THE INFORMATION PROVIDED HERE IS NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR A DOCTOR. YOU SHOULDN’T USE IT FOR THE PURPOSE OF SELF-DIAGNOSING OR SELF-MEDICATING BUT RATHER SO YOU CAN HAVE A MORE INFORMED DISCUSSION WITH A PROFESSIONAL TCM PRACTITIONER OR YOUR FAMILY GP.
One of the most central concepts of TCM is that of the intimate connection between the body and the environment. The physiology of the cells, tissues, organs and the meridian system of the body, is in dynamic internal equilibrium and constantly adjusts to the vagaries of the external environment.
“Traditional Chinese Medicine recognises different influencers on the energetic and physical systems of our bodies, such as Wind, Heat and Dampness.”
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are six factors from the environment that contribute to illness and cause imbalances in our body. They are:
风 – Pathogenic wind
寒 – Pathogenic cold
暑 – Pathogenic summer-heat
湿 – Pathogenic dampness
燥 – Pathogenic dryness
火 – Pathogenic heat (fire)
Associated with late summer, Earth element, Stomach, Spleen, dampness is predominant in late summer but also can be encountered in other seasons. It is not just edema or excess water, as many westerns might associate it with. Imagine a very humid greenhouse with molds and steam. That’s what dampness feels like. It permeates everywhere due to fumigation and frequently causes disease. Sometimes drenching or living in a damp area can result in disease of dampness. The characteristics of dampness in causing disease are:
Dampness moves slowly because it is heavy. It inhibits the flow and activity of Qi, frequently leading to chest oppression and fullness, scanty and unsmooth urination and constipation. On the other hand, dampness also tends to impair Yang Qi. Prolonged blockage of Qi by dampness will prevent Yang-Qi from flowing, often causing decline of yang energy. Since dampness pertains to earth in the five elements and is related to the spleen, it tends to impair the spleen, causing stagnation of our digestive energy and edema.
Invasion of dampness can be difficult to get rid of and recurs with long duration. Therefore, it requires time and persistence to a dampness-reducing diet to recover from the invasion.
Dampness is similar to water and characteristic of descending and apt to attack the lower part of the body. For example, edema caused by fluid-dampness is usually seen in the legs; vaginal discharge, turbid urine, diarrhea, dysentery and cankerous legs and mostly caused by down-pour of dampness.
Endogenous dampness results from the spleen. Usually, failure of water to transform due to dysfunction of the spleen may produce the endogenous dampness, which accumulates into phlegm and retention of fluid to further result in conditions like edema, heaviness, indigestion, obesity, metabolic syndrome, poor skin, etc.
Dampness is a condition existing within the body. We can understand it as a reflection of dampness as it occurs in nature. Dampness arises from the body being affected in several ways. It can be due to either a problem arising from the inability of the digestive system to transport fluids, or from the body being overwhelmed by external damp from the environment (damp weather, damp living conditions, damp-producing foods). It can also arise as a response to illness, or from the overuse of medication that promotes dampness, such as certain antibiotics. A condensed, easily recognized, form of dampness is Phlegm.
According to the constitution of any particular individual, the presence of disease is due to a lack of adaptability by the physiology of that individual, to the conditions of the environment. There is a saying in TCM: “The earth element creates damp and the metal element stores it.” The organs associated with the earth element are the stomach and spleen. The organs associated with the metal element are the lungs and large intestine.
When dampness is created by impaired digestion, it tends to end up in the lungs and large intestine. When dampness moves into the lungs, the usual symptom is phlegm coming up while coughing (especially after eating something that is inherently difficult to digest such as cold dairy products or greasy foods).
When dampness is stored in the large intestine, we find various intestinal disturbances, more on the side of loose stools, diarrhea etc. Even intestinal rumblings are due to dampness. Internal dampness is directly due to the impaired transformation and transportation functions of the spleen.
In Chinese medicine, dampness is considered to be the cause or contributing factor of many illnesses such as high cholesterol, cancer, metabolic disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, MS, fibromyalgia, eczema, allergies and environmental illness.
The role of poor diet in contracting internal dampness and food therapy in combating internal dampness is well known. Foods that impair digestion, yield food stagnation and interfere with the spleen, contributing to the development of internal dampness, due to the impairment of water metabolism within the body.
Foods known to cause dampness include: milk products (except yogurt), sugar and sweets, white-wheat flour, refined starch and highly processed starch products, excess raw fruits (sugar) and raw vegetables (mould from the soil), excess mushrooms and fungi, peppers, cold beverages (which immobilize immune cells on the walls of the digestive tract), an excess of fermented foods, foods containing yeast and an excess of vinegar.
Foods known to cause damp-heat include alcohol, fatty, greasy and deep-fried food.
The spleen is probably the most important organ used for healing according TCM, because it affects the body’s immunity and capacity to maintain and heal. If one can understand the diagnostic indications for spleen patterns and a treatment used for them, then it is possible to achieve satisfactory results with acupuncture, combined with nutritional advice, herbs/supplements and even visiting a sauna to get the warmth and dryness from an artificial environment into the muscles and bones (including sweating of the excessive dampness from the tissues).
To recover from dampness invasion, we need spleen-friendly, lifting, light foods and herbs.