Key Learning Points
Food accumulation is the name given to a condition frequently encountered by babies, children and teenagers.
For more information on how it applies to adults, see Food Retention, the Stuffed Gut syndrome (https://www.acupuncture-points.org/food-retention.html)
If food fails to pass on through the intestines, it builds up, stagnating, drying and thickening in an otherwise healthy child or person. This is not quite the same as, but does include, what in the West we call ‘constipation’.
This is common in babies where, in Chinese medicine, it is called Food Accumulation or Accumulation of Food.
It means a form of blockage. It is considered a contributing if not a root cause of many other conditions arising later because of it, including
Many of these conditions are explained in Chinese medicine via the important relationship between the Large Intestine and the Lungs (constituents of the Metal Phase).
In Chinese medicine this comes mainly under the Spleen-Pancreas and Stomach energies), weakening the child, and generating Heat which contributes to rashes, irritability, wakefulness and neediness.
By heating, the condition often also leads to the formation of Phlegm (another big problem and a cause, in Chinese medicine, of further ill-health).
In babies, the most common causes are:
Onset? May, in susceptible babies, originate from being given too much food, (usually milk) even just once or repeatedly over a few meals.
(To see what ‘excess’ and ‘deficient’ mean, click https://www.acupuncture-points.org/excess-or-deficient.html)
In children the excess type of food accumulation occurs because the amount of food eaten exceeds the child’s digestive system’s capacity to deal with it and which reacts with force:
The strength of the symptoms demonstrates how much Qi the baby or child has. Strong symptoms imply that the child has enough energy to expel the faeces, assuming there is no structural blockage. This is a bit like a high-powered pump able to force fluids through a blocked drain.
Here it is important to dissipate the excess energy and direct it downwards with appropriate acupuncture.
Stool softening medications may help though not for the first bowel movement but with subsequent movements, but the main challenge is to prevent Heat building up.
‘Tonifying’-type acupuncture here might be counter-productive, worsening the symptoms.
The right acupuncture for accumulation of food can be astonishingly beneficial and often quick to act.
The deficient type of accumulation of food happens because the child’s digestive system is unable to cope with even a little food:
The lack of vehemence in the symptoms suggests the child may not have enough Qi to expel the faeces so here it is important to tonify and support the child’s energy.
Dissipating or sedating technique here would almost certainly further weaken the child.
Theory suggests that overuse of stimulating laxatives here may also exhaust the child. Stool softening medications may help a little but are more ‘stuff’ for the digestive system to cope with.
The right acupuncture, repeated regularly over a period, can gradually strengthen the child, enabling its digestive system to return to normal. Also, the parents need to make the right choices with food and feeding (easier said than done, I agree, with an exhausted, picky child).
Deficiency implies weakness in the child’s Spleen and Stomach energies (the Chinese medical explanation for a weak digestion).
In babies and small children their digestive systems are still fragile, sometimes because of inherited factors. (For more on how Chinese medicine understands inheritied factors, see Jing-essence.)
Further damage comes after too many excess-type accumulation disorder episodes or indeed from other ‘syndromes’ which ‘release’ their symptom-picture and ‘transform’ it into food accumulation symptoms.
Other causes include Western medications varying from analgesics given too early, powerful bowel stimulants that force movement on a weakened system, and vaccinations that go ‘underground’ – ie produce no immediate feverish reaction, but emerge later as heat where unwanted, in this case in the bowels.
This idea that one thing transforms into another is an important concept in Chinese medicine. For example, in health, Qi takes many forms and easily transforms between them. Currently I’m thinking about what I’ll write next in this sentence, but in a few minutes I’ll be thinking what to have for breakfast. Later I’ll be going for a walk. The energy comes from the same place, but manifests in different ways: it ‘transforms’ into what needs to be done next.
If ill, my body produces symptoms which, because they don’t transform – they get ‘stuck’ – cause me pain and discomfort. Suppose I do nothing but wait? – they’ll persist for a while, then get better or worse, often depending on what I do about them. If my body can resolve them, it gets better: they were, after all, its first option, its preferred method of dealing with them, even if sore.
If I suppress them (for much more on this, click on Suppression) then they are likely to disappear for a while but – and this depends on how powerfully and for how long I suppress them – may re-emerge in another form, often related to the acupuncture channels along which the original pain occurred, or via a related zang-fu organ.
In other words, if my energy fails to find a solution in the best way it knows how (the original symptoms were the expression of that ‘best’ way) it is forced to produce symptoms in a less beneficial way. This easily becomes chronic, especially if further suppressed. Many conditions are successfully suppressed with modern Western medicine, and we use it willingly for this, but there are always – eventually – secondary or undesirable symptoms.
This is where, for practitioners of Chinese medicine, it gets interesting: like a detective you are searching for explanations and solutions that are not necessarily obvious to practitioners of Western medicine. (As you may imagine, this is a large, complicated and controversial subject!)
Anyhow, this is all by way of saying that knowing how or when something began can be important.
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Most adults realise that cooking food makes it easier to digest. Also, that eating warm food as opposed to cold or chilled food is more comfortable.
(If you don’t believe me, ask old people, whose digestions have become more fragile and who, long experienced, can tell you what works and what doesn’t!)
This applies even more so in young digestive systems. So, although you may be at your wit’s end concerning what to give your child, try to avoid – at least until the child’s digestion shows no weakness:
In excess style accumulation of food, do not give heating type food.
If the above foods are eaten by the child (often very willingly eaten!) and don’t pass through the digestive system smoothly, they sit around and, like new-mown grass on a compost heap, start to decay, releasing heat. That heat dries and inflames, causing obstruction, rashes, tempers and insomnia.
Various points on hands, arms, back, abdomen and legs. Needle length for babies – a few millimetres only.
Such points include Bladder 25; Stomach 25, 36, 37, 39; Ren 12; Sifeng: with dissipative/sedative technique. In otherwise healthy babies, usually needles do not need to be retained for long.
Normally as the (excess-type) baby learns to walk and run, there is some improvement, except at night. This is because movement helps to dissipate Heat and moves Qi, so moving the faeces.
One treatment will not cure this. It may need repeated, regular treatment over a period of weeks, perhaps twice a week, then occasionally (eg monthly) to support.
Such points include Stomach 36, Spleen 3, Ren 12, Bladder 20, 21: with tonification. Again, no need to retain needles: a small, frequent stimulus is often enough, providing the parents adopt healthy food choices for their baby.
With deficiency, too much exercise is exhausting and potentially weakening, leading to more extreme symptoms of deficiency accumulation. However, some exercise is vital for health.
A little treatment, (don’t use all the points indicated each time, and vary them with other supportive points, not listed above) regularly, perhaps weekly, with warmth on the abdomen at Ren 12; give this treatment over a period of months, and then monthly.
Good treatment will strengthen the child, and sometimes even lead to excess-type accumulation! If so, educating the parents in what to give the child will be very important: warm foods that helped during deficiency may become too heating for the child during excess!
Other treatment: China has a long tradition of Tuina, a kind of massage, somewhat like Shiatsu.
Food choices: usually you must educate the parents! Only lucky ones were brought up in the Chinese cultural traditions which handed down food awareness to them.
Also, be aware that not all parents can easily adopt better foods and eating patterns for their child, owing to financial constraints or lack of knowledge or cooking know-how.
Sometimes it is best to change one food at a time, over a period of weeks, though this prolongs the time needed for improvement, even with acupuncture.
You may wonder why these two points occur in both sets of points, ie both for tonifying and for sedating. The reason is that acupuncture has a regulating effect and although these points are mostly used to tonify Qi and Blood, they can be used to steady or mildly disperse Qi without harm.
An analogy might be in your motor car when the engine is mainly used for powering forward motion but can be used to slow the car down from high speed without using the brakes, by taking the foot off the accelerator with the engine still in gear.
Using a lower gear, engaged via synchromesh (or by double-declutching, as my mother taught me on 1950s farm tractors lacking synchromesh!) increases the braking power of the engine.
Worried as to whether your car has synchromesh? Don’t be! All modern cars have it. Vehicles built pre-WW2 may lack it.
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