Traditional Chinese Medicine categorizes all medicinal substances by their holistic effect on the body. Each herb, each type of food is described by both its Flavor and its Property.
Each of the five Flavors – Sweet, Salty, Pungent, Bitter and Sour – says something about the directional action of the substance as well as which Organ system or Channel it affects most. The Property refers loosely to the substance’s temperature and falls in a range between Extremely Cold and Extremely Hot. Generally speaking, Hot conditions are treated with Cold substances and Cold conditions with Hot substances.
The Yellow Emperor – Huang Di – is said to have poisoned himself 70 times per day in his quest to categorize each of the substances contained in the Nei Jing. This isn’t to mean that he put himself in danger all of those times. Poisoning, in his case, refers to his taking of a substance that moved his body further away from balance in order to effectively categorize each substance according to its effect.
In this way, any ‘new’ substance that comes along can be categorized similarly by its effect on the Organ systems of the body.
The recent development of the technology of Probiotics has had me consider their categorization of Flavor and Property according to TCM principles.
Digestive health by the standards of Traditional Chinese Medicine is generally described as having a normal appetite (hunger occurs reasonably according to metabolic requirements), and as the easy passing one or two well-formed (neither too loose or too hard) stools daily, of course, containing no mucus, blood, or undigested food. Digestive health occurs when the Spleen is said to have sufficient Yang Qi. This warmer, more active Qi enables the digestive system to properly absorb the healthy nutrients in the food we ingest, and to reject the substances our body has no use for.
Taking the proper strains of Probiotics from a TCM perspective has the effect of firming up loose stools, softening hard stools, and restoring bowel regularity. In this way, it is easy to categorize probiotics generally as Sweet and Warm, acting as Spleen Yang boosting substances, increasing the digestive system’s ability to do its job. That said, certain strains of probiotic bacteria might have a slightly different categorization according to their specific action. A good ‘cocktail’ of probiotics will move the digestion quickly in the direction of health.