April (May) Showers bring Damp Conditions
Well, here we are in the middle of our spring rains. Finally. It is a bit late, though. And it is really damp and cold. Everyone is complaining about being tired, achy, and cold. This makes sense in the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system. We say that people with damp conditions are made worse by damp weather or damp environment. Likewise, people with cold pathologies are made worse by cold conditions. And if you put the two together, people who suffer from cold damp conditions are really in trouble in this weather. Or in a climate like Seattle.
Signs of dampness in the body would be: edema or water retention, frequent urination, feeling as if drinking water makes you feel nauseated, runny noses, diarrhea, vaginal discharge, and being exposed to wet conditions worsens the problem. When dampness hangs around for a while, it can transform into phlegm. Phlegm would be, of course, thick phlegm in nose or lungs, vomiting thick stuff, mucus in the stool, or having rubbery nodules under the skin. Examples of cold are: conditions that are worse with exposure to cold, feeling cold a lot, avoiding cold beverages and foods, being generally pale.
So, it is obvious that your condition can be diagnosed partially by what weather makes it worse. Seems simple, but in practice it works, since that is how the diagnosis and treatment system of TCM is designed.
People who suffer from cold damp conditions need to be dried out and warmed up. That seems obvious, too. So we need to use acupuncture along with moxa to warm the acupoints, and use herbs that can drive out dampness and dry it up.
Some of those herbs are indeed diuretics to some degree. That means that they might increase urination to help rid excess dampness from the body. Others of those herbs are spongy or chalky and help the body absorb and utilize this excess dampness to accomplish physiologically beneficial tasks. Those herbs are the ones you could write on the sidewalk with, like dried beans, barley, certain fungi like hoelen (a little like puffball while it is still solid), and chalky roots like Kudzu root, wild yam root, and a few others.
We would also want to warm the body to help it dry out and we’d use herbs like cinnamon bark, fennel seed, dried ginger root, and others that we think of as dietary spices. You could say that these herbs help light the pilot light in the furnace of the metabolism, and thereby help the body process all this dampness out.
Interestingly, many of these herbs could also be used as foods. We could boil them into the decoction or tea that is traditional for Chinese medicine, or we could add them to our dishes as we cook and then eat them.
For our treatment, we’d also want to get the person out of any damp environment that we can. For example, when some people live or work in damp environments, their conditions worsen, so we want to change that if at all possible.
And there are foods that increase dampness and cold in the body. Cold conditions can be caused by eating cold foods like ice cream and ice cold drinks. Dampness can be the result of eating too many sweets and starchy foods like cookies, or slimy foods like milk products. So we would instruct the patient to avoid those things that are thought to make the condition worse.
I hope this discussion has shed some light on the ways that we look at people and their health in the Chinese medical system, and given some insight into some of the simple recommendations and treatments that would be used by an acupuncturist such as myself.
And we are looking forward to the short period of dry warm weather before the humidity arrives this summer.