Dampness and Phlegm Conditions

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Traditional Chinese Medicine

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TCM views dampness and phlegm as important and common pathological factors in the treatment of many disorders.

The motto of traditional Chinese physicians was: "If you've treated a disorder for a long period of time without success, always remember phlegm."

The Western observer associates phlegm disorders mainly with a stuffed up nose and sinuses, sinusitis frontalis, sinusitis maxillaris, and bronchial congestion. In TCM, these are only partial aspects, as the Chinese idea of phlegm disorders incorporates a lot more than just material phlegm: Phlegm can occur in all parts of the body. It slows down the flow of qi and congests the channels, inducing symptoms such as numbness, dull, "foggy" headache, sluggishness, and lack of concentration. A well-known and typical symptom of dampness in the head is the so-called hangover headache caused by too much alcohol resulting in the creation of phlegm.


Phlegm is created mainly by a disorder of the spleen/pancreas network. If the spleen is too weak, qi flow slows and transformation and transport of fluids becomes congested. As a result, dampness accumulates. With chronic spleen qi or yang vacuity, dampness collects over a longer period and creates concentrated accumulations of liquid. These eventually thicken into phlegm, especially if subjected to the effects of heat. Since spleen vacuity is always the primary cause of phlegm, therapy needs to focus on strengthening this particular bowel (zang organ)! Also contributing to the formation of phlegm are the lungs and kidneys. The primary responsibility of the lungs is to distribute and reduce fluids produced by the spleen. If weakened, the lungs are unable to perform this task, resulting in the formation of dampness (swelling and edemas) and phlegm in the nasal and sinus cavities (maxillary sinus and frontal sinus). In the worst case, the lungs themselves become obstructed (bronchitis, pneumonia).

The kidneys, on the other hand, are responsible for the intake and discharge of liquids. If this function is impaired, liquids gather primarily in the lower burner and can lead to formation of edemas. As a rule, good kidney energy (kidney yang) is important for warming and supporting the spleen. Other causes for the formation of phlegm, especially heat phlegm (viscous, yellow phlegm) are external wind-heat disorders that damage the lung, for example acute bronchitis, sinusitis, and hay fever. Heat phlegm can also arise with liver qi stagnation, since heat is formed when the flow of qi is slowed and congested, and heat thickens fluids.

Phlegm Differentiation

  • Substantial phlegm: Appears in the form of sputum with disorders of the respiratory system, for example rhinitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
  • Immaterial, "invisible" phlegm: Collects in the channels of the body and obstructs qi flow. Immaterial phlegm can gather subcutaneously and appear in the shape of skin nodules: Lipoma, adenoma, ganglia, or as a goiter. In its hardened form, phlegm turns into gallstones or


Chili, curry, ginger, pepper


Spiced teas, high-proof alcohol


Cauliflower, leeks, horseradish, onions, radish, watercress

Nuts and seeds

Almonds, almond butter

kidney stones. Phlegm in the joints causes bone deformation or chronic rheumatoid arthritis. Even "plum pit qi" (the sensation of a foreign body in the throat, mei he qi), a condition known in TCM, is another form of phlegm (qi phlegm), triggered mainly by binding depression of liver qi due to emotional causes. Its symptoms can include difficulty swallowing, globus hystericus ("lump in the throat"), or a feeling of oppression in the chest and diaphragm.


General phlegm disorders

  • Protracted illnesses that do not improve despite intensive treatment.
  • Painless lumps beneath the skin that are neither hot nor red and are freely movable (lipoma).
  • A general feeling of heaviness and numbness, sluggishness, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, especially dull headache and recurrent dizziness (Meniere disease).
  • Frequent infections in children, with stuffy nose, muciferous and purulent bronchitis, and purulent maxillary sinus and frontal sinus infections.
  • Obesity.

j| These symptoms can be increasingly found in children and young adults due to bad dietary habits (fast food, too many sweets, dairy products, and sugary soda pops).

Differentiation of phlegm disorders by location of phlegm collection and symptoms

  • Upper burner: Fatigue, lack of concentration, dull pressure in head, dizziness, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), sinusitis frontalis and sinusitis maxillaris, stuffy nose.
  • Center burner: Bronchitis, pneumonia, bronci-ectasis (inflammation of the lungs), cough with copious white or yellow secretion, nausea.
  • Lower burner: Fluid deposits in the form of leg or ankle edemas.

Differentiation by type of phlegm condition and symptoms

  • Wind and phlegm: Feeling of dizziness, sensation of numbness in the extremities, aphasia (communication disorder), wind stroke.
  • Heat phlegm: Yellow, viscous sputum, dry mouth and lips, bronchitis, pneumonia, apathy, nebulous, confused mind, types of schizophrenia, hallucinations, manic depression.
  • Cold phlegm: White, viscous sputum; lack of appetite, feeling of oppression in chest and epigastrium (abdominal wall above umbilicus [belly button]), infection of lungs.
  • Immaterial phlegm: Congestion of the channels, for example wind colic (apoplexy) and sensation of numbness, mostly in elderly people.

Tongue: Puffy, wet tongue is typical, partly with impression (spleen qi or spleen yang vacuity). Often oily, soft fur appears on a normal, but pale tongue in the retrolingual region. White fur: cold phlegm; yellow fur: heat phlegm.

Pulse: Typical slippery pulse, similar to pulse of a pregnant woman.


Strengthen spleen

Transform dampness and phlegm

Strengthen lung and kidneys

* ST-40 • CV-12 • PC-6 • ST-36 PP • SP-3 • BL-20 • BL-21

For chronic disorders

  • KI-3 * KI-7 • BL-23 PP • LU-9 • BL-13
  • Nutritional Therapy ^^^^ Avoid:

Foods that produce copious phlegm, especially dairy products, bananas, very oily and fatty foods, junk foods, too much of the sweet flavors, sugary beverages. An excess of yin foods (take into account season and climate!): raw foods, salads, and cool/cold types of fruit, citrus fruits, and juices. Frozen foods and cooking or heating meals in the microwave should also be avoided.

Caution: Meat and alcohol produce phlegm if consumed excessively. This applies especially to pork and wheat beer.

  • Recommended: Strengthen spleen
  • All foods that strengthen the spleen to deter further production of dampness and phlegm (see "Spleen/Pancreas Qi Vacuity," p. 69 and "Spleen/Pancreas Yang Vacuity," p. 69).
  • Millet, rice, and corn are especially beneficial for supplementing and warming the spleen.
  • Soy beans and mung beans are recommended for removing excess moisture from the body.
  • Cold phlegm (whitish, clear, thin):

Thermal nature/flavor: bitter-warm, acrid-warm

In moderation, fresh ginger, leeks, garlic, cardamom, cherries.

  • Phlegm obstructs qi flow in the meridians:
  • Moderately acrid flavor can remove the congestions, for example strong spices such as pepper, garlic, ginger.

Flavors and foods that transform dampness and phlegm:

  • Heat phlegm (yellow, viscous):
  • Thermal nature/flavor: bitter-cool, salty-cool, sometimes sweet-cool
  • Belgian endive hearts, dandelion, soy milk, mung beans, radish, pears, grapes, carp, salt, red marine algae (rhodophyta, also known as dulse), and seaweed.

j| With recurrent phlegm conditions, drastically reduce meat, alcohol, dairy products, sweets, and fatty foods. Abstain from these altogether for three to six weeks.

General recommendation for dampness and phlegm: Millet muesli or millet porridge with cinnamon and raisins.

For heat phlegm: Mung beans, mung bean decoction, soy milk, mixed juice of pears and lemons. For cold phlegm: Ginger tea.

B Application of Chinese Dietetics for Specific Conditions

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