Damp? What Does This Have to do With My Health
By Mark J Kaylor
It could not be a better day to write an article on “Damp.” it’s thick with humidity, misty with raining on and off, and heavy dark cloud cover. So now that we’ve gotten a weather report, what does this have to do with your health? The answer is “Damp.” This type of weather is a perfect metaphor for this condition from traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that many here in the West suffer from, yet so few of us have ever even heard of it. So for a moment, picture in your mind’s eye, a day like I described; then apply this imagery or mood to your body and your health. That’s the condition known as Damp.
In traditional Chinese Medicine terminology, Damp occurs when we fail to burn off or transform excess moisture in our bodies. It is generally associated with a weakened Spleen (Spleen in TCM is different from the organ we refer to as spleen, it involves the processes of digestion and assimilation). While beginning in the Spleen, or digestive tract as we may know it, Dampness can accumulate in a specific part of the body work and impact that body part, or it may affect the body as a whole and one’s overall vitality so it is essential to treat this holistically.
In Simpler Terms
This can easily sound complicated or foreign; so let me explain dampness in some more familiar terms. It can manifest as a vast array of symptoms, from lethargy to sluggish digestion, from systemic or localized inflammation to edema of any sort. Dampness can also affect our mental state and brain; just like a cloudy damp day can bring us down, so can Dampness affect cause foggy-headedness and confused and muddled thinking. And the symptoms associated with this will tend to get worse when exposed to damp, from the weather or one’s close surroundings. The overall energy for it, or more appropriately the lack of energy of Dampness is slowness, a heavy tiredness. It is also thought to be a root cause of a number of disorders, including allergies, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, environmental illness, fibromyalgia and metabolic disorders. I hope you are beginning to see how far reaching and varied the effects of excessive Dampness can be.
Why do we experience so much Dampness? Simply, it comes down to diet and lifestyle choices. The S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) is a primary cause; with fast foods, dairy, sugars and sweets, cold foods, greasy fried foods, wheat flour, alcohol, and soda leading the way. The multi-tasking, stressed, over-worked, and sedentary lifestyle that predominates also hugely contributes to the buildup.
So how do we get rid of it? Let’s go back to my opening description of the weather as I wrote this piece. How does this type of weather change? You have to wait for the wind to blow away or the sun to dry it up. The same is pretty much true for the body; movement and warmth help remove Damp. And of course, we have to eliminate the root causes for this build up. Some foods are particularly helpful in removing Dampness; these include asparagus, basil, celery, daikon, garlic, green tea, onion, parsley, umeboshi plum, and watercress. And it’s not just what you eat but how you eat it too that contributes to this accumulation, take your time eating, enjoy your food, eat mindfully, chew it well, and don’t overeat.
In TCM Dampness is always treated by strengthening the Spleen first and foremost, as well as then focusing on the specific organs or systems that are primarily affected or manifesting the Dampness. And in this regard one traditional remedy stands out, a super mushroom called Poria.
The Ultimate Damp Remover
Poria is about as specific as you can come to a remedy for combating the buildup and removal of Dampness in the body. This is why Poria is one of the most widely used ingredients in TCM formulas. Because Damp is such a widespread condition, involved in so many imbalances, Chinese Medicine has numerous Poria-based formulas in what is called patent medicine. The primary reason it is so widely utilized though is because there simply is no other remedy better at combating Dampness.
Poria is said to drain Dampness, invigorate the Spleen, and increase urine output, which is the primary way the body removes Damp. Spleen support is essential since it is this dysfunction of the Spleen that leads to the buildup in the first place. Holistically, Poria is thought to have a calming effect and may help with insomnia, both of which may help provide relief from some of the mental Damp concerns. Like most of the other mushrooms Poria does have immune supporting benefits and in this case its anti-inflammatory activity also helps provide relief. Poria is so effective that it is even used for a “deeper” form of Damp called Phlegm and is a safe, and effective long term Spleen tonic.
Like virtually all the mushrooms, Poria brings with it an array of other health supporting activities, many of which have been researched in the past couple of decades. One relevant activity is its ability to prevent and protect the kidneys when put under stress. An animal study also found it offered benefits in nephritis (kidney inflammation). In the area of cancer research there has been some preliminary anti-leukemia and anti-pancreatic cancer activity discovered in a cell culture studies. Other studies have suggested possible benefits for the brain, red blood cells, blood sugar, the heart, and even with lupus.
When choosing a Poria product to help your body remove Dampness, look for a product properly grown and prepared; one cultivated on pine logs (Poria naturally grows on the roots of pine trees) and newly extracted, once in water and once in alcohol.
Poria’s Synergistic Ally
One herb that combines well with Poria is Astragalus. Primarily thought of as an immune supporting remedy, which it most definitely is, Astragalus has some specific actions that make it a synergistic and holistic ally for balancing Dampness in the body. While Dampness starts in the Spleen, it migrates to the lungs. Astragalus is said to boost the Spleen, enhancing assimilation of nutrients, while also strengthening Lung Qi, which can improve overall lung function. Astragalus can also build what is called Yang Qi, this acts as a balance to the excessive Yin, or moist, nature that goes with Dampness.
Known as Huang Qi in TCM, it was written that “every sort of wasting or exhausting disease is thought to be benefited by it.” Used for Spleen Qi deficiency, Astragalus benefits the symptoms associated with Dampness: fatigue, sluggishness, loose stools, and poor appetite. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention some of its immune benefits, which include enhancing immune function, improving white blood cell responses, and increasing immune cell production by the bone marrow.
Path of Persistence
Dampness is not something you fix overnight, just as it is not something you “caught” overnight, rather it developed over years and decades. Removing Damp takes time and persistence; there simply is no quick fix. While it is easy to overlook this condition please keep in mind that it lies at the root of many health problems that continue to plague us today and is a sure sing of the body’s need for balance. So, remove the foods that aggravate it, relax more, move more, and don’t forget to take your Poria and Astragalus.
Mark J. Kaylor has been exploring holistic health and healing for over four decades. He is the founder and director of the not-for-profit Radiant Health Project. Mark welcomes you comments and questions and can be contacted at his website: www.RadiantHealthProject.com or on facebook at www.facebook.com/RadiantHealthProject