Healthy fats such as avocado, coconut oil, butter, MCT oils are the go-to fats now, but are they causing dampness in your body? In TCM food therapy, most will advice cutting down on “fatty and heavy flavored food” because they will increase dampness (think humidity), weaken the Spleen and affect your body in many ways. TCM food therapy does not look deep into the nutritional side of things and classify foods according to their nature (heating, neutral or cooling) and see which ones can help to balance your needs.
WHAT IS DAMPNESS IN TCM?
Dampness is one of the 6 pathogenic evils – Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness, Dryness and Fire. “Evil” means pathogenic factors and they do not affect everyone in the same way. In illnesses, dampness is described as a condition of stagnation and viscosity and is caused by the disturbance of the water metabolism.
DAMPNESS IS EVIL & COLD
Dampness is Yin, cold, heavy, wet, sticky, turbid and lingers around, slowing eating away the Yang. Without the Yang (think Yang as the power, warmth, movement, energy), the Qi and Blood becomes stagnated. If your body is strong, a little dampness will not do any harm. But when there’s too much, dampness becomes a pathogen (evils) and impairs and steals the Yang out of your body.
INTERNAL VS EXTERNAL DAMPNESS
Internal dampness is the more common type, also called “Tan”. Internal dampness involves 3 main organs involved- Lung, Spleen and Kidney. Think of dampness as having “high humidity body”. The San Jiao or also known as the Triple Burner is also very important in the movement of all the fluids in the body. All these organs have to work properly to metabolize all the water.
External dampness on the other hand is environmental humidity. Usually it happens in the summer or in tropical countries.
PHYSIOLOGICAL, PATHOLOGICAL, MENTAL
Physiologically, the dampness refers to the water that we receive from food and drinks. Spleen is responsible for the clearance of dampness, “rising the pure” and transforms the valuable essence into Qi and Blood. Spleen likes to stay dry, whereas the Stomach likes moisture. The fluid in our joints, fluids to moisten our eyes, nose, saliva in our mouth, digestive juices can all be considered as dampness, that is necessary for bodily functions.
Pathologically, it refers to dampness that is unnecessary and cause by weak Spleen. Dampness can congeal into a thicker version like phlegm or mucus. These phlegm and water retention can contribute to conditions such as edema, diarrhoea, scrofula (thickened, rubbery lymph nodes).
Mentally, the emotions of worry, pensiveness and mental overwork is related to the Spleen. Left untreated, internal dampness will accumulate in the body. Also, dampness may affect the Spleen’s Consciousness of Potential “Yi” where a person might become “clingy”, unable to let go, obsess over ideas or experience mental fogginess and unclarity.
WHAT ARE DAMPNESS SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms can include a feeling of heaviness, swelling or water retention, brain fog, distended abdomen, phlegm discharge, cough up with lots of phlegm, always have something stuck at the back of the throat (Plum Pit Qi syndrome), nodular squishy masses on the skin, loose bowels, profuse purulent leukorrhea (vaginal discharge). Your energy will usually be often have sluggish and gain weight easily. In most cases, the pulse is slippery, the tongue is puffy and bigger with teeth marks on the sides and a greasy coat.
UNHEALTHY FATS CAUSE DAMPNESS💦
We all know that unhealthy fats should be avoided most of the time. Unhealthy fats are highly processed oils derived from grains, such as canola, soy, corn, safflower. Hydrogenated fats such as margarine, shortenings, trans fats should be avoided too. When these fats or oils are treated at high temperature while cooking, they become unstable and cause inflammation in our body. It creates a cascade of inflammatory war in our body which can lead to many hormonal changes, leaky gut, autoimmune problems, thyroid issues etc.
In TCM terms, if dampness is in the Spleen, it will affect its partner organ Stomach and thus transformation and transportation of nutrients will be compromised. The child of the Earth element is Metal, which belongs to Lungs and Large Intestine may also be affected. So you might see symptoms such as running nose, cough with excess phlegm, loose stools, sticky stools or rumbling intestine which seem to be similar to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
You wouldn’t have thought that the Spleen is linked to the Lungs right? It’s amazing how everything is connected!
EVEN HEALTHY FATS CAN CAUSE DAMPNESS
Imagine your Stomach as a pot and the Spleen as the stove. The stove needs to be hot in order for the food to cook. If you throw ice or cold food in the pot, the stove will need to work extra hard to cook. Overtime, the stove will malfunction and there will be no heat to cook the food – aka indigestion!
Here are some ways you can eat correctly for your Spleen to minimize dampness.
DRINK WARM MILK🥛
In TCM, milk is usually seen as dampness causing. But it’s not always black and white. We are all born with the enzyme lactase to break down the breast milk. That is the only source of food for the first few months. As we grow older, some of us become lactose intolerant and find it difficult to digest milk. In that case, you can cut out dairy completely or choose raw milk from cows that graze on organic pasture. These milk has less dampness than pasteurized and homogenized commercial milk. If you do choose to drink milk, it is best to drink warm milk which is much more easily digested than ice cold milk. Keep to maximum 1 cup a day.
Pack with good probiotic bacteria to keep your gut happy! The bacteria works best in our body at about 37 degrees celsius so eating it straight out from the fridge is not encouraged.
Leave it out at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before eating. Pour out the yogurt onto a microwave proof dish, and microwave on low heat 500W for 30 seconds. Heating for too long will kill the bacteria and the milk will curdle.
All that raw vegetables, ice, coconut juice, matcha powder, cold milk and berries can take a toll on the Stomach and Spleen. Try skipping the ice or put half the portion, add ginger juice, add cinnamon powder to get boost a little warmth into it. Don’t gulp it down. Take small sips and warm in up in your mouth before drinking in. By doing this, your saliva (containing amylase enzymes that is responsible for first step of digestion) and warming it up will take the burden off the Stomach to maximise the absorption of the nutrients. You don’t want to be taking in all the goodness and not absorb it, that’d be a waste!
In TCM, avocado is considered to have cold property, meaning that it cools the body. It nourishes the Yin & Blood and moisten the Lungs and Large Intestine to treat dry cough and heat-type constipation. Considering it’s a Yin food, if you have weak Spleen or a Yang deficient (always cold), perhaps it would be good to limit to 1-2 avocados a week.
EASY ON THE MCT OIL 🥥AND BUTTER
MCTs are medium-chain triglycerides, a form of saturated fatty acid that are digested easily and sent directly to your liver to be used. The most common MCT oil is from coconut oil. Butter and Ghee do not contain milk protein (casein) , milk sugar (lactose) or harmful antibiotics & hormones, all of which often cause milk allergies and wack our system.
Over the recent years, bulletproof coffee (black coffee with a knob of butter and/or MCT oil) has become very popular. Many have experienced great improvements in brain health. However, from a TCM perspective, coffee, oil and butter is considered heaty (Yang). It’s great for those with cold body types but for those heaty body types, drinking it everyday especially in the summer may not be a good idea as this might contribute to damp-heat in the body. Keep to 1 teaspoon of MCT oil a day and drink cooling tea such as chrysanthemum may be a better option.
So, does eating healthy fats cause dampness?
I believe that if you live in a hot and humid country like Singapore and your Spleen is already showing signs of weakness, healthy fats in large amounts can weaken the digestion even further. To give your Spleen a boost, decrease cold food, icy drinks, warm up you milk and easy on the MCT, butter and avocados!
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them.