Is 'Dampness' At The Root Of Your Bloat & Digestive Problems? An Acupuncturist Explains

Photo: Tommaso Tuzj

"Dampness" is a term we use a lot in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. But what is dampness, and how does it affect our bodies? Dampness in the body can be caused by external factors (like the weather or insect bites), dietary factors (like eating or drinking cold, raw, or sugary foods), inadequate physical activity, or even not getting enough rest. Oftentimes, exterior conditions like humidity or exposure to mold can wreak havoc internally and cause excess dampness, especially if someone is more prone to having a damp constitution.

So how do you know if you are affected by dampness? One of the best ways to measure this is by looking at your digestion. Are you often gassy, have loose stools, are bloated, and just have an overall feeling of distention and puffiness? Chances are you may have some damp accumulation. Quite honestly, most of us do. And we have our sedentary lifestyles and poor diets to thank for that.

This is what "dampness" feels like.

Whether you're experiencing dampness externally or internally (or both!) you will feel weighed down with low energy and often complain about foggy thoughts. There's often a heavy sensation throughout the body expressed in some form. Some may feel as if their limbs weigh a ton, like you're walking in mud. Others may experience sensations like their head is being squeezed, as if a wet towel is wrapped around their heads. The key indication with any dampness in the body from an East Asian perspective is that chi, specifically chi from the earth elements of the spleen and stomach, is low and deficient.

Another sign of damp accumulation will show up in our respiratory system. Ever notice after eating ice cream, drinking a cold smoothie, or after eating greasy foods, you may cough up a bit of phlegm, or your sinuses get congested even though you may not have any known allergies? Maybe you're experiencing loose or sticky stools? Maybe your eczema is acting up? This has everything to do with dampness manifesting in different ways.

How do you prevent dampness during cold months?

As we are approaching the winter season, it's important to remember to keep our earth cauldron warm. We are in a different season, which calls for different types of activity and foods. Here are a few key things to remember to decrease dampness as the weather outside changes:

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1. Avoid foods and drinks that are cold in temperature.

We have to be able to guard our internal environment against the external environment during this time. Cold internally can cause pain and stagnation. Think about what cold does: Cold obstructs and tightens. Eating ice cream or drinking ice cold drinks on cold days will stifle your fire, which means food will not be properly digested. This will create stagnation in the form of undigested food within the stomach and large intestines. Where there's stagnation, there's no movement, and where there's no movement, there is also pain and discomfort. If you must do a smoothie, don't add ice or frozen fruits or vegetables. Instead, try adding spices like cinnamon, turmeric, or ginger—which are warming energetically and supportive to your digestive fire. A tip: if you are only using frozen produce, let it sit on the counter overnight or in the fridge. After blending, let it sit out to remove more of the chill before consumption.

2. Focus on broths and soups.

Maybe instead of reaching for the bagel and cream cheese, smoothie, or yogurt, do something more gentle and less jarring to your system. Drink a cup of bone broth or soup, like a carrot-ginger. A tip: I'm a big fan of the Nona Lim brand of to-go broths and soups if you don't have time to make something yourself.

3. Try making congee.

Eating foods that work to support the spleen and stomach can also help prevent dampness. Congee is rice that has been cooked down to a soupy consistency. Congee can be savory or sweet, depending on your taste. But the reason it's so good for you is your digestive system doesn't have to work hard to break down the starches, so it acts as more of a tonic to stabilize the spleen and stomach.

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4. Learn to love warming drinks.

Golden milk is one of my favorites, as it helps support a good night's rest, boost immunity, and reduces digestive inflammation and irritation.

Putting effort and time into strengthening and supporting your earth element is like making daily deposits of chi into your health account. The more you invest in putting foods that nurture, support, and tonify, the more you increase your levels of comfort, energy, and overall health.

Feeling a little fatigued? Feel like something's just not right, but Western Medicine tells you, "you're fine"? Jason Wachob, founder & CEO of mindbodygreen, tells all in his health story. Sign up now for FREE!

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