Good health, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is dependent on four major foundations. These include diet, exercise, adequate rest and relaxation, and a good mental attitude. Acupuncture reaches it’s full and lasting effect when lifestyle changes are made where all four foundations are attended to. Diet, while not more important than the other three, contributes mightily to many health related issues. The following article shall discuss Damp and its relationship to digestion and health.
In TCM the energies (qi) of organs are paired in a yin and yang fashion. Very briefly, yin and yang are distinct entities yet dependent on each other, with yang found in yin and yin found in yang. Qi, the life force, is found in every organ and in the body overall. Diseases and digestion are therefore a result of excessiveness or deficiencies in qi, as related to the yin and yang organ pairs. This principle is the foundation of TCM. The goal of Acupuncture is then to restore the balance of the organ pairs within the body.
According to TCM, the organ pair responsible for digestion is the Stomach and the Spleen. The diet of an individual greatly influences the function of this particular organ pair. It is easiest to understand this organ pair through the cooking pot analogy. The Stomach functions as the cooking pot of the middle burner, the Spleen as the fire and cleansing mechanism under this pot. Food and liquids rotten and ripen in the stomach. In the Stomach the food is separated into good and bad. Good is dispersed through the body and nourishes via the Spleen. The Stomach drives the impure out via elimination.
So, what does this all mean? The Spleen acts as the fire, it fears damp, and as the Stomach is dependent upon creating a “soup”, it fears dryness. Foods that create damp force the Spleen to work excessively, and induce dryness in the Stomach, and foods that create dryness impair the Stomach creating an imbalance in the paired organs. Changes in diet, along with acupuncture serve to restore this imbalance.
Dampness in Diet
Our bodies are somewhat damp to begin with and many of the foods we eat are damp in nature. We actually need a certain amount of dampness in our diet. However, some foods are excessively dampening and interfere with healthy digestion.
Each body is different and metabolizes foods differently. Consequently the different foods ingested may not affect all people the same way, but TCM generally finds certain categories of foods to affect certain organ pairs.
Foods that affect the Spleen and cause dampness include, but are not limited to, sugar and sweets, dairy products, frozen foods, fruit juices, etc. This list of foods does not mean that you must cut these from your diet; rather it is an awareness of frequency and the amount consumed that is desired. When consumed in moderation they can be quite healthy. Foods that are particularly sweet or have a sweet flavor tend to be the most potent in producing damp in the Spleen.
Foods that are sweet have a dual nature in that they are damp as well as nutritive. The sweet flavor supplements the qi (energy force) and blood (bodily fluids), and yet too much may result in excessive damp disorders where instead of vitalizing the Spleen; it overwhelms and weakens it. When the Spleen is weakened it craves that which will strengthen it, and sweetness strengthens it. A maladaptive loop ensues where the weakened Spleen craves sweetness, which further weakens the Spleen, making it crave more sweet. Since the Spleen is primarily responsible for transforming and transporting nutrients, its dampened state may inhibit digestion and absorption and inadvertently restrict the full function of the Stomach.
Breaking this cycle is important to maintaining proper digestion and absorption of foods. In order to avoid Damp in the Spleen it is best to eat warm, cooked foods, soups, stews, rice, noodles, and plenty of cooked vegetables. Eating more frequently and in smaller portions smoothes the digestive process and inhibits Damp from accumulating in the body.
Signs of Dampness in the Body
Dampness can manifest in the body in many ways adversely affecting health. In addition to diet, overwork, emotional disturbances and climate may leave a body susceptible to excessive damp. Climate such as the late summer rainy season or humidity are particularly instrumental to damp invasion.
Signs of excessive damp include lethargy, sinus and drainage problems, feelings of heaviness in limbs or head, nausea, indigestion and feelings of fullness in chest or abdomen. If you have noticed an increase in sweet consumption or have experienced one of the above signs, it is recommended that you consult your Acupuncturist for an accurate diagnosis and form of treatment.