Food is to be enjoyed is a strong guideline around the world. Here in Portland Maine it is a rule. Enjoying tastes such as bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, or sour alone or in fantastic combinations are a reflection of good balance of the physical need for food and the mental/emotional pleasure eating brings. Blending flavors well has given us dishes like pad Thai, chili con carne, bugoki (Korean BBQ) and ratatouille to name a few. Cravings on the other hand pose a different situation. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers cravings to indicate imbalances with each flavors corresponding organ system. Generally, craving sweet, salty, bitter, pungent or sour only gives a Licensed Acupuncturist one small piece of information when looking at the whole person. Strong cravings though provide the practitioner evidence of a greater imbalance. For centuries food therapy has been used to counteract patterns of imbalance. The basic implications in Traditional Chinese Medicine are as follows.
Craving sour has a great deal to do with the Liver(Gan) and Gaul Bladder(Dan) areas of influence. Clinically sour apples are used as part of an effective strategy to reduce the accumulation of silt and stones in the Gaul Bladder. Additionally, “sour minded” people are often treated for Liver disharmonies. The liver and Gaul Bladder are prone to either emotional or physical stagnations so craving sour is seen by the body to resolve the “stuckness”.
Pungent food cravings are associated with the Lungs and Large Intestine. TCM considers the lungs to be responsible for Immunity not only the absorption of air qi(oxygen) into the body. Pungency brings the force of defensive qi(imunity) to the surface therefore expelling the pathogen. This is consistent with the old notion break a sweat break a fever.
Craving Bitter tastes suggests to the TCM practitioner that some cardiovascular imbalances could be present. Further questions about heart health, blood pressure, healthy relationships with others and caffeine intake may be asked. Bitter cravings may also tell the acupuncturist of the digestive systems need for PH regulation or “cooling digestive heat”.
Sweet cravings are easily associated with Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach imbalances. Sugar/flower cravings are strong indicators that the job of the digestion and endocrine functions are insufficient to supply energy to the body. If blood glucose is not entering the cells the body will ask for more. Poor stress management is often a catalyst for digestive weakness and insulin inhibition from the stress hormone cortisol.
Salt cravings may indicate a need for greater focus on kidney and Urinary Bladder health. Fluid regulation and retention of salts may be compromised with poor renal performance. Balance of these substances is very important for health and with craving salt often this dynamic obviously needs treatment.
Stress often stimulates our cravings no matter what the flavor. Long ago stress was understood to be a pathogen and Traditional Chinese medicine continues to be an effective solution. Strong cravings are an indication of a deeper problem often there are other symptoms consistent with patterns of disease. Identifying and treating these patterns offer a solution safe to use without harmful side effects.