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  • Fatigue and Chronic Allergies from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

    Posted on February 27, 2014 by in All Blog Posts, Nutrition

    Five Element Cycle“The earth element (Spleen) creates damp and the metal element (Lungs) stores it.”

    Constitutionally, many of us are prone to “dampness.”

    Do you wake up feeling groggy… and the “brain fog” never passes?

    Counting Sheep in the FogAre you someone who is prone to food sensitivities? Environmental allergies? Chronic sinus congestion? Weight gain? Edema? Joint pain? Are you caught in a rut of fatigue, low energy, or lacking (and longing for) a sense of motivation?

    Maybe you are experiencing all of the above. And this is not uncommon.

    In traditional Chinese medicine, these symptoms relate to Spleen energy – when the Spleen is weak, it is prone to dampness and Yang deficiency. When these pathologies take hold, the digestive and immune systems will weaken over time. Dampness may travel upwards and be stored in the head and Lungs as “phlegm” (i.e., mucus, unclear thinking, lack of inspiration); it may stagnate in the “middle jiao” leading to poor digestion and impaired immunity; settle in joints leading to aches and fatigue; it may hinder proper fluid metabolism leading to weight gain and edema. 

    Regular acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbal medicine can help manage symptoms and get you on track to better health and wellness. There are other essential considerations in the treatment of dampness that you can take charge of on your own.

    Diet is an important consideration in the treatment of dampness. Foods we eat strongly influence the production of dampness, and they can also remedy it.

    How we eat is also important – overeating, and eating late at night contributes to the formation of dampness. Eating at regular times, and having smaller, frequent meals are best. This way of eating will also help sustain good energy levels.

    Limit foods that have a tendency to produce dampness and phlegm.

    • Avoid dairy products – ice cream, milk, cream, most cheeses, and butter strongly contribute to damp formation; fermented dairy products and aged cheeses are easier to digest, and therefore contribute less to dampness, but as a whole, dairy products are best avoided all together.
    • Choose lean meats and proteins – chicken, turkey, and fish are better choices; lamb is excellent for warming Yang. Limit consumption of red meat and pork as their rich quality stagnates digestion, and in turn, contributes to the formation of dampness.
    • Avoid wheat products – such as breads, cereals, and pasta. Wheat encourages the formation of mucus in the body leading to respiratory/sinus congestion, feelings of heaviness, fatigue, and “brain fog.” It is tempting to choose gluten-free versions of traditional wheat products, but better yet – choose grains in their whole form, such as brown rice or quinoa.
    • Avoid yeast – it encourages the formation of dampness. Yeast is most commonly found in breads and beer.
    • Limit consumption of sweets, especially refined sugars. Sugar is very damp in nature – think of its inherent sticky quality – overconsumption quickly leads to stagnation. “Energy bars” are fancy candy bars – have some almonds or walnuts instead. Use small amounts of honey as a sweetener in your tea or coffee. Indulge in squares of extra-dark chocolate when you crave a sweet – this is not about suffering!
    • Other common foods that contribute to dampness and are best eaten in moderation include bananas, mangos, fruit juices, dried fruits, and peanuts.

    AsparagusInclude bitter and bland foods in your diet to mitigate dampness. Some of the best foods to include in your diet for their medicinal values include greens, such as chard, kale, arugula, and dandelion greens; other damp-draining vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, turnips, radish, celery, asparagus, and mushrooms; fruits, such as fresh pineapple, cherries, lemons, and raspberries; whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, amaranth, quinoa, and oats; legumes, such as kidney beans, adzuki beans, and lentils; seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower; also include plenty of seaweeds and kelp.

    Culinary spices are not just for flavoring our food – they also have medicinal qualities, and are excellent for warming the Yang. Freely cook with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, garlic, fennel, dill, horseradish, and thyme.

    Enjoy hot herbal teas regularly – chai-spiced, rooibos, ginger, hibiscus, red raspberry leaf, and nettle are especially good choices.

    SpicesDampness easily combines with cold, contributing to Yang deficiency; this pattern strongly contributes to mucus production and poor digestion. The body needs the transformative powers of Yang to mitigate the accumulation of dampness. Always choose cooked foods vs. raw foods, and avoid any overtly cold foods such as chilled drinks, smoothies, and ice cream. Add a scoop of a warm grain to salads, and a hearty glug of apple cider vinegar for better digestion. Enjoy soups and stews daily – think of your digestion as a cauldron you want to keep set to a warm simmer. Use bone broth as a base – it is an excellent immune booster (here is a recipe).

    Dampness also easily combines with heat. One manifestation of this is “burning sensations” in the stomach. Avoid greasy, fried, and spicy foods. Steamed, baked, or lightly stir-fried foods are better choices.

    There are some excellent Chinese herbal formulas that help treat dampness, and they can be modified to treat your particular symptoms. Also consider taking a high quality probiotic daily to help strengthen your digestion and immune system.

    And of course – come in for regular acupuncture treatments – feel free to contact me with any questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment.

    Be Well,
    Jules Bogdanski, L.Ac.