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Transforming Dampness & Pathological Phlegm

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Transforming Dampness & Pathological Phlegm

Coming out of the cold damp weather that hit us so late this spring, we realize how deeply these factors can affect us. I for one felt my arthritis and bones aching like they haven’t in ages.  For those suffering with thyroid disease, it seemed impossible to stay warm even when bundled up. The wind whipped right through people causing an upsurge of ‘wind invasions’ (that means cold or flu in Chinese medicine lingo) and sinus congestion.

It sound medieval to speak of how the elements or as my brother affectionately teases ‘the evil humours’ affect our bodies, but we must recognize that we are part of the larger ecosystem we call the Earth. Just as we must care for and make sure the grass has water and sun, we too become affected by the weather, what we eat, and our activities.

A factor that I see as very common, but serious to both chronic and acute illness is what we call ‘Dampness.’ Dampness can come on from a variety of factors from inappropriate diet, constitutional predisposition, overuse of antibiotics that destroy the integrity of the gut, heart disease, and autoimmune reactions.

A simple example of ‘Dampness’ would be when someone sprains an ankle – it immediately swells up and often feels warm to the touch. In Chinese medicine theory this is the response of water trying to put out a fire or injury,

In a case like this, we know the trauma causes an inflammatory response (heat) which signals the body to send fluid (water) that contains white blood cells or an immune response that signals the body to send red blood cells and other healing mechanisms to the area. This healing process is what keeps the body healthy.

The issue at hand is when this process becomes out of control in patients with autoimmune or compromised immune systems. The body is fighting inflammation 24/7 exacerbating this cycle of dampness + heat = more dampness and so on.

Eventually the body can become so depleted and blood deficient from fighting this cycle that the water and heat become consolidated forming phlegm.  Much like a soup will burn if left to cook for too long. You end up with a big sticky mess inside your body.

In Chinese medicine, phlegm is not only the phlegm we think of when we have a sinus infection – this phlegm can take hold anywhere the body is vulnerable – the head, the heart, the intestines and this can cause a range of disorders and exacerbate cases of depression, anxiety, cancer, MS, chronic Lyme, fibromyalgia, and so on.

What can I do about my Damp Heat, Damp Cold, or Damp Phlegm?


In my practice, I often recommend a very clean diet, customized to your constitution. An appropriate diet goes farther than most other medicine can without side effects. This diet may also include supportive supplements, teas and tinctures that can be easily made at home or are available at your local health food store

Supportive Herbs, Teas and Tinctures.

Moxa and Acupuncture

Moxa, an herb warmed over points of the body, is an incredible help for those dealing with dampness and especially cold type dampness. It can immediately relieve pain, tonify the immune system (yes it’s proven to stimulate a targeted immune response), and gently warm the body to help move dampness.

Acupuncture regulates water passages and helps transform any overactive water response such as edema. I have seen people lose incredible volume off their legs in cases of extreme edema during the course of a treatment.

Essential Oils

Targeted essential oils are extraordinary at busting up phlegm and dampness.  When paired with proper diet, transformations can happen quickly. Our office can blend up an essential oil program that is right for your chief complaint and constitution.  Use caution when self-prescribing essential oils from anecdotal information, when used incorrectly adverse effects can slow your healing – these are powerful medicine after all.

Lifestyle Modifications

In order to moderate the stress response, lifestyle modifications must be made. This is different for each one of my patients. Some folks need to exercise more, some less. All people need to meditate more and practice greater emotional balance and ease.  I work closely with people to find what will work with their lifestyle based on their time and resources. There is always a solution, but it takes time, hard work, and a desire to change your health for the better.

If any of this hits close to home for you, I recommend working with a licensed acupuncturist or Chinese medicine practitioner that can guide you through the process from healing from this. It is an all too common pathology I see in my practice. Common but serious.

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Easy Miso Soup


Easy Miso Soup

This is one of my super nourishing go-to light meals. I’ll generally have this for breakfast or a light dinner; it is rich in micronutrients from the seaweed and miso. Miso is a Japanese fermented paste made from cooked beans and grain, it is alive with healthy digestive enzymes, probiotics and is a powerful digestive catalyst. Each miso is totally unique, so try a few to explore and see what you like best!

This soup is a breeze to make and you can easily substitute your favorite ingredients, once you get the hang of it.


  • 1t sesame oil
  • 5-6 mushrooms, sliced
  • 10 oz. water
  • 1-2 oz. tofu or sardines
  • Handful of baby spinach
  • 2 T of your favorite seaweed (I like the Dulse from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables)
  • 1 T miso or as directed on container  (I LOVE the soy-free Azuki or Chickpea Miso from South River Miso Company)
  • 1 t sesame seeds
  • 1 sliced scallion


  1. Heat the oil in the pan. Once warm add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until desired doneness.

  2. Add approximately 10 oz of water and heat to just below boiling.  

  3. Add the tofu or sardines, baby spinach and seaweed. Stir and remove from heat. Let cool until comfortably warm.

  4. Put the miso into your serving bowl. Add the soup slowly to the miso paste stirring as you go.  Do not use boiling water with miso, it will deactivate all the wonderful probiotics found naturally in the paste.

  5. Garnish with sliced scallion and sesame seeds. Enjoy!