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Damp: what is it and how does it affect your health

Every so often, most of us go through times of feeling sluggish, heavy and tired, for what seems like no particular reason.

In traditional Chinese medicine, one culprit for these ‘under-the-weather’ feelings is damp.

What is damp in traditional Chinese medicine?

‘Dampness’ in traditional Chinese medicine, is what modern medicine refers to as water retention. This water retention can cause many health problems.

Traditional medicine describes damp as heavy and sticky water. It is related to stagnant blood flow and phlegm build up. It’s also primarily concerned with activity of the ‘spleen’ – but not the spleen as you might know it.

When traditional Chinese medicine practitioners refer to the spleen, they mean the stomach and the process of turning food and fluid into nutrients for your body – AKA, digestion (Lin et al. 2018).

What causes damp?

First, it’s important to understand that there are two different types of ‘dampness’ in traditional medicine: external dampness and internal dampness.

External dampness can be caused by wearing wet clothes, exposure to damp weather, or exposure to high humidity, often in summer (Hong Kong Baptist University 2018).

Internal dampness is caused by factors such as irregular eating habits, over-consumption of cold, raw, greasy or sweet foods, or alcohol. In fact, overconsumption of any kind can cause internal dampness, as it impedes digestion (Law 2019).

According to traditional medicine, when your digestion isn’t working at its best, semi-digested food and fluids may accumulate in the body, becoming dampness after a prolonged period. But even without overconsumption, this process of accumulation can occur if your spleen (stomach and digestion) are naturally weaker.

Symptoms of dampness

So, how do you know if you’re being affected by dampness? Some symptoms to look out for include:

  • Headaches, dizziness and mood swings

  • Trouble sleeping and frequent urination and wheezing at night

  • Watery nasal discharge and phlegm

  • Joint pain and stiffness in the hands, or cold hands and feet

  • A number of digestive and food related issues, including stomach pain, nausea, weight gain and diarrhea

How can you combat dampness in the body?

If this sounds like something that might be affecting you, there are some steps you can take to treat dampness in a holistic, natural way. Along with regular exercise and limiting your exposure to humidity or damp weather, much of the treatment for damp comes down to how you eat. This is because dampness is primarily concerned with digestion and nutrient uptake (Wu 1998). Here are a few tips:

  • Aim to eat food and drink at room temperature or warmer, rather than cold

  • Eat smaller portions and learn to register when you are full, so you don’t overeat

  • Incorporate more healthy food into your diet, such as whole grains, cooked vegetables, legumes, seeds and small amounts of meat, fish and poultry.

  • Use bitter, sweet and aromatic spices in your cooking, including basil, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mustard, nutmeg, parsley, thyme and turmeric.(Keller 2019)

You might also like to look at acupuncture as a potential treatment for dampness and the symptoms that come along with it. Traditional Chinese medicine suggests using acupuncture to drain retained water from your body. It may also help to strengthen the spleen and digestive system.

So, call us today and book an appointment with Yukiko, our friendly acupuncturist to see if the cure for your lethargy, low energy or stomach problems lies in traditional Chinese medicine.



Wu XN., Current concept of Spleen-Stomach theory and Spleen deficiency syndrome in TCM, World J Gastroenterol, 1998

Lin, Z., Ye, W., Zu, X. et al. Integrative metabolic and microbial profiling on patients with Spleen-yang-deficiency syndrome, Sci Rep, 2018

Law, S., Dampness in Chinese Medicine & How to Resolve It, Holisticare: Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, 2019

Keller, L., Traditional Chinese Medicine and Dampness, 2019

Hong Kong Baptist University, Drain the body of dampness, 2018



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