Dampness in the Spleen
Note: In Traditional Chinese Medicine “the spleen” is referred to as the body’s digestive system rather than the anatomical organ spleen. To get a better grasp about the concept of "the spleen" review the introduction material “The Spleen in Harmony” in the Physiology chapter.
There are two causes that lead to the generation of “dampness in the spleen”. The first cause is deficiency of spleen energy.
"The spleen" is responsible for the transformation and transportation of food essences but together with the lungs and the kidneys "the spleen" also governs the body's water metabolism. It is in charge of the separation, transportation, and movement of fluids. If the energy of "the spleen" is deficient it cannot sufficiently transport fluids. Eventually this will lead to water retention, called “internal dampness” in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This "internal dampness" most commonly manifests in the three organs in charge of the water metabolism - the digestive tract ("the spleen"), the lungs, and the kidneys, which according to Chinese medicine govern the urinary bladder but also the sexual organs.
The other cause for generation of "dampness in the spleen" is living in a damp environment.
Dampness is heavy and turbid in nature. Thus symptoms of internal dampness manifest in feeling of heaviness in the body and cloudy head and/or urine. As dampness is the outcome of water retention a symptom of dampness is edema and swelling. Other symptoms include bloated abdomen, loose stools and lack of appetite (the major symptom of deficient spleen). The pathology is confirmed by looking at the tongue. If the tongue has a thick and greasy coating than there is "internal dampness".
There are two types of internal dampness – cold-damp and damp-heat. Cold-damp symptoms include all the above symptoms of internal dampness together with oppression in the chest and epigastrium, and/or feeling of cold in the epigastrium. The nature of dampness is heaviness, thus dampness has the tendency to sink downward, manifesting in white vaginal discharge in women. As dampness is water retention the body has no need for more fluids thus there is no sensation of thirst. (1)
Damp-heat symptoms include all the above symptoms of internal dampness together with stuffiness or pain in the epigastrium and lower abdomen, loose stool with offensive odor (when there is heat there is always odor), and scanty dark-yellow urination. As heat manifests in thirst but with dampness there is no thirst an interesting and typical sign of damp-heat is thirst with no desire to drink. Some nausea and vomiting may be present. (1)
Besides having a heavy and turbid nature dampness is also obstructive. Thus dampness blocks the free flow of blood and energy, and invades the joints. Movement becomes difficult and numbness in the limbs is experienced. The pain is fixed in location. The condition worsens in damp environment or when the weather change brings cloudy and rainy days.
Just like bacteria and parasites thrive in an external damp environment so do they do in an internal damp body environment. Therefore chronic internal dampness may lead to bacteria and parasite overgrowth, and is the fittest environment for yeasts, viruses, cysts, tumors, and cancers. Internal dampness is also more difficult to clear because of its heavy nature, and it takes longer time to cure.
Internal dampness originates from a "deficient spleen" therefore changing the diet is essential in treating this condition.
Foods that contribute to accumulation of dampness are all “cold” and mucus-forming foods, and they all should be avoided until the dampness is cleared. Such foods are all raw foods (which are cold in nature), eggs, milk, and dairy products (mucus-producing) and sweet foods (the sweet taste promotes the energy of the spleen but taken excessively it has the opposite effect). Fats, oil, butter, nuts, seeds, and all fried foods should also be avoided, meat should be consumed moderately, in small quantities, and very well cooked. The meals should be simple with not too many spices or ingredients. Overeating and late-night eating should be avoided. (1)
Foods that particularly dry dampness are bitter foods. Such are lettuce, celery, alfalfa, rye and the herbs chaparral (Larrea divaricata) and chamomile (Anthemis nobilis). Aduki beans is great food for clearing internal dampness because of its intensely drying nature. Slightly sweet yellow foods such as corn, pumpkin, and raw honey dry dampness and tonify the spleen's energy. (1)
In the cases of cold-damp pungent foods may be added as they have warming and drying properties. Such are turnip, radish, scallion, mustard greens, onion, and white pepper. (1)
In the cases of damp-heat the above pungent foods should be avoided. Instead the supplementation wild-blue green algae (Aphanizomenon) may be used. With its bitter-cooling and mildly diuretic - drying property the wild blue-green algae clears heat and dries dampness simultaneously. Being a neurostimulant, an anti-depressant, and a relaxant it is a great treatment for depressive conditions due to stagnations. (1)
Oxygen is another antidote to dampness. Damp internal environment is an anaerobic (no oxigen) environment. Thus promoting a bigger flow of oxygen in the body will naturally help to clear dampness. One way of doing that is exercising. Another way is by doing deep breathing exercises such as inhaling slowly for four seconds and exhaling slowly for another four seconds.
On a vital level dampness can be cleared by using the points Stomach 40 and Spleen 9. Stomach 36 and Ren 12 tonify the spleen to resolve dampness. If you want to watch the instructional point location videos for these points you can do so by subscribing to the customized part of this project. To learn more click here. In cases of cold-damp moxa can be applied on the above points. Painful, heavy and numb joints may also benefit from moxa. On what moxa is and how to apply it please go to "What is moxa?" in the Vitality chapter.
In cases of damp-heat moxa should not be used. Instead the points Large Intestine 11 and Gall Bladder 34 may be added to clear heat.
On a mental level internal dampness manifests in unclear thinking and sticky thoughts. To help clear "dampness from the mind" we may visualize a pleasant, fresh and abundant wind going through our mind and body, blowing the dampness away from our organs, head and thoughts. We can imagine the wind circulating through the body, clearing everything heavy, sticky, and turbid, and experience becoming lighter, and the thoughts becoming clearer, sharper, and more incisive. We may remain in this liberating state as long and as we wish and add the above deep breathing exercise.
(1) Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Nanjing: Harcourt Publishers Limited
(2) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books
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