understanding traditional Chinese medicine and the role that ‘damp’ plays

the spleen and damp

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at the digestion in a  way quite unlike western medicient. Their approach, based on thousands of years of observation of the body and symptoms, encapsulates an inherent health philosophy of balance and flow. 

Although this approach is very different from the anatomy and physiology taught in medical schools, we can learn a lot from the tried and tested practical approaches to food in the Chinese system. These choices are mirrored in many other traditional medicines established over thousands of years, including Ayurveda (an Indian approach to health and wellbeing).

From the perspective of TCM, food is initially processed by the stomach and is then broken down into two constituent parts: ‘pure’ (useful) and ‘waste’ (not useful). The pure parts move to what they refer to as the ‘spleen’ (this, again, is different from our medical understanding of the anatomical spleen. In TCM, it is a looser term, to explain a concept of digestion), while the waste is sent to the small and large intestine for excretion.

The TCM spleen is easily damaged by over-worry (stress, not enough sleep or rest and too much work) or overindulgence of food. The TCM spleen is responsible for transforming this ‘pure’ part of our food into Qi (energy), blood and body fluids. When the TCM spleen is damaged or weakened, we can suffer from bloating, digestive issues, loose stool and low energy. Most digestive problems in TCM are seen as a disharmony of the spleen or stomach. When the spleen is damaged, it can lead to the build up of ‘damp’. 

Damp is a central TCM concept in digestive upsets. Damp is seen as a ‘pathogen’ that can invade the body from outside (this includes the weather of damp or humid climates – with our average rainfall, much of the UK would be considered to be ‘damp’). Damp can also be generated by a damaged spleen or stomach and a poor diet. 

Foods that block the digestion are ‘damp’ foods like…