Cold Stomach: Take Care of Your Stomach with Chinese Medicine

Last updated on August 9, 2021.

What is Cold Stomach | Causes | Signs & Symptoms | Treatments | Preventions | TCM Food Therapy

“Cold Stomach” is a medical condition meaning that the stomach is cold specifically in Chinese medicine (TCM) principles. Have you ever had a stomach discomfort or stomachache after consuming cold drinks or Japanese sashimi? A cold stomach may be to blame. Hong Kong people like cold drinks and air conditioning a lot, such a lifestyle may increase the risk of a cold stomach. Learn more about what is “cold stomach” and start taking care of your stomach.

What is cold stomach?

A cold stomach is a health condition in which the stomach is cold according to TCM theory. It is a unique Chinese medicine pathological concept that is completely different from stomach flu and viral gastroenteritis. From a traditional Chinese medicine point of view, cold stomach can be a particular disease, a cause of other conditions or symptoms at the same time. Clinically, patients with cold stomach often show signs and symptoms of stomachache, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. 

Causes of cold stomach

In general, there are internal and external causes of cold stomach. Cold stomach can be caused externally by diet and cold weather, while internal causes of cold stomach are mostly due to the weakness of stomach and spleen or Yang and Qi deficiency. Overall, the most common causes of cold stomach include unhealthy diet, poor lifestyle and weather, followed by other reasons related to mental status and medications.

Unhealthy diet

Irregular diet, consumption of cold and raw foods, addiction to cold drinks or other unhealthy eating habits are major causes of cold stomach. Frequently taking in raw and cold foods can hurt the stomach and spleen by damaging their “Yang Qi”, causing the stomach to be cold. Besides, consuming hot and cold foods at the same time may damage the Qi of the stomach, leading to a lack of Qi to keep the stomach warm and thus causing a cold stomach.

Unhealthy lifestyle

Hong Kong people have a fast pace of living, stress and irregular diet and rest — these habits not only upset your lifestyle but also damage your spleen and stomach. When the function of the spleen and stomach are negatively affected, the stomach cannot be nourished properly and cold stomach occurs.

Weather

In Chinese medicine, there are 6 different types of pathogenic elements called the “6 evils”, namely “wind”, “cold”, “summer heat”, “damp”, “dryness” and “fire”, which may infect the human body. Whenever the climate changes, you sweat or stay in air-conditioned rooms for a long period of time, “cold evils” affect you more readily. If your stomach and spleen are weak or the abdomen is exposed to cold directly, there is a higher risk of “cold evils” infecting your stomach and gastrointestinal tract, leading to the condition of cold stomach.

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Signs and symptoms of cold stomach

Clinical signs and symptoms of cold stomach mainly include the following manifestations:

  • Stomachache with a cold sensation – Stomach pain with a cold sensation is the most common clinical symptom of a cold stomach. Such pain and cold feeling of the stomach are usually induced by cold weather or consumption of cold foods. The feeling of pain and cold usually changes with temperature, it often increases in severity under low temperature, whereas warming the abdomen or ingesting warm food may relieve the pain and cold sensation.
  • Chills – Patients with cold stomach often feel cold and desire heat or warm drinks.
  • Nausea and vomiting – Cold stomach disturbs the Qi of stomach, driving the Qi to go up along the esophagus with gastric acid and other contents, leading to acid reflux, heartburn, nausea and vomiting.
  • Tastelessness
  • DiarrheaDiarrhea or loose stools are common among cold stomach patients.

According to the causes and symptoms of cold stomach, the condition of cold stomach can be classified into 2 types, namely the “cold stomach with cold invasion” and “cold stomach with Yang deficiency”. The type of “cold stomach with cold invasion” is mainly induced by infection of excessive “cold evils”, while “cold stomach with Yang deficiency” is caused by a lack of “Yang Qi” of the spleen and stomach. In addition to the above common signs and symptoms, different types of cold stomachs show specific signs and symptoms at the same time.

Specific signs and symptoms of “Cold stomach with cold invasion”

  • Characteristics of stomachache – The stomach pain is acute, abrupt, sharp, severe and persistent in general. And the stomach pain would be relieved after vomiting.
  • Abdominal tenderness – Abdomen, especially upper abdomen, is tender and painful to palpation and touch.
  • Bloating – Abdominal bloating can be detected.
  • TCM tongue diagnosis: Pale tongue with white and smooth coating
  • TCM pulse diagnosis: Strong and tight pulse

Specific signs and symptoms of “Cold stomach with Yang deficiency”

  • Characteristics of stomachache – The stomach pain is chronic, intermittent and dull in general. And gentle massage, warm compress and hot foods can relieve such pain.
  • Dyspepsia (indigestion)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Cold limbs
  • TCM tongue diagnosis: Large and pale tongue
  • TCM pulse diagnosis: Weak, slow and deep pulse

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Treatments for cold stomach

Major TCM treatment approaches for cold stomach are to strengthen and warm the stomach and spleen, dispel “cold evils” and relieve pain. Antiemetic and antidiarrheal agents are also applied to relieve corresponding signs and symptoms of cold stomach. In normal circumstances, Chinese medicine practitioners often apply Chinese herbal medicines, Chinese medicine prescriptions, acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy to treat cold stomach.

Chinese medicine prescriptions

“Cold stomach with cold invasion” can be treated by Chinese medicine prescriptions to dispel “cold evils” and warm the stomach. Examples of available Chinese herbal medicines include Magnolia, Tangerine Peel, Liquorice Root, Ginger, Poria, Costus Root, Agarwood, Nut Grass, daughter root of common monkshood, etc.

Treatment for “cold stomach with Yang deficiency” focuses more on strengthening and warming the stomach and spleen as well as relieving pain. Common Chinese medicines for treating this type of cold stomach are Ginseng, Milkvetch, Codonopsis Radix, Atractylodes Rhizome, Liquorice Root, Ramulus Cinnamomi, Ginger, Poria, Tangerine Peel, Common Jujube, Nut Grass, Chinese Yam, Pinella Tuber, etc.

Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina & cupping therapy 

Chinese medicine practitioners may also apply acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy to treat cold stomach. These treatment methods are able to promote Qi and blood circulation, dispel cold and warm the meridian system and body. Recommendation of 10 therapeutic acupoints (acupressure points) for treating cold stomach are as follows:

Acupoints (Acupressure Points)

Details

BL-21 

(Bladder meridian 21)


Location: 1.5 inches lateral to the bottom of the spinous process of the 12th thoracic vertebra.

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy.

BL-20 

(Bladder meridian 20)

Location: 1.5 inches lateral to the bottom of the spinous process of the 11th thoracic vertebra.

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy.

BL-17 

(Bladder meridian 17)

Location: 1.5 inches lateral to the bottom of the spinous process of the 7th thoracic vertebra.

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy.

ST-36 

(Stomach meridian 36)

Location: 3 inches inferior to the lateral side of the patellar apex.

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy.

RN-12 

(Ren meridian 21)

Location: 4 inches superior to the umbilicus.

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy.

RN-6

(Ren meridian 6)

Location: 1.5 inches inferior to the umbilicus.

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy.

RN-17

(Ren meridian 17)

Location: At the mid-point of the 2 nipples on the body midline.

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage, tuina and cupping therapy.

PC-6 

(Pericardium meridian 6)

Location: 2 inches proximal to the wrist crease on the anterior forearm, located in between the tendons of palmaris longus and flexor carpi radialis.

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage and tuina.

KI-1 

(Kidney meridian 1)

Location: At the depression on the sole during toe flexion, located at the anterior 1/3 of the distance between the heel and the tips of toes. 

Applications: Acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, massage and tuina.

RN-8 

(Ren meridian 8)

Location: At the center of the umbilicus.

Applications: Moxibustion, acupressure, massage. 

(*Noted that acupuncture and cupping therapy are forbidden at this acupoint.)

The above-mentioned acupoints help in treating cold stomach. Besides official treatment, you may also gently massage these acupoints daily to prevent a cold stomach.       

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Preventions for cold stomach?

To prevent a cold stomach, you should adopt healthy living habits, balanced diets and other precautions as follows:

  • Maintain a regular diet – Regular diet is always the key to protect our stomach and digestive system. One must eat regularly, take small and frequent meals, avoid overeating and starving, etc. to keep the gut healthy.
  • Avoid raw and cold foods – Raw and cold foods must be avoided to prevent cold stomach. Examples of cold foods and drinks are ice, cold water or beverages, sashimi, ice cream, etc.
  • Avoid irritating foods – Strong alcohol, coffee, strong tea, spicy foods, fried foods, seafood and other irritating substances can damage our digestive system, leading to a weakened stomach. Thus, any of these foods should be avoided.
  • Keep a light diet – Light diet can be digested easily which is good for the digestive system.
  • Cook with digestible cooking methods – Preparing food as finely as possible and cutting them into smaller pieces can reduce the burden during digestion. Cook with healthy cooking methods such as steaming, boiling, stewing, braising, simmering, etc.
  • Keep warm – Keep warm, especially the abdomen, and stay away from cold can prevent “cold evils” from infecting the body.  
  • No smoking and alcoholSmoking and alcohol abuse may damage the gastric mucosa, increasing the burden of the stomach.

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Chinese medicine food therapy for cold stomach

Apart from the suggested precautions, unique Chinese medicine remedies and food therapy can also relieve the symptoms of cold stomach and prevent you from developing cold stomach. To keep a healthy stomach, you may try the following recipes.

Dietary recommendation for cold stomach

  • Congee with Alpinia Officinarum (a kind of ginger)
    – Benefits: Warming the stomach, dispelling “cold evils”, antiemetic.
    – Ingredients: Alpinia Officinarum 15g, Japonica Rice 50g.
    – Cooking method: Fry the Alpinia Officinarum, then slowly boil the congee with the juice of Alpinia Officinarum.
    – Notes: It is suitable for all types of cold stomach. People with internal heat must not consume.
  • Congee with Fennel
    – Benefits: Dispelling “cold evils”, promoting Qi circulation, relieving pain.
    – Ingredients: Fennel 20g, Rice 100g.
    – Cooking method: Fry the fennel and put them into a food filter bag. Boil the fennel filter bag with water for around 30 minutes, then continue cooking with rice to make it become congee.
    – Notes: It is suitable for all types of cold stomach.
  • Pork Stomach with White Pepper Soup
    – Benefits: Warming the stomach, dispelling “cold evils”, strengthening the spleen.
    – Ingredients: Pork stomach (appropriate amount), White Pepper (appropriate amount), Ginger 30g.
    – Cooking method: Wash and clean the pork stomach, then add sliced ginger and white pepper to the pork stomach. Boil them and let the soup simmer for 1 hour.

    – Notes: It is suitable for people suffering from “cold stomach with cold invasion”. People with internal heat are not recommended. Pregnant women must not consume.
  • Soup for Qi replenishment
    – Benefits: Replenishing Qi, strengthening the stomach and spleen
    – Ingredients: Milkvetch 18g, Codonopsis Radix 18g, Chinese Yam 15g, Atractylodes Rhizome 15g, Ramulus Cinnamomi 9g, Tangerine Peel (appropriate amount), 1 Raw Chicken
    – Cooking method: Wash and clean the chicken in boiling water. Boil all the Chinese medicines and the chicken with 1.5L water. Let the soup simmer for at least 30 minutes with 1L soup remains.

    – Notes: Please take it warm and reheat before drinking. This soup is more suitable for people suffering from “cold stomach with Yang deficiency”. People with internal heat are not recommended.
  • Ginger Tea with Jujube
    – Benefits: Warming the stomach and spleen, relieving pain, antiemetic.
    – Ingredients: Ginger 50g, Jujube Red Date (5 grains), Tangerine Peel (1 slice), Brown Sugar (appropriate amount)
    – Cooking method: Wash the peeled ginger, tangerine peel and jujubes. Cut the ginger and tangerine peel into shreds. Boil the ginger, tangerine peel, jujubes with 1L of water until 450ml solution remains. The tea is ready to serve by adding an appropriate amount of brown sugar.

    – Notes: Please take it warm and reheat before drinking. People with internal heat are not recommended.
  • Ginger Tea with Brown Sugar
    – Benefits: Warming the stomach, dispelling “cold evils”, relieving pain.
    – Ingredients: Ginger 30g, Brown Sugar (appropriate amount)
    – Cooking method: Peel and wash the ginger. Cut the ginger into small pieces and boil them with water. When it is boiled, add an appropriate amount of brown sugar and heat them for another 5 minutes before drinking.

    – Notes: This tea is more suitable for people suffering from “cold stomach with cold invasion”. Patients with excessive internal heat should not drink it.
  • Cinnamon Tea with Clove and Brown Sugar
    – Benefits: Warming the stomach, dispelling “cold evils”, relieving pain.
    – Ingredients: Cinnamon 3g, Clove 3g, Brown sugar (appropriate amount)
    – Cooking method: Soak the cinnamon sticks and clove with hot water, and then boil them with water for 20 minutes. Add in an appropriate amount of brown sugar before drinking.

    – Notes: Please take it warm. This tea is effective for relieving stomach ache caused by cold stomach. People with excessive internal heat are not recommended. While pregnant women must refrain from drinking it.
  • Codonopsis Tea with Jujube
    – Benefits: strengthening spleen and stomach, replenishing Qi
    – Ingredients: Codonopsis Radix 15g, Jujube Red Date 8g, Tangerine Peel 10g
    – Cooking method: Wash and clean all ingredients. Pour hot water over all ingredients and let them rest for around 5 minutes.

    – Notes: This tea can be taken as a daily drink to prevent “cold stomach with Yang deficiency”.

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Banned foods for cold stomach

To take care of your stomach, certain kinds of foods and beverages should be avoided in order to prevent a cold stomach. Consult a registered Chinese medicine practitioner when you are confused with your food options. The following provides you with some examples of prohibited foods for cold stomach patients.

Categories of banned foods

Examples of the catergory

Raw and cold foods or drinks

Cold water, Frozen drinks, Ice, Sashimi, Bitter gourd, Mung bean, Bamboo shoot, Raw radish

Fruits that are cold in nature

Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Star fruit, Dragon fruit, Persimmon

Irritating foods and drinks

Strong alcohol, Coffee, Spicy food, Fried and greasy food, Seafood

Chinese medicines that are cold in nature

FAQs

What food should I avoid if I have a cold stomach?

If you are suffering from a cold stomach, please avoid eating raw and cold foods such as ice, cold water or drinks, raw seafood, bitter gourd, mung bean, watermelon, dragon fruit, etc. Also, do not take Chinese herbal medicines that are cold. Consult your Chinese medicine practitioner before taking any herbal medicine.

How do I treat a cold stomach?

Cold stomach is mainly treated by Chinese medicine prescriptions, acupuncture, moxibustion, acupressure, tuina and cupping therapy, etc. Do also keep a balanced diet, healthy lifestyle, keep warm and stay away from smoking and alcohol.

Would a cold stomach cause diarrhea?

Yes, cold stomach can cause diarrhea. Cold stomach caused by “Yang Qi” deficiency often leads to loose stools. While cold stomach because of “cold evils” infection usually hurts and irritates the stomach and intestines, causing diarrhea.

What are the symptoms of cold stomach?

Typical signs and symptoms of cold stomach include stomachache, chills, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Cold stomach caused by “cold evils” infection result in abdominal tenderness and bloating as well. While that of “Yang Qi” deficiency might show signs of indigestion, fatigue, loss of appetite and cold limbs.

 

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.