Combat Dampness w/ Chinese Medicine


Hey everyone! Could the weather be worse? Did we go to sleep and wake up in Seattle... or is it that Seattle went to sleep and woke up on top of us? "April showers bring May flowers..." except of course when it continues to pour rain throughout May and June, in which case July should look like a city-wide, mafia-style wedding floral arrangement to reach as far as the eye can see - or at least a few blocks. I suppose with said mafia characters accompanying, that would at least make this all worth it.

According to Chinese Medicine we should eat according to the seasons, which of course means eating foods that are IN SEASON, but it also means eating to complement and/or counterbalance that which is all around us. Sure, this concept stems from a day and age when there was no such thing as air conditioning, nor indoor heating or climate control (if you can call the MTA's air conditioning "controlled") - but that doesn't mean we aren't still affected by our external climate. Many of us feel better in the summer than winter, while for others the case is vice versa; and anyone with arthritis is surely more qualified than any meteorologist at predicting rain. This truth might lend some credibility to Chinese Medical diagnoses that often sound less scientific and more like a weather forecast: "You're too hot," "too cold," and the infamous, "too damp." While knowing the facts, such as our A1C levels, heart rate variability and telomere lengths is surely significant, so is understanding how we can subjectively achieve homeostasis, in relation to who and WHERE we are.

"Dampness" more or less translates as fluid accumulation and/or inflammation in the body, and in most people can be exacerbated by rain or humidity. In fact, western medicine uses similar more colloquial terminology when referring to the "plaques" that cause atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's in the brain. Plaque in Chinese Medicine is simply "dampness" to the 10th power, otherwise known as "phlegm." Although most of us think of phlegm as something that exists only in the nose or throat when we're sick, Chinese Medicine considers all internal plaques to be phlegm. In the ancient medical texts it is referred to as "the cause of all disease," and modern medical research seems to be confirming just that.

Symptoms of dampness can be almost anything, but the primary suspects are bloating, diarrhea, foggy-headedness (which can manifest as Depression), a heavy sensation in the body, and always arthritis. Besides rainy climate the causes are, logically, anything sticky and/or cold: Sugar and dairy, gluten, and cold drinks, the latter of which creates dampness by constricting the blood vessels, which impairs circulation of fluids, which creates fluid build-up, which IS plaque/dampness. By this rationale the worst substances we can put in our bodies are things like ice cream and beer, as they both have a very coagulating quality.

Conversely, the best things we can put in our body are soups or stews, warm water, and cooked, watery vegetables, such as zucchini, asparagus and cabbage. While all that water may seem counterintuitive in countering "dampness," it actually makes a lot of sense. If "dampness" is equivalent to phlegm and/or bodily plaques this tells us that its adhesive quality is integral to its capacity to cause illness. Pardon the image, but picture a big fat wad of phlegm on the sidewalk. What substance better to dissipate and break it up than boiling water? This of course calls back to another cliche us Chinese Medicine folk are notorious for - preaching against all raw foods and smoothies, which may in a vacuum check off all the scientific qualities of "healthy," but in the context of our bodies can have the aforementioned coagulative quality.

On one hand I hope that my timing with this blog is useful - on the other I hope not, as on a personal level I too have had enough rain to last me the summer. May the clouds part, the skies dry and the flowers bloom... but in the meantime try to stick mostly with those watery warm foods that don't stick to your arteries :)

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