The concept of “dampness in the body” can be traced back thousands of years to Chinese medicine and is still widely used even today in Eastern naturopathy. Though dampness in the body is not often talked about in Western medical traditions, it is still something that affects many people and can lead to a variety of medical conditions.
So what causes dampness in the body, and how can a person fix it? Here are a few of the causes of dampness in the body, and a few of the ways dampness in the body can be reduced:
Causes of Dampness in the Body
Ways to Reduce Dampness in the Body
External factors such as damp weather or high humidity conditions
Change in habits and diets
Low physical activity level
Increase physical activity levels
Mental health problems
Avoid cold foods
Food That Cause Dampness in the Body
Food That Reduce Dampness in the Body
Rich Meat Products
Sugars and Sweeteners
Dampness in the body can lead to some pretty pervasive and chronic health problems like fatigue or aches and pains, but luckily there are some simple steps you can take to learn how to fix internal dampness.
Read on to learn more about what causes internal dampness and how to fix it.
What Exactly is Dampness in the Body?
In Chinese medicine, dampness is one of the six pernicious influences or external factors that provoke correlating conditions within the body.
Like external dampness, internal dampness is a physical, mental, and even emotional condition associated with a feeling of heaviness, fatigue, and excess fluid.
Similar to the elemental cornerstones in ancient Greek medicine theory, dampness is one of the factors associated with wind, fire, earth, and water. Dampness is the factor associated with excessive amounts of water. Internal dampness can be caused by a variety of factors, both internal and external. Here are some of the external factors of dampness:
- Spending a lot of time in rainy or inclement weather
- Sleeping on the ground for prolonged periods
- Living in high humidity conditions
Dampness in the body can also be caused by internal factors such as the following:
- Poor diet: According to Chinese medicine, eating greasy, sugary, or chilled foods can contribute to internal dampness.
Since in Western cuisine these are very common foods, this means many people in Western society would probably suffer from what Chinese medicinal practitioners would consider internal dampness.
- Low physical activity levels: While “fire” in Chinese medicine is associated with pumping blood and sweat, water, on the other hand, is associated with sedentary concepts such as storage and winter, along with excretory organs such as the kidneys and bladder.
Not getting enough “fire” or physical activity in your life leads to an imbalance of water.
- Mental health problems: According to Eastern medicine, certain dietary choices like eating too many grains can cause the chi to be disrupted and lead to internal dampness.
This results in symptoms such as muddled thoughts, anxiety, and depression. Those with anxious or neurotic personalities are thought to be water types in Chinese astrology.
Symptoms Caused by Dampness in the Body
While a variety of different environmental causes can contribute to a person having a damp constitution, there are a few symptoms that seem pervasive among sufferers of this condition. Some of the common symptoms of internal dampness include things like the following:
- Excess phlegm: Those people who have internal dampness are more prone to generating excessive amounts of mucus and saliva. This can lead to a person being forced to repeatedly sniffle, clear their throat, or spit.
- Susceptibility to colds: Because people suffering from internal dampness are already internally damp, if subjected to wet or cold conditions, they are considered more likely to come down with colds and other minor bugs.
- Menstrual issues: Internal dampness can cause problems such as excessively painful periods in women (dysmenorrhea) due to water retention that causes uncomfortable bloating as well as abnormally heavy period flows.
- Headaches: Headaches attributed to internal dampness in Chinese medicine are caused by excess phlegm and blood that become congested in the head (along with chi), causing migraines and sinus pressure related headaches.
- Bloating: Due to the water retention caused by internal dampness, people with this condition can suffer from painful or uncomfortable bloating due to retained water. In extreme cases, retained water can be damaging to organs such as the kidneys later in life if not treated with a proper diet and lifestyle.
Types of Dampness
There are two types of dampness addressed in Chinese medicine: chronic dampness that affects the stomach, urinary, and kidneys, or acute dampness that presents with symptoms of headache, fever, and swollen glands.
Illness associated with acute dampness is what Westerners would associate with the “common cold,” and while there is no scientific proof that cold temperatures and wet conditions directly cause illness via chi, as Chinese medicine would propose, there is scientific evidence that cold and damp conditions improve the chances of virus transmission and suppress the human immune system.
Chronic dampness in the body is a more pervasive illness associated with a damp internal condition.
This condition can present itself from mild symptoms like excess saliva or feeling cold all the time all the way up to water retention in the organs and kidney damage.
Luckily this kind of water retention is easily remedied through diet changes and exercise. Doctors from both Eastern and Western disciplines have come to this same conclusion.
So while Western medicine and Eastern medicine came to somewhat different theories over the evolution of medical history about what causes this kind of “damp” body condition, both agree that it results in a variety of identifiable health problems that can be both prevented and solved through a change of daily habits.
Dampness and the Concepts of Yin and Yang
Chinese medicine integrates the concepts of yin and yang and proposes that for people to be healthy, they need to be a proper balance of both.
According to Chinese medicine, people have a natural inclination to lean either yin or yang in their constitution or their general health and how chi is channeled through their bodies.
How to Identify Yin and Yang Constitutions
Because people are believed to have varying levels of yin and yang in their constitutions, that means some people with a more dominant yin will be more inclined to dampness in the body and related health conditions than others with stronger yang, who are likewise susceptible to different sorts of ailments.
Knowing whether you lean yin or yang in your constitution can help you know your body better and get a better understand of how it works in a holistic sense.
If you’re not sure whether you’re more of a yin type or a yang type, here is a list of common associations with each type.
Symptoms of Dampness in Yin Types vs. Yang Types
While both yin and yang constitutions can fall prey to internal dampness according to their lifestyles or diet, these two types of people tend to show the symptoms of internal dampness in different ways.
Here are some of the ways internal dampness can exhibit itself according to yin or yang:
- Yin types: A person who has a yin (or naturally damp) constitution will often feel fatigued and may be prone to excess phlegm or oil skill. Untreated, chronic excess yin or internal dampness can lead to organ problems.
- Yang types: A person who has a yang (or naturally dry) constitution will exhibit symptoms of dampness in a different way, such as more pain-related symptoms like migraines or skin problems such as cystic acne.
How to Reduce Dampness in the Body
To reduce dampness in the body, you need to look at the various causes related to internal dampness.
Reducing External Factors That Contribute to Dampness in the Body
For external factors that may contribute to a damp constitution, behaviors as simple as avoiding outdoor activities on rainy days, not sleeping on the ground, and using a dehumidifier in humid weather can help reduce the impact of internal dampness.
You should also avoid sitting around in wet clothing or prolonged exposure to cold or windy weather.
You can also combat these environmental conditions in damp weather that exacerbate yin types and their internal dampness by self-care, such as visiting a sauna. Saunas help to raise the body’s temperature, which increases the body’s metabolic rate.
This is an important remedy for yin constitutions that usually have a sluggish metabolism. Sweating in a sauna can also help reduce water retention.
Try Acupuncture to Reduce Dampness
In accordance with Chinese medicine, acupuncture is a popular method for reducing dampness in the body.
Chinese medicine and acupuncture go hand in hand, with Eastern practitioners using needles to control the body’s meridians and flow of chi without subjecting the body to the side effects associated with chemical medication.
Acupuncture promotes proper circulation, which is usually a chronic problem in people with a yin constitution or internal dampness in the body, and heat therapy can be used along with acupuncture to further decrease levels of dampness.
Increase Exercise to Reduce Dampness
Lack of exercise is a common cause of internal dampness, and increasing levels of exercise is an effective way to increase circulation and move damp.
This option for improving the dampness levels in your body is not only pain-free, but it is also financially free as well. Increasing exercise can also improve mental health.
Since poor mental health is a cause of internal dampness, increasing exercise is a way to attack excess dampness in the body twofold.
Change Your Diet to Reduce Dampness
Changing up your dietary choices is a good way to reduce dampness in the body, as many foods are associated with either yin or yang properties in Chinese medicine.
The easiest way to try and treat excess dampness in the body is to change what you eat—not only can it treat immediate symptoms associated with dampness, such as water weight and bloating, it can also prevent more serious problems related to internal dampness in the future.
Food is a serious form of therapy in Chinese medicine, as you can see by the teas and soups prescribed for excess dampness by this third-generation Chinese doctor, Dr. Lee Kok-sou.
To figure out how to change your diet to reduce dampness, you first need to figure out which foods cause dampness and which foods reduce it.
Foods that Cause Dampness in the Body
Foods that you eat can contribute a lot to how much internal dampness you might be experiencing. When you think of damp foods, these would be foods that are typically eaten cold or are not easily digested well, such as ice cream or other dairy products.
Overeating is associated with phlegm and damp constitutions in Chinese medicine, as is excess body weight.
In this tradition, those who over-indulge in sugary, greasy, or cold foods can cause internal dampness that both lead to obesity and feeds off it by encouraging sedentary behavior.
Cold drinks are very popular beverages, especially in hot climates, but they are considered bad for the constitution in Eastern medicine, which is one of the reasons hot teas are conversely so popular.
One of the reasons that cold drinks are discouraged is that they are seen to dampen the stomach’s digestive heat, which negatively affects digestion and absorption of fluids into the body.
Damp foods can be somewhat balanced out by heat-based ingredients. For example, a cold smoothie can have its dry aspect increased by adding a fiery “warming” spice such as cinnamon, ginger, or turmeric.
Instead of eating fruits and vegetables chilled from the fridge, wait until they’ve reached room temperature to consume. And leave ice out of your drinks.
These practices will help reduce dietary dampness, but here is a list of specific foods to avoid if you are trying to fix excess dampness in the body:
- Dairy products
- Peanut butter
- Concentrated juices
- Sugary foods
- Alcoholic beverages
- Processed or cured foods
- Saturated fats
- Cold or iced beverages
- Cold or frozen foods
- Deep-fried or greasy foods
- White flour or simple starches
These foods are avoided because they cause the body to produce excess moisture and retain water.
Many of these foods also tend to be high-fat or high-calorie and promote excess body weight in heavy portions, which can contribute to a damp constitution as stated earlier in this article.
Foods That Fix Dampness in the Body
Like different constitutions are deemed dry and damp in Chinese medicine, different types of food are deemed dry and damp as well.
To fix excess dampness in the body, damp foods (such as the ones listed in the section above) should be avoided, while dry foods that have a warming or diuretic effect on the body should be consumed.
Here are some foods you should consider adding to your diet to reduce internal dampness in the body:
- Raw honey
- Aduki beans
Dry foods in Chinese medicine are those that are considered to be imbued with “fire”, so think things like roasted vegetables, roasted nuts and seeds, certain types of meat, and spices are all considered warming components of a meal that decrease internal dampness and promote a “cozy” feeling.
Many foods considered dry, warming, or yang in Chinese medicine are those that are known to positively stimulate the metabolic and immune systems, such as turmeric.
One important way to reduce dampness in the body through eating is to simply eat less food.
Since dampness can be caused by overeating (especially in Western society where a large portion of the population is obese) watching what you eat and eating less of it is one of the easiest ways to straighten out your body’s internal balance.
Do You Have to Change Your Diet Forever?
While people are naturally inclined to be either yin or yang in their constitutions, and some people are more prone to dampness in the body than others, this condition is usually a temporary imbalance in the body that manifests itself as malaise, minor illnesses, and generally poor health.
But once you take steps to reduce dampness and your body stabilizes, you should be able to enjoy some dampening foods without suffering too many ill effects.
That being said, if you return to the poor diet and activity levels you had prior to changing your habits, you’re likely to fall back into the same poor state of health.
Pay Attention to Dampness in the Body to Preserve Your Health
Dampness in the body can be a good indicator that your health needs closer attention, so learn how to recognize the signs in yourself and take steps to reduce it before it becomes chronic.
The benefits of changing your diet to one that reduces dampness and increasing your levels of daily exercise are more than just better health. You could also see weight loss, clearer skin, and increased immunity to diseases too.
If that isn’t an incentive to keep up a healthy lifestyle, I don’t know what is.