Written by Hillary Constant, LAc.
When you hear or read the word damp, you may automatically think of the typical Portland climate – as I’m writing this the sun has gone back into hiding and we have taken out our rain jackets once again. But the dampness I want to address in this article is a type of physiological imbalance in Chinese medical theory that can cause heavy, phlegmy, and/or foggy symptoms in your body. As an acupuncturist, I can’t control the weather, but I can help you take control of the internal dampness that may be accumulating and preventing you from achieving your ideal metabolic functioning.
Dampness results from an inability of the body to properly metabolize fluids. The major player here is the Spleen- the organ that in Chinese medical theory is credited with transforming and transporting the food and drink that we take in. While moisture and fluids are essential to the functioning of the body, dampness is congealed fluid that tends to stagnate rather than lubricate. Symptoms of dampness that are very visible include:
A runny nose or post nasal drip
Sinus congestion or phlegm that is coughed up,
Suppurating sores or weeping eczema,
Loose, sticky stools,
Excessive vaginal discharge and/or yeast infections,
Cloudy urination and/or UTIs,
A thick coating on the tongue
But there are many other manifestations of dampness that are not visible to the untrained eye. These include:
Joint soreness and pain
Low energy and weight gain or an inability to lose weight
A heavy, foggy sensation in the head or body
Slow digestion, bloating and distention in the abdomen, and poor appetite
Some diseases that might have dampness as one of the root causes are chronic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, high cholesterol, metabolic disorders, and cancer. Dampness left to congeal even further can transform into phlegm, which may cause fibroids, ovarian cysts, lipomas and other masses in the body.
As you can see, dampness is no joke. So how do we avoid letting the dampness sap our energy and weigh us down (literally and figuratively), and wreak havoc on the delicate balance of our physiology? The answer is simple, but as is the case with most natural remedies, it takes some education, dedication, and patience to get there. The process revolves around taking care of your Spleen, which as I mentioned above is a major player in digestion, and therefore our healing process starts with Hippocrates’ wise saying, “Let food be thy medicine..”.
5 steps to preventing damp accumulation in your body:
1. Avoid foods that are hard on your Spleen. The Spleen likes things that are energetically warm and dry. Therefore, an excess of moist, greasy, and cold foods prevents the Spleen from doing its very important job of turning food and drink into nourishment for your whole body. This is not a list of foods to avoid completely for the rest of your life, but more of a guideline to create awareness – take a look and think about which of these foods you might tend to go overboard on.
Milk and dairy products
Processed sugar, sweets, and fruit juices
Refined white flour wheat products such as breads, pastries, biscuits
2. Incorporate more foods that will assist your Spleen in transforming and draining dampness.
Warming and drying spices such as caraway, cardamon, coriander, and clove,
Fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, parsley, marjoram
Turnips, radishes, daikon, kohlrabi, horseradish, mustard leaf
Garlic, onions, scallions
Whole grains such as barley, rye, and buckwheat
Asparagus, button mushroom, pumpkin, corn and celery
3. Take care of your Spleen
Avoid ice water and other iced drinks (these are too cold and prevent the Spleen from doing its duties)
Eat at regular times every day (the Spleen loves routine!)
Take steps to decrease worry and stress, which also have a negative effect on the Spleen (Chinese Medicine theory takes into account how emotional factors affect our body function as well- amazing!)
4. Move your body. Exercise will help boost your metabolism and move the stagnation that can aggravate damp accumulation. The Spleen rules the muscles, so weak and flaccid muscles are a sure sign that the Spleen is not functioning optimally. Exercise also helps manage stress, which can be another contributing factor in many dampness patterns.
5. Consult with a qualified Acupuncturist or Chinese herbal medicine practitioner. We can determine if your symptoms are being caused by dampness, and whether there are other factors such as heat or blood stagnation complicating the pattern. Acupuncture points and Chinese herbs will help tonify deficiencies in your Spleen, Lungs, or Kidneys and move stagnation that has started to accumulate in your upper, middle and or lower body, as well as help you calm the stresses and worries of daily life that may be affecting your digestion, energy, and overall physical and mental health.