In so many ways, the fall is a great letting go.  We see the hours of the sunlight become fewer, and we accept.   We see the leaves of the trees blow away and the limbs become barren, and we accept.    The days become colder and we spend fewer hours outdoors, and we accept.  In so many ways, the autumn is about letting go of what supported us in the past.  It is a time of turning inward within ourselves, within our homes, and receiving nourishment from that inner place.   The Chinese sages recognized that this ability of letting go of the past and accepting the reality of the present, depended to a great extent on the health of the large intestine.

And there is a lot you can do this autumn to restore the vitality and function of your large intestine.  

The large intestine is about six feet long, and two inches wide.  It is shaped like an inverted horseshoe, and is made up of four sections:  an ascending colon, the transverse colon, the descending colon, and the sigmoid colon. 

The primary purpose of the large intestine is to absorb water from the liquid waste of the small intestine, thereby making the waste solid, and efficiently eliminating it from the body.  The organ also absorbs some vitamins and minerals not taken up by the small intestine. 

In Chinese medicine, the large intestine is joined by the lungs as a paired set.  Together, they form the Metal Element.  The Metal Element is associated with dryness and the color white.

The large intestine and the lungs receive their optimal amounts of healing energy during the autumn months.  During the day, the large intestine receives the most qui between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.  These are ideal months and times to take appropriate measures to heal the large intestine.  Conversely, problems associated with the large intestine and lungs tend to manifest during the fall and in the early morning hours.

The food that has the greatest healing effect on the large intestine, according to Chinese medicine, is rice.  Asians revere rice as the “gift of the gods.”  It was and still is their central food.  Rice, more than any other grain, said the Chinese, strengthens and heals the large intestine.

Problems associated with the shoulders, neck, and around the mouth are all related to disorders of digestion.  So, too, are sinus problems, especially sinus congestion.  The Chinese maintain that the large intestine is responsible for moving energy and waste downward and out of the body.  When this downward movement is impeded, energy becomes backed up, especially in the upper respiratory tract and sinus areas.  Once the intestine becomes unblocked, energy from the lungs and sinuses will flow downward and out once again.

In the same way, clear thinking is also associated with healthy elimination.  Anyone who has been constipated knows that one of the first side effects of irregularity is a sluggish or constipated mind. 

Evolution often means letting go of the past.  The large intestine serves this purpose in the body:  it receives the unwanted aspects of food from the small intestine and eliminates what is unneeded.  The act of digestion and elimination can be seen as a metaphor for our ability to absorb what is useful from our experiences and eliminate what is unnecessary, harmful, or holds us back.

People with disorders of the large intestine tend to live in the past.  They hold onto things that should have been let go of a long time ago.  For this reason, their lives are often burdened by sadness and grief.  Taking care of the large intestine is the first step toward forgiveness and letting go of the past.

It’s no coincidence, therefore, that the emotion associated with the large intestine is grief.  People with weak intestines often have a weeping tone in their voice; they tend to speak with a hint of sadness.  Since the mine and body are one, our psychological efforts at letting go of the past enhance the function of the large intestine.

The entire intestinal tract is regarded as the “roots” of the body.  They are lengthy and absorbing.  They draw nourishment from the earth in the form of food.  When the roots are strong, we can draw the nourishment we need from life.  Our roots also stabilize us against the vicissitudes of life.

This is the perfect time to give your large intestine a little extra tender loving care.  Here are some ideas for how you can do that:

Start by strengthening your large intestine with the following foods:

  • Grain:  Brown rice, sweet rice, mochi (pounded sweet rice)
  • Vegetables:  Sweet potato, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, celery, watercress, turnip greens, mustard greens, and all the root vegetables including daikon radish, carrots, lotus root, turnip, and ginger root.
  • Beans:  soybeans, navy beans, great northern beans, tofu, and tempeh.
  • Fish:  haddock, herring, flounder, halibut, scrod, and carp.
  • Fruit:  Pears, peaches, loquat.
  • Herbs:  Garlic, dill, fresh grated ginger, horseradish, nutmeg, Job’s tears, cinnamon, basil, fennel, bay leaf, black pepper, coriander, rice bran, cayenne, thyme, and licorice. 

There are also dietary considerations for specific illnesses.  Irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis can be caused by extremes in lifestyle, diet, and stress.  Irregular hours, chaotic behavior, and chaotic relationships all led to spastic bowel behavior.

When foods that have a contractive effect on the body, such as red meat and other animal foods, are combined with those that are extremely expansive, such as spices, sugar, and alcohol, spastic colon and diverticula are often the result.  Individually, these foods represent extremes in qi.  The body will try to balance these extreme influences, usually with little success.

The initial effects are indigestion, gas, heartburn, and alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation.  The forceful expansion and contraction will cause alternating tightness and inflation of the intestinal tract.

Finally, the absence of fiber in the diet causes accumulation of waste, especially undigested animal protein, fat, and sinew.  In the case of constipation, try the following:

  • Boil brown rice with carrots, onions, and grate ginger root.  Cook with a pinch of sea salt until rice is very soft, usually for at least an hour.  Chew well.
  • Ginger tea.  Grate a tablespoon of fresh ginger in the bottom of a tea cup;  pour hot water or kukicha (bancha) tea over grated ginger.  Add one or two drops of tamari or shoyu to tea.  Drink while hot.
  • Kuzu and apple juice drink.  Kuzu, also known as kudzu, is a hardy root and an excellent herb for the intestines.  Boil apple juice.  Use two and half tablespoons of kuzu per cup of juice.  Stir kuzu into juice, while simmering liquid.  Liquid will gradually thicken into a  gelatin.  Turn off flame and allow to cool.
  • Cut up prunes, figs, and raisins.  Cook together in a saucepan until the fruits are very soft and the liquid is dark.  Drink right before bed and first thing in the morning.

For diarrhea:

  • Kuzu and umeboshi plum.  Dissolve five tablespoons kuzu in two cups of cold water.  Add an umeboshi plum and bring to boil.  Stir water while simmering until liquid thickens.  Eat while hot.
  • Boil or pressure-cook white rice with a pinch of sea salt.
  • Have a plain, boiled white potato.

The foods to avoid if you have diarrhea or constipation would be red meat, fried foods, dairy products, especially hard cheeses and milk, eggs, coffee, tea, spices, alcohol, and all refined foods.  Also, it is best to stay away from raw vegetables, eggplant, and tomatoes. 

In the Ayurvedic tradition, the large intestine is viewed as the province of the vata dosha, meaning that it is most influenced by the kinetic force within the body.  The vata dosha controls bodily movements.  When it is depleted or deficient, digestion becomes lethargic and constipation results.  When vata is excessive, we are more likely to suffer from diarrhea or ulcers.  When efficient elimination is prevented, skin problems arise, according to Ayurvedic medicine.  Since the skin is a major organ of elimination, it naturally attempts to compensate for the inability of the intestines to fully eliminate waste and toxins.  However, this often results in rashes, blemishes, or acne.  Repressed emotions also disturb vata and create intestinal imbalances.

To balance the vata dosha, the following foods are especially healing:

  • Grains:  brown rice, wheat, and oats.
  • Vegetables:  cucumber, cooked vegetables, including leafy greens, okra, onion, potato, radishes, squash asparagus, beets, and carrots.
  • Fruit:  apricots, avocado, berries, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, lemons, melons, oranges, plums, and peaches.

The good news about healing your large intestine, is that a cure can be as close as your next meal and this is the time of year that the greatest healing can take place.