Hippocrates said — “Let food be thy medicine & let thy medicine be food”.
One of the five major branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine is Food Therapy. The other branches are acupuncture, exercise, Tui-Na massage and herbal therapy. Food therapy is based on the theory that different types of food can be used as treatment for various medical conditions. There is a large variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and herbs that can be beneficial in healing different ailments.
Food therapy is a great idea for clients that want to feed their pets home-made food, are already preparing home-made diets for their pets or are interested in supplementing whole foods to dry commercial diets.
Food Therapy is based on two fundamental principles: “Food Energetics” and “Pattern Differentiation.” Let’s discuss these two principles in added detail.
This principle refers to the effect food has on multiple processes of the body, particularly the digestive, metabolic, and physiological systems. Each food has what is called a “Xing,” which is essentially the “temperature” of the item. This temperature refers to the particular food’s overall effect on the dog’s metabolism.
In the West, food is most often described by its contents and ingredients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. In the East, however, food is described by the effect it has on the body when consumed, particularly the “temperature” of the food. The temperatures of food are hot, warm, neutral, cool, or cold. Chili peppers, for example, are considered hot, heating up our bodies when eaten, while watermelon is considered cooling. You may notice that you prefer to eat rich broth soups in the winter, whereas in the summer, you may find a strong preference for salads. Without knowing it, you have been using the basic principle of Food Therapy for your own health!
Types of food are also classified by their “Flavor.” In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are over five flavors that have distinct actions within the body. These flavors include salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and pungent. For example, the Sour flavor is paralleled with the Wood Phase which focuses on the Liver and Gallbladder. The Bitter flavor is correlated with the Fire Phase, affecting the Heart and Small Intestine. Each flavor has a particular quality, ranging from draining to detoxifying.
Lastly, foods may have a particular action within the body, either directly affecting a meridian or an organ.
Pattern Differentiation/Bian Zheng
The second principle in Food Therapy is one of the most important parts of Traditional Chinese Medicine — Pattern Differentiation/Bian Zheng. This principle distinguishes patterns of disharmony within individual dogs. The patterns of disharmony are numerous, often including theories such as Yin/Yang (cold, hot), Location/Jiao (upper, middle and lower Jiao), Five elements Theory (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood), Eight Principles (yin/yang, hot/cold, interior/exterior, excess/deficiency), and six Pathogenic Factors (wind, cold, damp, heat, summer heat, dryness). When a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine practitioner diagnoses any of the above patterns, the treatment is generally the inverse of the diagnosis, therefore balancing the body and restoring health. These patterns and principles can be quite complicated and would each deserve a blog on their own. For the purpose of this food blog we will not go into great details about each. Here is a simplistic chart of the 5 elements and what is associated with them based on TCM concept.
Once Food Energetics and Pattern Differentiation have been evaluated, a practitioner will choose a food combination for your dog. Combinations include multiple types of food as well as culinary herbs designed to balance the dog’s physical and physiological imbalances.
— Tonic-type foods
These are best used to strengthen body function, and are particularly helpful for dogs with chronic issues. These foods maintain and improve available energy within the body. Tonic-type foods include beef, chicken, date, fig, ham, lentil, molasses, oats, sweet potato, and squash.
— Blood tonic foods
These types of foods are best used to improve the quality of immediate nourishment for your dog’s body. Blood tonic foods include apricot, beef, bone marrow, chicken egg, dark leafy greens, liver, oyster, nettle, parsley, sardine, and spinach.
— Yin tonic foods
These foods maintain and improve subtle body nourishment, as well as overall soothing of the body with cooling properties. Yin tonic foods include apple, asparagus, cheese, duck, honey, mango, milk, peas, pineapple, pork, rabbit, tofu, and yam.
— Yang tonic foods
These types of foods help to maintain and improve the animal’s ability to generate warmth and stimulate many system functions. Yang tonic foods include basil, cinnamon bark, clove, fennel seed, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, kidney, lamb, rosemary, shrimp, and walnut.
It’s important to remember that food is medicine. Sometimes we rely too much on drugs, supplements, and vitamins, forgetting that food can not only be a supplement to our health, but can also heal us.
If you’re interested in learning more about Food Therapy, consult a Traditional Veterinary Chinese Medicine practitioner in your area. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complex form of medicine and best left to a professional for diagnosis.
I am certified by the Chi Institute as a Chinese Veterinary Food Therapist (CVFT) and you can contact me for a food therapy consult. Please be advised that an initial exam is required to perform a full Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis in order to better assess the TCM pattern that is present in your pet.
Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)
Ferguson, Bruce. Introduction to Food Therapy in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings. 2008.