Stomach Cold and Deficient: you get weak and tired
February 25, 2021
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 and 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, a few small changes can often 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 use the super-healthy soup shown above. Instead, start with the recipe given further down this page. Then get someone to make you Clogstoun Congee!
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, chilled or just cold
Arms, Legs, Body and Face in Stomach Cold and Deficient syndrome
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:
tendency to stoop – standing upright is an effort and hurts your stomach
preference to hold your stomach area, or to stand with your arms crossed, so that your epigastrium is protected
worry about your health
you feel delicate – you dislike 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
your stomach is cold to touch, or you have a stomach cold feeling, even if it’s not cold to the touch; or your stomach feels cold inside – maybe your stomach is always cold?
preference for warmth on your stomach (eg from a bean-bag or a hot water bottle)
you’ll like warmth on your back too
more bed-clothes and extra blankets on your bed feels good
you move more slowly than usual.
easily exhausted and weakened by exertion or climbing stairs or hills.
dislike of cold air.
you’ll prefer to sit rather than stand.
you may prefer to sit up slightly when in bed.
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: a ‘polite’ fart!
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. Fresh air breathed deeply helps you digestion. Or go for a short walk (well wrapped up, of course)!
If severe, you may get palpitations, with your heart not pumping regularly, because this ‘Stomach Cold and Deficient’ syndrome will be creeping into other syndromes including Qi stagnation and Blood Stasis, or Heart Blood stasis caused by Heart Yang deficiency. You can definitely do without that!
Apart from the four syndromes mentioned above, the most easily recognised two factors causing this Stomach Cold and Deficient syndrome are:
Food is probably the main cause of ‘Stomach Cold and Deficient’
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.
Possibly you have taken too much stimulating food like coffee, dark chocolate, strong black tea, even if taken hot.
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.
Weather can also cause Stomach Cold and Deficient
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 pulverises them.
So, on a mountain-side with occasional flurries of icy snow: freezing weather. A lot of standing around. I thought 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.
So, if it can happen to me – and I’m supposed to know something about it! – it can happen to you.
(Actually, this is somewhat similar to an invasion of Full-Cold.)
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Do it yourself. With moxa, (but be careful, CAREFUL, read the page on moxibustion first!!!) warm Ren 12 and Stomach 36.
All right – maybe not? 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
CHEW WELL! It’s amazing what a difference this can make!
Wear more both when in bed and when up
Turn up the central heating
Get into a hot bath and stay there until your forehead starts sweating
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!
Men! No Sex until you’re better!
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 notcoffee because coffee, although yang, drains your yin resources leading to yin deficiency, which I’ve written a book about.
Home-made xiao jian zhong tang for Stomach Cold and Deficient
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 or a shallot, a stick of cinnamon and a teaspoonful of malt, (failing which brown molasses-type sugar).
Cut up the onion or shallot and put it plus the ginger slices and cinnamon in a saucepan with two mugfuls 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 for 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 takes a few days to recover.
You need small amounts of nourishing food.
This condition is not unlike the condition of vata in Ayurvedic medicine from India. For this vata condition they recommend warm, sweetened milk. Take it last thing at night – but not too much, otherwise you’ll be up and down to the toilet all night to pee, getting colder each time! In Western countries, there’s a well-known commercial powder called Horlicks, which you make a drink out of with hot milk. This is similar, though I think it has too much sugar in it.
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 food and damp 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.
avoid speaking loudly or for too long, let alone singing. These test your Lung qi, which is also rooted in your Stomach.
address deficiencies in your diet. If you habitually eat no protein, you should search for a range of alternative, acceptable protein foods. Also, foods have energies, about which you can read under Nutrition. Learn more under Cold Foods (which you should avoid) and Warm Foods (which, cautiously, you need more of.)
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. Always chew well before swallowing.
Continue taking a warm wheat bag or hot-water bottle to bed with you for a few days.
Here are various Stomach syndromes which can combine with other syndromes: