In Traditional Chinese Medical theory, excessive dampness is a major cause and consequence of disease. What is dampness? There are two kinds, dampness external to the body, and dampness within. In the body, its not exactly one pathogen like a bacteria or virus. Rather, the term is generic and basically refers to all liquids and oils not adequately metabolized.
People didn’t have microscopes when the bulk of traditional Chinese medical theory was developed. When the ancients looked at nature to explain life and its mysteries, they took certain principles and applied it to the universe around them to come up with answers. One of these principles is that the microcosm is reflected in the macrocosm, and vice-versa. Hermes is accredited with putting it this way: as above, so below.
The meaning of that statement is that nature repeats its patterns, methods, and tendencies regardless of scale, so things that hold true on a microscopic scale, also have a reflection on a cosmic scale.
Looking at nature, the ancient Chinese perceived six distinct energies that influence the environment. These six are named after and reflected in climate: dampness, dryness, heat, wind, cold, and “summer-heat.” Each of these is a distinct energy/influence that characterizes phenomenon we are surrounded by.
If these six are the building blocks of the environment we’re surrounded by, then it holds that our internal body climate has a reflection of these six energies/influences and their interactions. Too much, or not enough of any one of them can upset the delicate balance of health.
The nature of dampness is to moisten and nourish, but also to clog and obstruct. Its intimately related to digestion, and when it gets to be excessive, it can initiate, or by itself be the source of many health complaints! One way to think of dampness in the body is as all the watery and oily substances – often when we use the term, we mean all the pathological water/oily substances, not the necessary stuff.
Basically a little amount of dampness is necessary for the proper functioning of the body. For example, digestion needs a little bit of it for lubrication. Too much dampness though, will directly tax digestion and elimination. Weak digestion by itself leads to dampness too, so it can be a difficult catch-22 situation. This is why it is said that excess dampness is persistent and takes time to control.
In health, dampness is kept in check by normal healthy physiological processes of especially digestion and elimination. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we know what acu-points, and which herbs also help the body dry, drain, and otherwise metabolize the excess dampness. Part of our diagnostic process also involves the identification of location and type of dampness.
Under the microscope, what Chinese medicine identifies as dampness can be seen to be any, or a combination of: bacteria, virus, fungus, yeast, amoebas, and/or parasites! So you can imagine how so many diseases involve excessive dampness. Many health complaints have this component of improperly metabolized liquids/oils. Most often dampness combines with other pathogens, or climactic factors in Chinese Medicine terms - especially heat or cold.
How do you recognize when dampness is excessive? Excess dampness is usually reflected by signs and symptoms of sluggishness and stagnation. It has a turbid, heavy, and sticky nature and it can obstruct the proper function of body processes, especially digestion, elimination, and all fluid metabolism. Of course any water or fat accumulation or retention involve dampness.
The overly-damp person is fatigued easily, might lack a healthy appetite, might not want to drink water, could have a bloated abdomen, watery stools, and feels heavy in the body, head, or limbs. Problems with defecation or urination often have a dampness component. Also if you look at the tongue, it will often have an overly thick coat on it. Also, in some people, you might not see any of these signs or symptoms – except for maybe they tell you they’ve been diagnosed with having a tumor.
Overly oily or moist conditions, and all water accumulations in all or parts of the body always imply dampness: edema, tumors, cysts, cancers, eczema, acne, obesity. They usually accompany overgrowth of bacteria, virus, fungus, …
Excessive mucus is also a type of dampness issue. Dampness in the form of phlegm can affect the lungs and heart and is the most common cause of problems in those organs! Damp people can easily get a cough.
Dampness can invade the joints and the meridians (acupuncture channels), affecting movement, sometimes with pain, and/or numbness. Arthritis is a perfect example – often a consequence of substances that were eaten over the years but never processed (so the body packs them away in the joints).
Dampness is often slow to resolve. One of the main ways the body gets rid of dampness is through urination and defecation and those systems are directly affected by dampness. For example, excess dampness can make the urine bubbly and or turbid, while stools can be dark, sticky, and smellier than usual. Leukorrhea is a dampness issue. Usually in these cases the damn dampness has combined with either heat or cold! Urinary tract infections, which are so common these days, are what we call dampness combining with heat.
Degenerative diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, high cholesterol, and many others all have a excess dampness component to them.
All chronic dampness problems imply some chronic problem with digestion, so if you’re overweight, or commonly get infections, pay special attention to the diet guidelines below. You might not believe you have chronic digestion problems because lab tests don’t show problems, but you do.
What causes excess dampness?
Susceptibility to excessive dampness starts in the gut with yeast excesses in the digestive tract. How does that start? Unfortunately, the modern western lifestyle is filled with dampness causing foods and practices! Too much raw, cold, sweet, or mucus-forming foods lead directly to excessive dampness. Alcohol is very damp. All sugary, processed foods, chips, soda, fast foods, almost anything packaged in a box fit that description, but specifically:
Some of the most damp foods:
- other soy-based foods,
- concentrated sweeteners,
- butter, and
- oils are especially damp-inducing.
Simple sugars from sweeteners and fruits in excess also increase excess dampness in the form of infections and yeasts. Nuts and seeds can also be very damp inducing, especially peanuts.
Anything that taxes digestion will lead to some kind of dampness.
All refined, highly processed foods, rotten, stale, chemically treated, or parasite infested foods will give big problem with dampness. So don’t eat out!! No seriously, these days with genetically modified foods being so prevalent (in 2010, 93% of soy, 86% of corn, and 93% of rape seed (used to make canola oil) planted in the U.S. were genetically engineered) you’re going to have a hard time finding restaurant food that isn’t going to tax your digestion. You can read more on Canola oil problems here.
Poor combination of foods can lead to excessive dampness. For example, meals with many different ingredients are hard to digest. Overeating in general taxes digestion (never eat more than 70% of your capacity!), leading to excess damp. Eating late night stresses the body, its hard digest food and sleep at the same time, and it can lead to dampness retention. Of course there’s damp retention that is not so bad (a healthy overweight person), and then there’s damp retention from eating garbage (like margarine, canola oil, soda, …) which will lead to disease much quicker.
Some foods are especially good at inviting that damn dampness because by their nature, they tax digestion from multiple angles. For example, ice cream is very sweet, cold, highly mucus producing, full of chemicals additives, and has concentrated sweeteners that don’t combine well with dairy. But its delicious too, I know. Unfortunately, in this culture and time, most people can’t adequately discharge the resulting turbid liquids and oils. Over time, the consequence is a tendency towards fat lumps, tumors, etc.., regardless of whether your body type is skinny, moderate, or overweight. There are many young women with fibroid problems these days, and I’ve noticed in my practice that most of them drink coffee regularly(which has nasty oils), or regularly indulge in other tasty garbage posing as food.
You see what I mean when I said the modern lifestyle leads to excessive dampness?
How do you treat excessive dampness in the body with foods?
First, avoid eating non-foods like cola and coffee which have a host of other problems. Unfortunately many if not all foods you buy these days that come in boxes fit this description. Why? Some of the most common additives these days are soy oil, canola oil, peanut oil, or some other garbage GMO oil thats most likely also rancid by the time you get to eat it.
Bad oils are very damp inducing and poisoning. And it seems they’re more at fault for heart disease than any amount of cholesterol.
Lard and butter are also on the list of dampening foods above but they’re otherwise healthy and a good source of necessary saturated fat. This is where you have to distinguish between naturally dampening but otherwise healthy, versus dampening and also poisonous as in the case of most vegetable oils.
Next, avoid the above list of damp-rich foods in excess. What is excess? Depends on where your body is at. If you are already overweight, tend to get chronic infections, or have had fibroids, any tumors or fat deposit problems, then you have to avoid some things entirely, for some time to come.
What should you avoid entirely? You can guess: fried foods in most restaurants, ice-cream, cake, candy bars, soda, …. Your friend might be able to eat a Snickers here or there, but even once and it can be poison for you, in your situation.
Second, do things and eat foods that help get rid of dampness. Basically the bitter and aromatic flavors help dry out dampness. Exercise helps to air out dampness. Good intestinal flora and healthy diet, digestion, and elimination are key – and will help you tolerate all sorts of nastiness.
Eat a moderate amount of complex carbohydrates consisting of grains, vegetables, and legumes. This supplies the little healthy mucus you need for your digestive tract. Some people take oil supplements for their GLA or Omega-x content, which can be a healthy habit if your digestion can deal with the form of those oils you’re taking. I’m a fan of getting those things in natural food rather drinking a lot of extra oil.
Drinking a cup of green juice a day by itself can supply a lot of much needed nutrients to your digestion and eliminative systems so that they can do their job well. So good for you but also as a side-effect helps with dampness issues by strengthening you in general, and greens tend to be bitter which promotes resolving dampness.
But also remember carrot, apple, beets, and orange juices are a lot of sugar – which is damps favorite food! Green juice is greens juiced! Put at least 20% celery (helps control blood sugar levels), and add any of: kale /collard / mustard-greens, leafy greens or soemtimes other greens. Mix in parsley to help your urinary tract. Add some cabbage if you have wounds to help heal. I put baby bok choy when I have some. If you have any gallbladder problems (most of you do), go ahead and mix in some beets for a while. Sometimes a shot of juice is very cold on digestion – add some fresh ginger root to taste.
Then, there are specific foods for getting rid of dampness:
- aduki beans,
- white pepper,
Incorporate more of these foods into your diet to help it correctly metabolize and get rid of dampness. Even if you are not able to get rid of your soda habit, adding celery regularly to your diet can help for a variety of reasons!
What else can you do?
Then of course there’s Chinese medicine with its array of techniques, including acupuncture and herbs. We are professionals at dealing with dampness and although proper diet is always primary, Chinese Medicine techniques are the big guns!
Meanwhile at home, besides food, remember its important to exercise. Think about how you would dry a damp cloth: you air it out! You can simply run, and then on top of that, learn some qigong and or taiji! Dampness tends to settle in the joints and make you stiff. Correct taiji (tai-chi) will make you not only learn how to open your joints, but also what the correct range for extension of the joints is.