Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea is a feeling of discomfort in the stomach that often leads to the urge to vomit. It is a common symptom of a variety of conditions, including motion sickness, food poisoning, and pregnancy. In traditional Chinese medicine, nausea and vomiting are believed to be caused by a disruption in the flow of qi, or life energy, in the stomach. This disruption can be caused by a pathogen or by a weakness in the stomach's qi. In either case, treatment may involve the use of herbs and acupuncture to restore the proper flow of qi and alleviate symptoms.


External Pathogens

A common cause of nausea and vomiting is the invasion of external pathogens, such as seasonal viruses or eating spoiled food. These pathogens can cause the stomach's qi, or energy, to rebel upwards or block its downward movement. Dampness is often the culprit, especially in children whose qi and digestive systems are vulnerable to external invasion. Nausea and vomiting from dampness typically occurs during the humid months of summer and early autumn, but can happen in other seasons as well. If left untreated, dampness invasion can lead to chronic illness. Chemotherapy, a common cause of nausea and vomiting, can also present as a dampness or damp-heat pathogen and be treated accordingly.

In some cases, phlegm may also be associated with external pathogenic invasion. This can happen when an acute illness with high fever cooks and congeals bodily fluids into phlegm-heat. Once present, phlegm or phlegm-heat can block the movement of stomach qi.


Eating spoiled or contaminated food can cause acute vomiting, which, in Chinese medical terms, may be similar to the invasion of an external pathogen such as cold-dampness, summerheat, or summerdampness. Consuming a cold-natured or raw food diet can introduce cold into the stomach, weakening the spleen's qi and yang. Overconsuming, especially rich and heating foods, can lead to food stagnation, heat, or damp-heat in the stomach and intestines. Excess consumption of sweet and heating foods and alcohol can create heat and damp-heat, potentially damaging stomach yin. Sugar, dairy products, and some medications like antibiotics and hypoglycemic agents can weaken the spleen and create dampness and phlegm. These pathogens can obstruct the qi dynamic and cause stomach qi to rise.

The manner in which food is consumed is just as important as the type of food being consumed. Irregular eating times, eating late at night, or while stressed, or eating in excessive amounts can tax the stomach and spleen's ability to digest and distribute food. These habits can contribute to excess, deficiency, and mixed pathologies. Prolonged insult to the stomach or severely limited food intake, such as in people with bulimia and anorexia nervosa, can seriously damage spleen and stomach yang qi.

Additionally, modern agribusiness has added many potentially disruptive substances to our foods, such as residues of pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. Artificial coloring and flavoring agents, preservatives and stabilizers are added to enhance shelf life and palatability. It seems that increasing numbers of people are unable to adequately metabolize these compounds, which can lead to sensitivity and gastrointestinal distress with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal distention, flatulence, and pain.

Emotional Factors

Emotional distress can disrupt the flow of liver qi, leading to symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Prolonged liver qi constraint can also weaken the spleen and slow the movement of fluids, leading to the production of phlegm. When the smooth movement of liver qi is impeded, it can invade the spleen and stomach, causing chronic heat and damage to the stomach's yin. This can lead to the development of dampness and phlegm, which can further block the descent of stomach qi. This disorder can be hereditary and cause ongoing gastrointestinal issues.

Overwork, Exhaustion, Constitution

Excessive mental activity, overwork, and prolonged concentration can weaken the Spleen, as can an irregular diet and too much sitting. Gastric surgery can also damage the Spleen and cause blood stasis. Some people may have a constitutional weakness in the Spleen and Stomach, which may manifest as a history of chronic nausea and vomiting since childhood.


Herbs can effectively treat both excess and deficiency patterns of nausea and vomiting. Vomiting often responds quickly to treatment, while nausea may be more persistent. The length of treatment may depend on the underlying cause and may be necessary to prevent recurrence.