Bottoms Up: Chinese Medicine and Alcohol Consumption

At Herb + Ōhm, our mission is to help people practice the art of balanced living by bringing ancient wisdom to modern Chicagoans. Part of the role of this blog is to extend our healing techniques and approaches beyond the treatment room. It’s also a great place for us to share our observations and experiences to help you incorporate more balance in your everyday life.

Many times (especially in Summer months) people come to Herb + Ōhm for digestive issues and fatigue or sleep issues. One of the reasons we love Chinese medicine is because the philosophy and approach are focused on understanding and treating the root cause of imbalances in the body instead of the symptoms that appear. Traditional Chinese Medicine "TCM" enables us to create customized, individual treatment plans for each of our patients, and the diagnostic process becomes like a treasure hunt to find the specific imbalance that exists in the body. When we go through the diagnostic process, we often ask questions about lifestyle. In the cases of digestive issues and fatigue, many times we’ll discover the underlying imbalances are caused by certain lifestyle choices, such as drinking too much alcohol.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, drinking considerable amounts of alcohol creates excesses in two areas: Heat and Dampness. At its core, alcohol is a diuretic, which causes the elimination of water. In Chinese medicine, when you remove water from the body, you’re left with fire—and that’s why we say alcohol causes excess heat. Alcohol raises the heart rate, increases circulation, and creates feelings of warmth in the body. As a result, it can lead to conditions like sweating, flushed complexion, inflammation, loose stools or scanty/dark urination.

Alcohol consumption also causes excess dampness. It manifests due to adding more fluid to the body than is necessary, and that fluid needs to exit the body. Because excess dampness throws off the balance of water in your body, it often creates a swamp-like state in the digestive system. Common symptoms include fullness, bloating, excess gas, and general heaviness in the body and limbs. It also leads to fatigue and most significantly—a thirst without a desire to drink. So, on the one hand, you feel a thirst because of increased heat, but you don’t have a desire to drink because of excess fluid. So, excessive alcohol can result in a double shot of imbalance and unpleasant symptoms.

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There are acupuncture points and herbal formulas that can help to clear heat and drain dampness to improve these symptoms, but again—Chinese medicine is about treating the root cause. If the ultimate etiology is excessive drinking, then a lifestyle change is needed. At Herb + Ōhm, we strive to develop a partnership in health with our patients, and part of our job is to show people the correlation between lifestyle choices and health outcomes so they can make educated decisions (vs. not knowing what is causing health issues). Ultimately, we want our patients to be empowered to make informed choices about how they want to feel based on what they choose to do.

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As with anything we enjoy, balance is key. For example, eating a hamburger, a milk shake, a donut or pizza occasionally won’t hurt you. But eating these foods every day can contribute to numerous health issues. Alcohol is the same: consuming 1-2 drinks a couple of times each week is not going to cause overall health issues and imbalance for most people. But drinking heavily each week can contribute to many long-term health issues that can be avoided with balance and mindfulness about what we choose to consume.

Have you noticed a correlation between drinking and its effect on your health and wellness? Let us know in the comments!