8 Keys to Understanding the Small Intestine & Digestive Health

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Acupuncture for wellness


Digestive Health1. The Physical function of the Small Intestine
The Small Intestine is a semi-permeable barrier that has a basic function of sorting the food we eat into:
•       Something to be used by the body
•       Something to be passed out as waste.
The outer surface of this barrier is composed of a mucous layer and is colonized by beneficial bacteria, and elements of the immune system.  Beneath this mucous layer are the epithelial cells of the Small Intestine. These cells are joined together by Tight Junctions, which are like a protein version of stitching.
Chinese Medicine describes the Small Intestine function thusly:
The Small Intestine presides over the division of solids and liquids
The Small Intestine directs the fluids to the Urinary Bladder and the Kidneys.
It governs the separation of the pure from the impure :
Most importantly, the Small Intestine is responsible for absorbing the nutrients from food. These nutrients enter into the Liver to be processed and then assimilated into the flesh and blood.

2. Dysfunction of the Small Intestine Function: Leaky Gut
Naturally, problems will develop when this barrier is not functionally intact. This is a condition known as “Leaky Gut Syndrome.” Instead of only allowing the purified essence of the food into the Liver, Impure substances enter as well. These impure substances can trigger inflammation, as the body tries to defend itself. These particles will get tagged by the antibodies of the immune system. This can lead to food allergies, and food sensitivities and the inflammation can set the stage for arthritis.
Major contributing factors to “leaky gut” are antibiotic use that decimates the colonies of beneficial bacteria and allows an overgrowth of Candida, and NSAID’s such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

3. The Mental function of the Small Intestine
In Chinese Medicine there is an understanding that there are mental & emotional functions coupled to each of the 12 organ systems. The mental functioning of the Small Intestine is analogous to the physical function of separating the pure from the impure. This involves a mental “sorting function”.  If your life involves a lot of sorting and separating, this taxes the energy of the Small Intestine system.  Typically, administrative work involves handling what is important vs. wasting time dealing with unnecessary tasks. An executive assistant’s job, for example is to act as a filter for the executive, and to provide the executive with only the necessary and important information, and to screen the less important calls, etc.

Such work can be a contributing factor to a decrease in the function of the small intestine. Conversely, a poorly functioning Small Intestine, will impair one’s ability to discern what is useful from the waste.

4. The Small Intestine & the Heart
The Small Intestine is a yang organ that is connected to the outside environment, even though it is inside the body. It is receiving all the food, drink, medication, drugs & chemicals from the outside that are put in the body through the mouth. Every yang organ has a yin (internal) counterpart. The Small Intestine’s yin counterpart is the Heart.  In these yin /yang organ pairs, a disease can transfer directly from one organ to the order.
Modern clinical research is bearing out this observation.  Congestive Heart Failure is associated with chronic inflammation, increased permeability of the wall of the small intestine and increased endotoxins from bacteria absorption.

5. The Small Intestine and the Liver
What the Small Intestine allows to pass into the body goes directly into the Liver. A second connection with the Liver has to do with circadian rhythms of the body. The time of the Liver is 1-3 am, which is the polar opposite of the Small Intestine, (1-3pm).
If the Small Intestine is leaky and allowing impure toxins into the Liver, the Liver will then have more work to do to clear these toxins. If the leaky gut is long-standing and the Liver is chronically overloaded, toxins will then begin to spill into the Blood. The Blood will then shunt the toxins into the Lymphatic system, leading to an overburdened immune system.
A chronically toxic overloaded Liver and Lymphatic system sets the stage for weight gain, inflammation, arthritis, fluid retention, food intolerances, heart disease and more.

6. Small Intestine and shoulder pain
Figure 2. highlights points on the Small Intestine Meridian. Long-standing energy blocks in the Small Intestine meridian can be felt as musculoskeletal pain around the shoulder and neck, and can lead to problems in the organ; conversely, problems in the organ can be felt along the pathway of the Small Intestine meridian. The Small intestine meridian passes over and around the shoulder blade and up the side of the neck. This is a common area to carry stress.

7. Acupuncture’s role in the Healing process
Releasing blockages in the meridian system with acupuncture has a profound impact on the internal organs. Releasing the physical tension in the body has a synergistic effect that optimizes the other necessary changes that need to happen in order for true healing to occur.  These changes should be approached in stages.
•       Changes to the diet to remove offending & allergenic foods (allergy testing can be instrumental in identifying  these)
•       If Candida is present, it is necessary to stop promoting the growth of Candida by eliminate sugar & refined carbohydrates.
•       Detoxification
•       Rebuilding the intestinal flora
The process takes time and it is critical to take a holistic approach. Depending on the severity of the damage of the intestinal lining it can take from 4-9 months for full recovery. Failure to identify and eliminate allergenic foods will slow down the process. If Candida is present then it is imperative to change the environment that allows for it and to eliminate any overgrowth that may be present. Chronic toxic overload needs to be addressed as well through detoxification.  Once those changes happen, then it is time for rebuilding the intestinal microflora. Acupuncture can be used throughout all the stages of the process to maximize the results and increase the effectiveness of the internal work.

8. Psychospiritual Speculations
The ancient Chinese spoke of the organic oneness of body, mind and spirit. This understanding is preserved in the classical texts and in the traditional names of the Acupuncture Points. Sometimes the function of a point is suggested by it‘s name, other times its anatomical location is suggested. Often times both are referred to.  On the small intestine, there is a specific point that is invariably reactive on nearly 99% of patients I’ve worked with. The point is located on the Scapula, SI 11, and the chinese name is 天宗,Tian Zong, Heavenly Ancestors.
Heavenly Ancestors reminds us that in this life we are not only dealing with our own personal issues and karma, but we are also working through the karma we have inherited from our ancestors. It is weight we carry on our shoulders. As we grow and mature and begin to take personal responsibility for our destiny we gain the energy to properly assimilate life into our being and honor our deep inner self. We can then develop the strength to carry what is truly ours and to let go of what is not. This takes a big load off of the small intestine meridian, which then allows more energy to flow to the Small Intestine organ which can then get back to the work of assimilating our life and creating the person we wish to be in the world, and by doing that we are doing our part to create the world we wish to be a part of.

1. Soulie De Morant, Chinese Acupuncture, Paradigm, 1955

2. Fratkin ,Jake Paul; OMD LEAKY GUT SYNDROME A Modern Epidemic, California Journal of Oriental Medicine

3Altered intestinal function in patients with chronic heart failure. Sandek A, Bauditz J, Swidsinski A, Buhner S, Weber-Eibel J, von Haehling S, Schroedl W, Karhausen T, Doehner W, Rauchhaus M, et al.J Am Coll Cardiol. 2007 Oct 16; 50(16):1561-9. Epub 2007 Oct

4. There is a sequence to the flow of energy through the 12 meridians; this sequence is what creates the Circadian rhythm in the body.  Each meridian has a 2 hour window when its qi is flourishing. The time for the peak of energy of the Small Intestine is from 1-3 pm. Imbalances in the Small Intestine system can manifest as a deep collapse of energy at this time. The Liver has a peak of Energy at the opposite time, 1-3 am.


Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for many common conditions and injuries including muscular and skeletal conditions and injuries, headaches, some respiratory and heart conditions, sleep disorders, stress, and many others. Try acupuncture as a natural, safe, time-tested treatment. Contact the Author, or browse our Merchant Directory to find a local Acupuncturist in your area.


Author: Justin Burkett, L.Ac. of San Diego, CA