Dampness is one of the causative factors that can lead to illness and disease in the body. To understand how dampness is a pathway for illnesses and diseases, it is noteworthy to see that the causes of diseases in accordance with East Asian Medicine include: six exogenous factors, seven emotions, lack of physical exercise, improper diet, traumatic injuries, bites from insects and animals and stagnant blood and phlegm fluid.
For dampness, there are two general categories: external dampness and internal dampness. External dampness falls under the group of six exogenous factors that cause diseases, while internal dampness falls under the group of stagnant blood and phlegm fluid that cause illnesses. External dampness can invade the body due to exposure to damp weather or wearing wet clothes or a prolonged stay in places of high humidity. Internal dampness can be seen as a condition of high humidity within the body. Internal dampness is more common and I will explain the mechanism or pathogenesis of how internal dampness is created from inside the body a little later.
Classically, dampness relates to conditions of viscosity and stagnation. Therefore, dampness as a disease causing factor is yin in nature. This yin nature impairs the yang and easily causes qi stagnation in the body, which means all movement and circulation in the body (yang property) is slowed down by dampness (yin property). And when movement and circulation within the body are impeded, blockages and obstructions result, which then brings about other illnesses and diseases.
According to East Asian Medicine theories, “the Earth element creates dampness and the metal element stores it.” Earth element refers to the stomach and spleen or simply the digestive system, while metal element refers to the lungs and large intestine.
For internal dampness, it is usually directly due to the impaired functioning of the digestive system. With poor digestion, any food that goes into the digestive system will not be fully transformed and assimilated. The food that is not digested will stay in the system and remain as dampness or phlegm.
Since it is known that the Earth element creates dampness and the metal element stores dampness, dampness that is created tends to end up in the lungs and large intestine. When dampness goes into the lungs, the usual symptoms are the presence of phlegm with coughing. This is especially prominent after the person eats something that is inherently difficult to digest such as a milk shake, cold dairy products, excessively sugary items or greasy foods.
When dampness is stored in the large intestine, the usual symptoms are mucus in the stools, loose stools, sticky stools that are hard to clean up, diarrhea with undigested food bits and frequent intestinal rumblings.
So what contributes to poor digestion in the first place? Diet is the main contributing factor for poor digestion. What type of food is eaten, when the food is eaten and how the food is eaten are some of the factors that can determine the quality of digestion for a person. Other contributing factors for poor digestion are emotions, sleep and stress.
Here’s a breakdown to help you understand this a little better:
Type of Food
Cold raw foods – Cold raw foods can easily impair the digestive fire or spleen yang and cause digestion to weaken. Thus, it is harder to fully digest any food given to the system, resulting in indigestion and the transformation of the undigested food to dampness retained in the body.
Heavy, rich, sugary food and dairy products – Heavy, rich, sugary foods and dairy products are known to possess the quality of dampness. Eating such foods is literally just introducing dampness directly into the system, which impedes and further slows down the digestion, resulting in indigestion and formation of more dampness over time from other foods.
According to the East Asian Medical body clock theory, 7 AM to 9 AM is the stomach time, while 9 AM to 11 AM is the spleen time . When food is taken at this time, the food is transformed and assimilated most efficiently. However, frequent skipping of breakfast or eating food at the less optimal times, such as late at night, will result in the foods not being fully digested and being retained as dampness, which impedes the digestion system even further.
How the Food is Eaten
Eating too fast and not chewing enough before swallowing, can result in over burdening of the stomach and spleen. When that happens, digestion is slowed down and obstructed, resulting in the retainment of undigested food, which will transform to dampness and remain within the body.
Overeating can result in food stagnation, which leads to the digestive system not functioning properly. When that occurs, dampness is formed and retained. This gives rise to clinical presentations such as belching, sour regurgitation, distention, bloating, pain in the epigastrium and abdomen, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.
In East Asian Medicine, emotions play a big part in the causation of illnesses. This is because emotions are basically energy in motion and East Asian Medicine honors the role of emotions in health. Each main organ system in has an associated emotion that it expresses. When the organs are in balance, we feel the emotions but do not retain them or hold on to them. When the organs are out of balance, we feel the emotions closely associated to the one organ that is ill more and for longer period of time. This association of emotions and organs is two-way. Therefore, when a healthy person constantly feels or displays certain emotion for a prolonged period of time, the emotion can hurt the organ that it is related.
In the case of digestion (spleen and stomach), worry and pensiveness are the emotions associated with the organs mentioned. When someone is in a state of constant worry and overthinking, it weakens the stomach and spleen energy as the energy is channeled to fuel the emotions rather than the function of digestion. This is how poor digestion can start to develop.
Sleep is necessary to nourish all the internal organs and reenergize them for their functioning the next day. When sleep is disrupted or lacking, all organ systems will be affected. With regards to the spleen and stomach, poor digestion will become significant with sleep issues.
In EAM, stress disrupts the flow and circulation in the body. With poor qi and blood circulation, all organ systems will not be functioning at their optimum. The spleen and stomach will be weakened with stress and poor digestion ensues.
According to Science and Western Medicine, the organs that cause dampness to retain in the body due to damaged water metabolism, go beyond just the spleen and stomach (digestive system). The lungs, which produce arginine-vasopressin that acts on the kidney nephrons to alter water balance in the body, are one of the organs that can be affected by dampness, especially when the circulation of the lungs is disrupted or blocked.
Mineral corticoids of the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys also regulate water balance in the body via the kidney nephrons. When the adrenal glands are overworked because of stress and the prolonged release of adrenaline, this can result in the retainment of water in the form of dampness in the body.
The Liver produces angiotensinogen that assists in water balance via the angiotensin-renin-aldosterone system. The kidney produces rennin that assists in the regulation of water balance in the same system as the liver. So when the liver and kidneys are malfunctioning or diseased, they will also cause some form of disrupted water metabolism.
As mentioned previously, dampness has the characteristics of heaviness, thickness, slowing down and stagnating. This means that illnesses and diseases that result from dampness similarly have such presentations. Signs of dampness include: sluggish energy and feeling of heaviness, weight gain, swelling / edema / water retention, lymphatic swelling, thick, sticky stool that is difficult to expel smoothly, bloating / stomach distention, chest tightness, poor appetite, thick, sticky or greasy tongue coating and a slippery pulse.
Some common illnesses / diseases associated with dampness include: obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, cancer and tumors, metabolic disorders, heart disease, cognitive impairment, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, allergies, asthma, eczema, cysts and fibroids, brain dysfunction, milia and seborrheic keratoses.
There are several ways to treat dampness, but proper diet and acupuncture are two of the best. Acupuncture points have properties that can clear dampness from the body over time. For example, a classic acupoint used to treat dampness is stomach 36, located on the lower leg, which acts to strengthen the spleen and stomach, while dispersing damp-heat and wind-damp throughout the body.
In scientific terms, acupuncture can calm the nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. It puts the body in the rest-and-digest mode. This strengthens the digestive system, which encompasses the spleen and stomach. This will naturally clear the dampness existing in the form of undigested and unwanted substances in the body.
Naturally, this may take some time. Dampness in the body tends to accumulate over time and holistic medicine tends to work at a slower pace, which allows the body to adjust easily. If you suffer from any of the aforementioned illness or even any of the symptoms listed above, now is the time to start healing. Don’t wait until after the holidays, when you will most likely feel more sluggish and fatigued. Get a jump start on your health now. Give us a call to find out more.