You know the old adage, “April showers bring May flowers.” Well, those April showers often bring dampness. You know…that cold, dank sogginess that gets into your bones.
Dampness is also a concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine that wreaks havoc in your body. Typically, we see Dampness as the turbid, murky fluid of runny noses and gunky eyes, as well as post-nasal drip and the phlegm that is coughed up from sinus or chest congestion. But, Dampness can also be seen and felt below the chest. In Chinese medicine, we attribute cloudy urine, sticky stools, a slow metabolism, edema and even weight gain as Dampness. These things can often lead to sluggishisness, fatigue, fuzzy-headedness, memory issues and difficulty concentrating. In certain cases, Dampness can even settle into the joints, making them especially painful on cold, damp days.
I usually describe Dampness to my patients in a relatable way. Picture a water mill with a wheel generating energy. Water flows into the buckets, continuously propelling the wheel at a steady rate and moving the water to the next segment of the river. Now imagine the center of your body as a water wheel turbine. The Yin fluids of your body continuously transform and transport, with liquids moving to all parts of the body, keeping it regulated. Now if the water wheel of your body slows or even stops, fluids build up and eventually become muddled. This is Dampness.
So, what causes Dampness in the body? In Chinese medicine, Dampness is triggered by extreme deficiency of spleen qi. Don’t worry! If the symptoms above strike a chord, it doesn’t mean you need a spleen transplant. It just signifies energetically, the spleen and its meridian are compromised. Below, I’ve listed a few sources of the deficiency and their solutions:
A Weak Immune System
A compromised immune system can affect the strength of the body’s qi. Think about it. When you’re sick, you’re tired and weak. This is going to affect the body’s qi and its ability to process fluids. Getting enough sleep and eating well are keys to keeping your body in balance. Lots of greens and fluids are important, and I always advise bone broth. In addition to protecting your joints and healing the gut, bone broth is LOADED with minerals. Who knew your momma’s chicken soup was that beneficial?
Speaking of food, the right diet is key in keeping your spleen qi moving and reducing Dampness. There are a few food categories that are definite no-no’s — dairy and refined sugar. Out of both, dairy might surprise you. After all, it is one of the basic five food groups. But, consider when you drink a glass of milk. You recognize that phlegmy feeling in your mouth and throat? That same mucous-y response is occurring throughout your body after you drink it. Same thing happens with refined sugar. It’s as if you need a glass of water to rinse away the sensation. Also suggested is limiting Cold foods. This means anything cold in temperature — foods right out of the refrigerator or freezer. But the ‘Cold’ umbrella also encompasses raw foods as well, and salads and crudité, in particular. ‘Cold’ tends to seize the spleen and stomach (Chinese medicine partners in crime), effectively slackening the turbine of the body and slowing the flow of fluids. That’s why hot or at least lukewarm beverages are favorable — they keep your body loosey goosey. Cooking your meats and veggies is best, too, but if you must have that salad, try a spicy ginger dressing or follow it with a cup of hot tea. Something warming should balance out the cold.
Environmental Dampness can also be a problem. As I mentioned previously, Damp weather can make its way into the joints causing or exacerbating problems like arthritis. This is especially troublesome for those living in areas where it rains a lot. But those living in renovated basements may also be affected by Dampness. Best to move to higher levels of the home, or at least use a dehumidifier if relocating is not possible. And for those who are waterbabies, beware. Lounging around in wet bathing suits after swimming can actually cause genital issues, especially for women. In fact, sitting in wet, damp suits can cause menstrual irregularities, painful periods, even infertility. By all means, swim your heart away. But be sure to dry off straightaway, and change into dry clothes as soon as you’ve finished your last swim.
Now, some people just have the tendency to be Damp. It’s usually those who’ve experienced for a greater part of their lives many of the symptoms outlined previously. In these cases, we say they’ve got a Spleen Constitution. This is not a hopeless situation, however. If you maintain the right diet and eat your bone broth (or bone broth powder – see Dr. Doyle!), stay active (light exercise can actually help move the qi), and get at least seasonal acupuncture treatments, you’re already ahead of the game. But if that damp weather is the main cause of your ailments, not to worry. May’s flowers are right around the corner.