Stomach Cold and Deficient

Stomach Cold and Deficient is a syndrome in Chinese medicine that explains what happens when you either don't eat enough protein or do eat too much cold food - though there are other causes.

It can be low-grade chronic for years then lead on to more serious conditions. I've noticed it often in vegetarians who habitually eat only raw food such as fruits and salads. For them, there are often a  few small changes that can transform their health.

What are the symptoms and what can you do about it?

Symptoms of Stomach Cold and Deficient

I've had this Stomach Cold and Deficient syndrome many times, so I know all about it! And I can tell you, it's been my own fault each time! So I do know what to do.

Here are the typical symptoms, though after the main list I've added a few more, familiar to me and to patients who've had it too.

The main or most common symptoms are these - you'll probably have quite a few of them:

  • your stomach area, or epigastrium, will feel uncomfortable
  • your stomach area or epigastrium will hurt a bit: this is a mild ache, not a strong pain usually
  • loss of appetite: you won't feel hungry, although see below for more on this
  • lack of thirst: you won't feel thirsty, although see below
  • not usually much nausea, although you may find fluids come up unexpectedly: if so the fluid will probably be clear and without the usual strong searing acid or bile taste 
  • if you have anything to eat or drink, you'll want it to be warm, which will help the discomfort, but to start with don't even use the super-healthy soup shown. Instead, start with the recipe given further down this page.
  • Any food (remember to chew it very thoroughly before swallowing it to make it easier to digest) will probably make you feel better unless it is frozen or chilled or just cold
  • you'll feel cold, especially your legs and arms
  • your arms and particularly your legs will feel weak
  • you'll feel tired and fatigued, even though you've done nothing much
  • your face will look pale: but don't rush to the mirror! Facial pallor occurs in other syndromes, not just Stomach Cold and Deficient!
  • you will probably like mild pressure on your stomach
  • you'll like your stomach being gently massaged or rubbed
  • Pulse: your pulse will be 'slow' and 'weak'. It will probably be classified as being 'deep', not a reference to the mysterious and fascinating profundity of your character I'm afraid but to the depth and pressure needed to detect your pulse
  • Tongue: its colour will be pale and it will be very moist

The above symptoms are the main ones, but there are others:

You may or may not also have the following with Stomach Cold and Deficient syndrome:

  • tendency to stoop - ie standing upright is an effort
  • preference to hold your stomach area, or to stand with your arms crossed, so that your epigastrium is protected
  • you worry about your health
  • you feel delicate - you don't like being pushed or jostled whereas when in robust health you probably don't notice. For instance you won't like being driven along roads with rough or pot-holed surfaces
  • you'll probably like warmth on your stomach (for instance in the form of a bean-bag or what in Britain we call a hot water bottle)
  • you'll like warmth on your back too
  • you'll benefit from using more clothes both worn by you and on your bed
  • you'll tend to move rather more slowly than usual
  • you will easily be exhausted and weakened by exertion or climbing stairs or hills
  • you will dislike cold air
  • you'll prefer to sit rather than stand
  • you may prefer to sit up slightly when in bed
  • your stools will be loose and without much odour: this symptom doesn't necessarily come with Stomach Cold and Deficient, but is common with Stomach Qi deficiency which often accompanies it
  • you may pass plenty of not very smelly wind, downwards
  • you may get phlegm in your throat or nose, probably colourless and runny or white. You may need to clear your throat before speaking.
  • You will probably prefer company or, at least, someone nearby
  • Make sure your room has a supply of fresh air
  • If severe, you may get palpitations, with your heart not pumping regularly, because this syndrome will be creeping into other syndromes including Qi stagnation and Blood Stasis, including Heart Blood stasis caused by Heart Yang deficiency, which you don't want.

Other syndromes which you often get at the same time, or lead to it:

Sorry, we're not done yet! There are various other syndromes in Chinese medicine that often come with this, and may even lead to it.

The main ones are:

The Main Causes of Stomach Cold and Deficient

Apart from the four syndromes mentioned above, the most easily recognised two factors causing this Stomach Cold and Deficient syndrome are:

  1. Food/diet
  2. Weather

Take Food

There are two parts to this. You could have one or both.

  • Most likely: you have been eating too much food or drink that is cold, iced, chilled or frozen. It may have been raw, too. For example, in summer you may have eaten too many salads, too much fruit, and drunk too many iced drinks - not to mention all those iced sorbets and ice creams. And if you do this in winter, well, the syndrome will just happen sooner. Sometimes bad meat causes this too.
  • Less likely: you have eaten too little good, nourishing food. What does that mean? It means a range of foods that cover all your nutritional needs, especially protein, and without too much junk. It can mean, depending on your constitution, not enough food that is cooked and warm to the touch when eaten. Read my page on Nutrition for more on this.


This comes down to Cold again. If Cold invades your Stomach you can get a syndrome, already mentioned, called Stomach Cold Invasion. That can lead on to a condition of chronic 'Stomach Cold and Deficient', the syndrome discussed on this page.

How might this Stomach Cold and Deficient syndrome happen? Here's how it happened to me. My wife wanted to try Clay-Pigeon Shooting. If you don't know what this is, it's using a 12-bore shotgun to shoot clay discs that are hurled out by a machine. They fly a little like real pigeons and drop to the ground around 40 - 90 yards away unless your shot pulverised them.

So, on a mountain-side with occasional flurries of icy snow: freezing weather. A lot of standing around. I though I was wearing enough but after three hours I suddenly got very cold, and even a warm whisky failed to heat me up. We then had to drive for three hours to get home, by when I was VERY cold indeed, even with the car's heating on full.

I was shivering and with many of the symptoms set out above. This was during the Christmas holidays, and so I had to treat myself.

Eventually doing the sensible things, and taking the right herbs, got me better. But each time I get the syndrome it seems to last a little longer if I don't catch it early. NB I hadn't eaten anything cold that day or the previous few days, and until this happened had felt well.

What should YOU do?

Very simple, once you've worked out that you have this Stomach Cold and Deficient syndrome:

Doing it yourself, using moxa (be careful, CAREFUL, read the page on moxibustion first!!!), warm Ren 12 and Stomach 36.

OK. See an acupuncturist for this.

But there's lots you can do as well, such as (speaking from experience, here, remember!):

  • Take warm food or drink, not cold or chilled or iced or frozen
  • Wear more both when in bed and when up
  • Turn up the central heating
  • Get into a hot bath and stay there until you start sweating on your forehead
  • Use a warm bean bag
  • In bed, wear more than usual, and take your warm bean bag (and preferably a warm partner) with you. Apply the warm bean bag to your abdomen or back, as desired. Be careful not to burn yourself!
  • Avoid fruit and raw or cold food or drink - I hope that's obvious by now?  Also avoid alcohol, except as below.
  • With Stomach Cold and Deficient, stay indoors, but make sure you have fresh air in the room (because this helps your Lungs make Qi which then helps your Stomach back to health). So, fresh air and a warm room.
  • Drink warm teas but not coffee, which although yang drains your yin leading to yin deficiency, which I've written a book about.
  • Make yourself a warm ginger drink as follows:
  • For the basic recipe for Stomach Cold and Deficient you need a few slices of ginger root, a small onion, a stick of cinnamon and a teaspoonful of malt, (failing which brown molasses-type sugar). 
  • Cut up the onion and put it plus the ginger slices and cinnamon in a saucepan with two mug-fuls of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat, add the malt. Hold your nose and sip it. Nobody said you'd like it. Chinese herbs don't work because you do or don't like them. Keep up supplies of this through the day, and night if necessary, making sure you take it warm, not cold. 
  • If bored, add a little ground pepper or some nutmeg or cloves or mulled wine and turn it into a kind of Austrian Gluwein. This will cheer you up, if nothing else!
  • (Note to the know-alls! This recipe is my adaptation of xiao jian zhong tang using equivalents that might be found in many kitchens. The cinnamon isn't as powerful as that used in the Chinese recipe, which also has bai shao - paeony root, zhi gan cao - licorice root and da zao - special Chinese date. I've used onion instead, as it is sweet, warming, a little pungent, and warms both the epigastrium area and the Lungs. It also helps to dispel phlegm.)

What next should you do?

Take it easy!

Although this may not have seemed much, you've been ill.

Your Stomach and Spleen together are the daily basis for your energy and blood which together with other parts of your body keep you healthy and strong. When your Stomach Qi is low, you are more susceptible to disease and over-strain, physical or mental.

When your Stomach Qi is down, as with Stomach Cold and Deficient, it may take a few days to recover.

During that time,

  • keep warm, 
  • eat warm foods, 
  • don't over-exert yourself, 
  • rest more,
  • get lots of sleep, and 
  • try to avoid big worries and stress. Worry and anxiety test and drain your Stomach and Spleen energies more than almost anything else apart from cold or damp food and conditions. I treat many people who are ill predominantly from worrying under stress.
  • as you get better, go for walks in fresh air (and sun if available) but dress warmly when outside. Stop walking before you get tired or cold.
  • during all this, try to avoid speaking loudly or for too long, let alone singing. These test your Lung qi, which is also based in your Stomach. 
  • address deficiencies in your diet. If you habitually eat no protein, you should search for a range of protein foods that are acceptable to you. Foods have energies, about which you can read under Nutrition
  • you may wonder about taking supplements. I suggest you avoid supplements to start with, or take only very small quantities. The one I prefer and use is made of natural foods, dried and powdered, taken with water - warm of course! so you can easily vary the amount taken. However, my recommended supplement is not the cheapest and if you buy it I shall make a small amount of money. It does, however, come with huge amounts of research behind it which you can read about before purchasing.
  • As you get back to a 'normal' diet, avoid eating huge meals to begin with. Make an effort to chew well before swallowing.
  • Continue taking a warm wheat bag or hot-water bottle to bed with you for a few days. 

Stomach Syndromes

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

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