Stomach Fire

Bad breath? Burning guts? Thirsty? Red tongue with dirty yellow coating?  Stomach Fire is what you've probably got. 

You almost certainly think you've got it under control with antacids or modern medicines like omeprazole. I don't believe this really cures it and it may give you other symptoms - see below.

Here's how to understand your condition and what to do about it.

Stomach Fire symptoms

When these symptoms first began you may have ignored them: they were mild, occasional and only after some kinds of food. The symptoms were easily remedied by taking antacids.

Time passed and you probably had more worries, but you also had clearer likes and dislikes regarding food.

Now you get pain more often so your doctor prescribes medicine for heartburn and to prevent or repair a gastric ulcer.

You're told to take the medication regularly, not just when in pain. It gets rid of the pain - Great! But sooner or later you will notice other symptoms, either as the heartburn returns mildly, needing additional antacids or a higher dose of your doctor's medicine.

Worse, his medicine will bring additional symptoms. Some of them are listed on the packet and some of them are peculiar to your interaction with the medicine.

Read more on this at Primary and Secondary actions.

So on this page I try to show how Chinese medicine might approach your problem. It may suggest changes in your diet which you probably know about, plus changes in other areas of life.

Were you to consult a practitioner of Chinese medicine for your Stomach Fire, either a herbalist or acupuncturist, usually any side-effects would be short-term and easily adjusted for in the next treatment - unlike many Western medicines.

Symptoms of Stomach Fire

Stomach Fire's symptoms cannot be ignored!

  • Burning pain in your stomach area, high in your epigastrium
  • Thirst: strong, for cold drinks, preferably iced
  • Stools: dry, sometimes hard to pass, even causing bleeding
  • Breath: bad breath, some burping and eructations which taste sour or acidic: you use breath fresheners
  • Very hungry: often need to eat, partly to prevent burning pain
  • Nausea: particularly after eating the wrong kinds of food
  • Vomiting sometimes after the wrong kinds of food
  • Mouth: toothache and swollen or bleeding gums; you may chew gum so as not having to smile fully & to hide the smell of your breath. You like mint flavours.
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Hot - not just in your stomach area, but a general feeling of heat. You wear less than most people, even on very cold days; you may be one of those wearing just a T-shirt during snow!
  • Mentally you find it hard to concentrate or settle. You switch between TV channels, seldom finding programmes you like
  • Pulse: Fire makes it fast or rapid. On the right wrist in what is called the middle position, the place where the Stomach pulse is felt, it feels big (the technical term is 'over-flowing')
  • Tongue: with the thirst and heat is a redness in the centre of your tongue and over the surface is a coating which is dry. Its colour is either yellow, dark-yellow or even black in places.

What happens next with Stomach Fire?

Stomach Fire can change in several ways as it worsens. If you have Stomach Fire symptoms, be reassured, it usually takes a while, and a continuation of strong causes over an extended period of time, for the worst of the syndromes to appear, if they appear at all.

But in Chinese medicine, the potential is there.

  • It can occur with other syndromes
  • For example, if it begins to affect your Liver energy, you become easily irritated: prone to road rage; shout at other drivers and your children for trivial errors; hurl books you disagree with across the room; abuse the television; co-workers become wary of your short fuse. If you get these mental symptoms, some of the Heat has transferred to other energy organs and this is affecting your behaviour
  • It can lead to a drying out of your bodily fluids and what is called Yin deficiency, including Stomach Yin deficiency.
  • This heat generated by Stomach Fire can 'condense' your body fluids rather than just dry them out. If so your Blood is said to become thicker. When thicker it is more like glue, causing Stomach Blood stasis.
  • Another way the Stomach Fire condenses liquids is to thicken the mucus in your throat and chest, making Phlegm. The heat turns this into 'Phlegm-Fire'. Because Phlegm tends to accumulate or 'be stored' in your Lungs, you get symptoms typical of Lung Phlegm Heat such as a feeling of stuffiness or fullness or oppression in your chest and epigastrium. You may be able to expectorate some of this phlegm. Because there is a connection between your Lungs and your Large Intestine zang-fu, mucus may turn up in your stools too. 
  • Often hot Phlegm leads onto mental disturbances because the Phlegm in your chest interferes with your Heart energy, leading for instance to syndromes such as Heart Phlegm Fire.
  • When a syndrome spreads like this, it becomes more serious and takes longer to cure. In the meantime, you'll find yourself seeing your doctor more often, asking for treatment for conditions like insomnia and high blood pressure, and your dentist for tooth and gum problems.

Causes of Stomach Fire

There are two main causes: food and emotions. One can fuel the other. However, sometimes you find someone who eats all the wrong foods but leads a very calm and placid life, so the symptoms never really develop much.

Food and Diet as a cause of Stomach Fire

The foods you eat are making you ill. Please don't be insulted! Foods can make you hot or cold - read about the energy of food under Nutrition.

With Stomach Fire you are suffering from heat - you can feel the burning! Probably you are eating, or have eaten in the past, too much food that is classified as heating.

To discover which foods are heating, go to Hot Foods.

Emotions as a cause of Stomach Fire

Although a small number of people get cold when angry or frustrated, even they will find that the effect of strong emotions that stress and tense you up are heating:

  • anger
  • anxiety that makes you nervous and restless
  • frustration
  • jealousy
  • target chasing under time pressure
  • resentment
  • stress
  • worry

These, and other strong emotions except laughter, cause Qi stagnation especially Stomach Qi stagnation. Qi Stagnation causes Heat which produces Stomach Fire.

Also producing Qi stagnation, with consequent tendency to Stomach Fire:

  • tremendous demands on your time without proper rest
  • juggling many different projects at the same time or during a working day
  • long hours worrying about something through the night when you should be asleep
  • mild but continuous stress, day and night, such as when caring for the young, old or infirm, or working all day at a job then returning to care for someone at night
  • doing several jobs daily, eg before your main job, the job itself, then an evening or night job as well

Both causes together?

If you have only one of these as a cause (ie either a heating diet or Qi stagnation-producing emotions) Stomach Fire will take longer to appear. 

Unfortunately, if stressed we tend to gravitate towards heating foods so the syndrome arrives faster.

And people who eat heating foods are more easily stressed.

So, usually, both exist as causes.

What can you do about Stomach Fire?

Antacids

You probably already know about antacids. Many of these are based on bicarbonate of soda, which you can buy from your grocery as a powder and is much cheaper than the pills pharmacists like to sell you.

But taken frequently, antacids, which contain various minerals, easily unbalance your body's metabolism. For example, excess sodium - whether as salt or as a bicarbonate - may eventually raise your blood pressure.

Aluminium, often used in antacids, is thought to be a factor in the development of Alzheimer's disease.

If you are taking antacids more than three times a week, you probably should see a doctor - or an acupuncturist!

Other drugs

Various drugs control, or suppress, how much stomach acid you produce. They include cimetidine (Tagamet), omepraxole (Prilosec/Losec) and ranitidine (Zantac). The technical name for these is 'protein pump inhibitor'.

Every medication under the sun has both a primary and a secondary effect, albeit not noticed initially.

Take Omeprazole

"In an editorial, Forgacs, of King’s College Hospital in London, says the drug may not be as benign as doctors believe.  The drug group may be playing a part in increased cases of pneumonia, and it may also be doubling the risk of hospital-acquired infections such as C. difficile."  (Source:  British Medical Journal, 2008; 336: 2)

In other research done by the University of Nottingham UK, 'people taking the ulcer drug omeprazole face a 10 fold increased risk of developing gastroenteritis caused by the bug campylobacter, now a more common stomach infection than salmonella.'

Why do you tend to get more infections if you take one of these protein pump inhibitors? Because they suppress stomach acid, which is a potent protection against infection! Your gastric juices kill bugs! So if you suppress stomach acid, more bugs.

Acupuncture Treatment Strategy for Stomach Fire

If your condition was diagnosed as being due to Stomach Fire, (burning in your epigastrium could be due to other syndromes, such as Stomach Yin deficiency or Stomach Qi Stagnation), the correct treatment is to

  • drain the Fire and 
  • start your Stomach energy descending again. 

That's not so easy by yourself! See an acupuncturist!

What you CAN do for Stomach Fire

What you CAN do is reduce the foods that make it worse.

Changing one's diet is not easy, but if you gradually remove one thing at a time and add something better (eg less peanuts and meat, and more green vegetables) your Stomach Fire condition will have a chance to improve.

I suggest you do  not suddenly abandon eating all the foods mentioned on our page Hot Foods in favour of green salads.

While theoretically this might be right, and has been known to work, the more fixed you have become on your current diet, the less likely you are to keep to a new diet. So, change gradually!

Whichever way you choose, chew well. Also:

  • start using mint tea
  • add avocado pears to your diet - they are cooling but also seem to help your body coat the walls of your stomach
  • aloe vera juice - a tablespoon three times daily - helps your intestines to cool down and heal
  • herbs like ginger and fennel, and papaya tea, help your digestion
  • Mix a tablespoon of organic cider vinegar in a glass of water and sip it through a meal instead of water or any other liquid.
  • we have many more suggestions currently in preparation on a page called Cold Foods.
  • did we say, chew well? Why? Because it makes food smaller, so needs less stomach acid and improves absorption. Also it slows you down. With luck, you'll take longer over meals and even start making them more of a social occasion with friends, which has a beneficial effect in itself. And, chewing well is thought to improve your sex life.

Stress, resentment, jealousy, anger:

Very difficult to change these in yourself except over time or with help. Try you must! Or you must give up something before something gets you!

Regarding the effects of stress, resentment, anger, frustration etc, if your condition is diagnosed as due to Qi Stagnation, acupuncture can almost certainly help. Try it!

Other things to do:

  • learn Tai Chi
  • learn yoga
  • join an exercise class
  • take up gentle dancing: the exercise dissipates Heat. 
  • take up walking, not running
  • avoid cycling bent-over low slung handlebars because this compresses your stomach

Stomach Syndromes

Here are various Stomach syndromes (which can also combine with other syndromes):


Find an Acupuncturist!

If you live in the Edinburgh area of Scotland, where the author of this site (and of the books described below) works, click on Edinburgh Acupuncturist.

If you live elsewhere, click on BAcC.


Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott Books

Please note! The Kindle editions are less easy to read! Although the paper editions cost more, they are much easier to read and to refer back and forth to the contents and index. But ... there is no paper edition of Yang Deficiency as yet.

Here are some of the books Jonathan has written:

Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress

Yin Deficiency - Burnout and Exhaustion

Yang Deficiency - Get Your Fire Burning Again!

Western Astrology and Chinese Medicine



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