Water and Fire: A Closer Look at Digestion


The American public is confused. Over the past decades, latest research and trends have sent us through a rollercoaster of fat free diets, sugar laden evils, carbohydrate fears, water frenzies and more recently, anti-inflammatory everything. It is no wonder that we have become a culture of disease and discomfort. We are confused and unsure which direction to choose. 

It is at these times that it can be wise to look at our human history. In certain ancient medicines across the world, there has always been a certain truth: the key to health is centered in digestion, in our metabolic fires.  

In Chinese Medicine, ice is like a sin, a blatant misdeed to the health and strength of the body, and more specifically the digestion. Why?  How could a nice iced drink in the heat of the summer be damaging? Simply stated, ice threatens our digestive metabolic fires.  

In Ayurvedic Medicine, health is centered around the concept of “agni” or again, our metabolic fires. In Indian cooking, nearly everything is warmed, cooked or laden with spices to help guard, protect and support our metabolic fires. All health is rooted in digestion.  

To take a closer look, we may use the analogy of the element of fire to better comprehend how we as a culture are failing to maintain health. There are 2 simple ways to put out a fire: one, pour water upon it; and two, surround it in a cold wet environment. 

The first brings into question the idea that we must all drink 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water per day. Fact or fiction? The truth of the matter is that everyone is different. If our metabolic fire is weak then this idea can be seriously detrimental to our health. In Chinese Medicine, thirst is first required before water is needed. In a healthy person, one consumes water, our digestive fire receives it and cooks it to create a fine vapor that mists the organs and tissues of the body to create proper hydration.  

In contrast, for a person with a weak metabolic fire, there is often little thirst because the fire is not sufficient enough to cook the fluids and create healthy water in the body. Instead, they drink and further risk putting out its flames and in doing so, also creating pathological fluids in the body in the form of water weight, mucus and congestion, edema, arthritis, frequent urination (hint: yes, we are talking about those of you who drink and have to instantly urinate), etc. They are also potentially encouraging mucky waters that provide the proper breeding grounds for microbes [for example, candida, skin conditions, etc.] and disease. The fact is simple, drinking more does not always create intracellular hydration. 

Now on to number two, surrounding your flames in a cold wet environment. As New Englanders and Cape Codders, we are already surrounded in a cold wet climate a good portion of the year. Our internal flames already receive sufficient threats. Then to add to the matter, we eat ice cream, iced beverages, salads (yes, salads!), foods directly from the cold refrigerator, smoothies (ahem), etc. There is a reason why ancient cultures always cooked their food and not just for anti-microbial reasons. By adding spices and cooking your food, you ensure that the metabolic fires are safeguarded in the long run. 

Lastly, if your metabolic fires are faltering (poor thirst or appetite, gas, bloating, weight gain, indigestion, poor skin, frequent urination, joint pain, etc.) then one must look for ways regain its strength. If you do not have the assistance of a qualified healthcare provider, then consider a few simple techniques: 

1.Drink warm or previously warmed water at room temperature. If this idea is too absurd, then challenge yourself to regain your thirst instincts over the course of one month- drink only when thirsty.  

2. Eat more simply and blandly. We do not all need 3 full meals with 3 or more different items at each sitting. 

3.Include more spices. Spices do work and free up your metabolic fire from burden. A pinch of turmeric in your oatmeal, eggs, rice or milk can go a long way. 

In conclusion, in the confusion of modern times, it is often wise to keep to the basics. Start simply with your day to day choices. No amount of medications, fasting or supplements will ever compete with maintaining a strong and healthy metabolic fire. 

*Please note that certain medications and conditions may make the above article seem contrary. When the body is diseased the above is not always so black and white and may require the assistance of a qualified healthcare provider to help separate out the pure from turbid. 



Dr. Deb Salazar is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine (NM) and Licensed Acupuncturist who specializes in women's health, fertility, and difficult/stubborn/chronic/recalcitrant disease. Deb uses Oriental Medicine as her vehicle to access health, balance and harmony. Besides the traditional tools of acupuncture, gua sha, cupping, moxa, herbs and bodywork, she also enjoys working with Ayurvedic Medicine, Western Herbalism, Homeopathy and Essential Oils.

Deb is available for appointments on Tuesdays + Wednesdays + Saturdays