dodder Seeds

1. Tu Si Zi (Cuscutae Seeds / Dodder Seeds) 

Tu Si Zi is a lovely herb that manages to tonify Kidney Yang energy while being neutral in temperature. Tu Si Zi supports fertility and pregnancy for people with weak kidney energy, and also “secures the urine,” in a variety of incontinence cases. Tu Si Zi has the added benefit of stabilizing the fetus and preventing miscarriage.

Du Zhong / Eucommia Bark

Du Zhong / Eucommia Bark

2. Du Zhong / Eucommia Bark

Du Zhong is the bark of a tree in the rubber family. Like Tu Si Zi, Du Zhong is a tonic for Kidney Yang energy, helps “secure the urine,” and also calms fetus and prevents miscarriage. Du Zhong is also great for back pain, a common complaint in pregnancy. This herb is warm in nature, and should be used with caution in people with internal heat.


Wu Wei Zi / Schisandra Seeds 

Wu Wei Zi / Schisandra Seeds 

3. Wu Wei Zi / Schisandra Seeds

Wu Wei Zi operates a little differently than Tu Si Zi and Du Zhong. Wu Wei Zi is a kidney tonic, but not specifically for kidney yang. Rather, Wu Wei Zi has a strong astringing function and helps to astringe urine. Wu Wei Zi has the added benefit of nourishing the heart and calming irritability, anxiety and insomnia. This herb is also mildly warm and should be used with caution in people with internal heat.


Please consult with an experienced herbalist if you’d like herbal support for stress incontinence. These herbs are helpful for pregnant people with the appropriate constitution, but different herbs may be necessary for different people. Careful monitoring of dosage is especially important when prescribing for pregnant people.