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Spleen Damp refers to a problem of the spleen and pancreas. Together with the stomach, these are the primary digestive organs. Spleen Damp is usually the result of a weak spleen-pancreas in combination with a sedentary lifestyle. (It can also be caused by damp living conditions, but with central heating, climatic dampness no longer causes Spleen Damp or ‘internal damp’ in the West.) Since Spleen Damp is caused by our diet in combination with a sedentary lifestyle, it is widespread in the West. If you think that the best diet consists of grains and vegetables with about 5% meats/fish/diary products and 5% raw fruits, and that the best mode of functioning is activity, you may understand why the problem is so widespread. In the West (and in all countries and regions in the world, where the western diet and lifestyle is the norm) we (and our children!) sit behind computers, travel in cars, watch telly on the couch and we tend to indulge in sweetened, fatty foods such as biscuits, cakes, pastries; oily and fatty foods such as chips and crisps; deep-fried foods such as chips; refined luxury foods such as chocolates and muffins; meals laced with refined sugars, salts, spices, dairy products, red meats, chilled foods and drinks; raw foods. Hot spices, alcohol, coffee and tobacco tend to aggravate the condition. In terms of cooking methods, we love deep-fried foods and snacks such as chips and crisps. And we like raw foods. Cooking equals pre-digestion. When the digestive organs are weak, raw foods are unhelpful. There you have it: inactivity in combination with our dietary pattern and cooking methods weaken the spleen and pancreas. In small doses, as very occasional snacks and parties, treats are great. The amounts we now consume, weaken the spleen-pancreas and create Spleen Damp.

How Spleen Damp is formed

The main task of the spleen-pancreas is to transform and transport fluids. When the spleen-pancreas is weak, it is unable to perform this task. The fluids accumulate and cause fluid retention, for example in the face, abdomen or ankles. Primarily, though, the undigested fluids create ‘damp’. TCM calls it Spleen Damp. This is a pathological condition that hinders optimal digestion. The spleen-pancreas is flooded by undigested dampness. A damp spleen-pancreas is like a damp engine – hard to start and hard to burn. Dampness has a tendency to sink and spread to other parts of the body, becoming Internal Damp. Over time, and under the right conditions, Damp fuses with (blocked) Heat and transforms into Phlegm. Phlegm primarily lodges in the lungs where it obstructs and hinders the lung function. This can lead, amongst other things, to recurrent bronchitis. There is an old Chinese saying that says that “the spleen is the source of phlegm, the lung stores it”. But it can sink and cause thrush, rise and cause ear infections and sinusitis, and so on. Phlegm is an intrusive problem that can link with other pathogenic factors such as heat and cold, and that spreads through and affects the entire body.

Premature degeneration

In his book Shadows in the Soil, Human Bones & Archaeology , Tony Waldron describes the skeletons of monks found in early medieval grave yards. These monks were scribes, they lived sedentary lives similar to how we live today. In addition, their diets were very rich: game, venison, meats, thick gravies, cheeses. In fact, the historical records show that these monks ignored the fasting time prescribed for the general population, preferring to indulge in large quantities of the foods listed above in stead. Their skeletal remains shows that they suffered from obesity, diabetes, bone and joint deformations and probably heart and artery problems. Their spines had calcified into rigid bony sheets that obstructed all movement. It must have been extremely painful! You can liken what happened in their bodies to the wax dripping down a burning candle. First the wax is fluid, but then it dries and hardens. This is what happens to the vast quantities of rich foods that we put into our system: they create damp that spreads throughout the system and congeals into phlegm, giving rise, not only to bronchitis and thrush but to problems such as drowsiness, long-term illness that does not respond to treatment, chronic fatigue, numbness, foggy headaches, lethargy, gallstones, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, and obesity. If you apply the process to the veins, you can translate Phlegm into cholesterol that congeals and hardens inside the veins, leading to coronary problems and strokes. Our diet, in fact, is too rich, even, for top-athletes. TCM says that a degenerative food pattern and lifestyle leads to premature degeneration or premature ageing: people develop health problems that belong to an older age-group.

Western Point of View

Some western scientists who spring to mind in this context are Professor Colin Campbell, a biochemist working at Cornell University, New York , and Professor Walter Willet, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Professor Willet chairs the Department of Nutrition at Harvard. You find them on the internet. Both agree that our dietary pattern in combination with our sedentary lifestyle are the main cause of the majority of the health problems and diseases currently so rife in the West. In addition, they alert us to the fact that obese children now develop diabetes, bone- and joint deformations, arteriosclerosis and heart attacks – to name but a few health problems – in their late teens.

The Remedy

So what is the remedy? You guessed it: a diet based largely on grains and vegetables (mainly cooked, else marinaded), with about 5% meats/fish/dairy and 5% raw fruit. In addition: movement, exercise! No pill or potion and no acupuncture treatment will remedy the situation for you. At best, they are First Aid treatments that do not remove the underlying cause, thus turning you into a ‘maintenance course patient’. At worst they cost a lot more money and inconvenience than a basic diet. Ill-health can be a function, both of poverty, and of wealth! We now err on the side of wealth. The middle ground is where we need to be. Note that strict dieting causes stress, in TCM a ‘Liver Qi Stagnation’. A Liver Qi Stagnation also leads to ill-health, especially in women whose reproductive cycle depends on a healthy liver. In other words, the occasional treat and party is a very good thing indeed! Just ensure that it remains the exception rather than the rule.

Author Details: Leni Hurley