TCM and Dampness Issues
With Spring all around us and seasonal allergies sidelining many of my patients, clients and readers I figured it was time to talk about a concept in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) that is near and dear to my heart (because this is the one issue that I struggle with every Spring); dampness in the body.
But dampness in the body goes far deeper because it not only involves a constitution but many dysfunctions in the body as well. Today I am going to try to simplify what can get quite complicated when looking for root causes.
Dampness in the body as defined by TCM is an abnormal state of the body’s energy (Qi) that results in a pathological accumulation of fluid like edema mucous and phlegm. Even just feeling congested or bloated (think bloat before period) that is an example of dampness as is any sort of discharge, post nasal drip, or watery goopy eyes. (Hello seasonal allergies!) Chest infections, sinusitis, pneumonia and bronchitis are considered dampness in the head or chest.
Now bear in mind, these are only the symptoms we can see and experience. There is so much that can go on under the surface including high cholesterol, cancer, metabolic disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, allergies and environmental illness.
The earth element is governed by the stomach and the spleen. An imbalance of the Earth Element brings on dampness in TCM. When people have weak Earth Qi, they can be worriers and have control issues. They are prone to overthinking. They may be prone to burning the candles on both ends. They are vulnerable to digestive problems and diarrhea. They may gain weight easily and lose it with difficulty. Their bodies have a tendency to make excessive mucus, and they may suffer from cloudy thinking, muzzy-headedness, and a lack of clarity.
Those with weak Earth Qi often feel better when they limit cold, raw foods and dairy products. They should eat warming foods (especially in late Winter and early Spring) cooked foods like soups and stews to stay well grounded. They may crave sweets. The sweet taste can be satisfied by eating sweet grains, vegetables, and fruits rather than processed sugars.
Common illnesses include: fatigue, diarrhea, gas & bloating, food allergies & sensitivities, eating disorders, heartburn, and canker sores. Excessive mucus may collect in the lungs or in the sinuses. In women, menstrual problems may include either excessively light or heavy periods.
Dampness is heavy, sluggish, thick, and kind of grimy. Don’t mistake healthy fluid balance for dampness. No, drinking water cannot cause dampness. Dampness in the middle of the body can manifest as weight gain, a slow metabolism, watery and/or sticky stools, and can affect the reproductive and genitourinary systems with PCOS, fibroids, ovarian cysts, and excessive discharge being conditions for women (estrogen dominance is linked to dampness for the most part) and some prostate issues are considered as a result of dampness in men. Chronic urinary tract infections (and some might even link Interstitial Cystitis as well) are due to dampness. Inflammation is considered a “dampness” problem.
Dampness can also settle in our joints. Chronic joint pain that tends to be worse with rainy weather often has a damp component – also really any time there is edema and swelling, dampness is playing a role.
How do we become damp?
There are those who have greater tendency towards dampness as it pertains to their constitution or energetic genetics. Not to mix modalities but these would be people that would have a tendency towards Kapha in Ayurvedic constitution. In TCM they say that if the Qi energy isn’t strong we can’t process fluids properly.
Mainstays of the Standard American Diet (SAD) including milk and other dairy, breads (both because of wheat and yeast), highly processed foods, overuse of sugar, and low quality meats all contribute to dampness in the body.
Dampness has a way of seeping into our body through our surroundings. Damp symptoms almost always are worse in rainy weather or humid weather.
If you are someone who has had issues with dampness for your whole life, you may just have a tendency to develop this kind of the pathologies we have discussed. This means that you need to be extra diligent in the food and lifestyle choices you make. Also, protecting your digestive energy can strengthen the underlying weakness that likely made you damp in the first place.
In our next post we will discuss some ways to combat “dampness” in the body. Stay tuned!