Functional eating according to TCM – Damp

Last time I wrote about the life energy Qi, about Yin and Yang, about the energetic effect of food and described through a practical example how you can use food to relieve symptoms. Yang is the energy (Qi) and Yin the matter. 

This time: Damp.

What is Damp?

Damp: unknown within Western medicine, but within TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) an important concept. 

In damp, we see an excess of Yin. The internal cause is a lack of Qi and Yang. 

The spleen, along with the pancreas, is an important organ in the TCG. Spleen is a Yin organ and together with its Yang counterpart the stomach, the spleen ensures that energy is extracted from food. The spleen does not get this done if it does not have enough energy itself, and then damp can form.

Damp blocks the natural flow of qi, blood, yin and yang. It creates a “swamp” in our abdominal area that ferments. A swollen belly, belching, no appetite, poor digestion are manifestations of this swampy swamp AND you crave products that produce damp. 

Since the spleen is one of our main sources of energy, when damp symptoms occur, it is important to adjust our food for as long as necessary.

How do you get damp through diet?

The biggest problems are irregular eating habits, such as skipping breakfast or eating the ‘wrong’ products. For example, not everyone responds well to periodic fasting. The spleen likes regular warm food. Cold food or drinking lots of water while eating is best to avoid. Overeating, not chewing properly, rushing to empty your plate are also causes of spleen energy weakening. Too much fat, gluten and sugar-rich food can cause blockage and undigested food accumulates in the ‘swamp’. 

Last time, I mentioned that every organ has an emotion. In the case of the spleen, this is overthinking and worrying. Almost inevitable in today’s society. 

A lot of brainwork impacts the spleen. When the spleen’s energy is out of order, we can notice it in our digestion. Sticky stools, having to wipe more but also diarrhea just before an exam. This is a logical consequence of studying a lot and an expression of worry about the exam. 

After relatively short moments of a lot of studying and when in good health, the spleen can recover very quickly. But nowadays we often have long-term worries: children, family troubles, money worries, a career… That spleen of ours, a lot is asked of it in this demanding society.

How do I recognize damp?

Damp can be invisible, especially if it manifests in the head: migraines, a feeling of heaviness, depression, being confused, forgetfulness, loss of concentration or even a messy household. 

Damp can literally be seen through oedema formation: a distended belly, thick ankles, as well as mushy stools, vaginal discharge, coughing up mucus, bladder infections (damp gives cloudy urine), menstrual complaints, cysts, and obesity.

One of the TCM diagnostic techniques is tongue analysis. You can also feel damp in your mouth: more saliva, a bit sticky and talking with consumption. 

When you look at your tongue and see a thick coating, this is a direct reason within the TCM to assume the presence of damp. 

The color is also important: thick white coating indicates Damp Cold; yellow coating indicates Damp Heat. 

Damp does not always show itself on the tongue, but the symptoms usually speak for themselves.

Other causes of damp

Damp can have internal causes as well as external ones. An internal cause often involves the weak Qi energy of the spleen. External factors are about climate and environment and infected food.

Damp Cold is often more acute and has an external cause, for example wet swimming trunks worn for too long. Cold can then migrate inwards. Another example: waking up stiff in a tent at the campsite where it has rained heavily. It’s not your air bed that makes you a stiff and heavy feeling. That whole night in the too cold and wet environment, close to the ground is probably the cause.  

Climate can also be the cause of Damp Cold: a wet climate or the chilly working environment of a butcher’s shop. 

Damp Heat can come from external factors: prolonged hot weather or eating spoiled food. 

Internal factors of Damp Heat are often excessive drinking of alcohol and/or fatty food. 

But also think of a heavy flu where you cough up yellow mucus. That color indicates the presence of heat. 

Thirst, smelly stools or feverishness are good indications that it is Damp Heat.

What to do?

Movement releases blockages. In the case of damp, yin yoga is a good form of movement because it stretches muscle tissue. So are massages. Sometimes meditation is a good way to move damp. That swamp is also a swamp of thoughts like shame, insecurities, and worries. All these emotions put pressure on the spleen. By addressing this, you immediately feel a lot lighter.

What can I do with food?

The spleen likes warm food and regularity. Don’t skip meals at the time of symptoms. Nutrition supports your health and energy. 

A breakfast with yoghurt/cottage cheese and fruit is cold, literally, and energizing. A breakfast with egg and vegetables or warm oatmeal with blueberries makes everything much easier for the spleen. At your lunch, a soup with warming herbs instead of lettuce is already quite an improvement.

Take time for your food, chew enough and avoid eating at the computer. A cozy lunch with colleagues with light conversation makes digestion easier. 

If you feel a bit dampy, for whatever reason, avoid animal dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghurt, and cottage cheese. If you feel better again and want to use dairy, choose products from goat and sheep. Deep-fried food, fatty meat, sugar, bread, beer: these are not friends of the spleen. When the symptoms are gone, feel free to add some of these products again and see how you go. 

Peanuts and peanut butter, as well as banana, are major causes of damp. A peanut butter and banana sandwich? Don’t! Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and almonds are better alternatives. Or consider tahini instead of peanut butter. 

Bitter and pungent flavors like onion are great against damp. For sweet cravings, use agave, maple syrup or dates and toast sourdough bread if you want to eat bread, these are all friendlier ingredients for your spleen. 

And although we learned last time that fruit is very humidifying, pineapple and pear can also help you dissolve damp. If you have symptoms that belong more to Damp Cold, avoid fruit until you feel better again. Mustard with the meal! Very good to help you digest and counteract damp, especially with a piece of meat.

Case study: 

This time, Maartje’s husband stopped by. He had a burgundy evening with friends. Lots of meat, lots of alcohol and a meter-long cheese platter. Lots of delicious things! But now he has been nauseous for two days, doesn’t feel like eating and his thoracic area is extremely tense. He has belching and his stools are sticky and smelly.

A clear case of Damp Heat in the stomach and spleen. This can occur acutely, without any spleen deficiency at all. Acupuncture and drinking warm mint tea (mint is a cooling herb) give relief. Do not consume alcohol for a while and, of course, avoid the known factors that cause damp. 

Functional eating is one of the methods within the TCM to prevent or fight diseases. A combination of methods is often used. If you have a question or complaint and are curious how acupuncture and/or nutrition can support you, send an email to