Feeling tender around the midsection, dealing with acne breakouts, always sweaty, and can’t seem to lose weight further? You may have the body constitution known as phlegm-dampness in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
TCM can classify everyone into one of nine body constitutions, a unique combination of structural, physiological, and psychological features that’s connected to how susceptible we are to certain diseases and illnesses. Those are also attributable to age, gender, diet, and lifestyle habits — even the seasons of the year. Though not all the factors that contribute to your body constitution are changeable, once you know which body constitution you are, you’ll know how to ease your discomfort from the root.
Out of the nine constitutions, phlegm-dampness is the most common one. Read on to see if it sounds familiar.
Phlegm-Dampness Constitution: Common Signs
Common physical characteristics of the phlegm-dampness constitution are:
- Being overweight or obese
- Soft and tender tummy
- Sticky and greasy mouth feel
- Thick white tongue coating
- Acne breakouts (i.e. dull looking acne and bruise underneath the skin)
- Sweet taste in the mouth
- Excessive white phlegm
- Sweating a lot even in a steady posture in daytime
- Chest stuffiness
- Always feeling heaviness of the limbs
- Constant bloating
- Discomfort in humid environments
Common temperaments and other non-physical attributes associated with the phlegm-dampness constitution include:
- Mild and steady temperament
- Lacking interest in physical activity
- Irregular sleep cycles (easily woken up or sleep a lot!)
- Preference for fatty and sweet food
Possible Causes of Phlegm-Dampness Constitution
Phlegm-dampness is categorized by the accumulation of fluid, which arises from poor digestion and fluid circulation in the body, such that excess fluid becomes stagnant (hence the heavy and bloated feelings). Don’t think of phlegm as just the kind you cough up — in TCM, that’s called visible phlegm – there is also invisible phlegm, which is a disturbance in your water metabolic process. This means that water in the body tends to accumulate in the mid-section of your body and can neither flow upward or downward smoothly to sufficiently nourish the full body.
While genetics play a factor in determining one’s body constitution, environmental factors and one’s overall well-being also come into play. Research has found four upregulated genes (i.e., genes with more activity or expressed more than normal) and six downregulated genes (i.e., genes with less activity or expressed less than normal) in people with phlegm-dampness. Some investigations also suggest that high alcohol intake as well as being overweight can also contribute to the constitution. Phlegm-dampness is also correlated with smoking, a sedentary lifestyle,, and preference for eating greasy and/or fried food, though it’s important to remember that correlation does not mean causation.
Possible Links Between Phlegm-Dampness and Illness
Gene analyses and epidemiological surveys have found that people with a phlegm-dampness constitution were susceptible to hyperlipidemia (i.e., high levels of fat particles, like cholesterol, in the blood) and diabetes, and that they have a much higher risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and diabetes compared to people with a balanced constitution.
The phlegm-dampness constitution is also thought to be related to the occurrence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, with some genetic similarities, though more rigorous research is needed.
Restoring Phlegm-Dampness with Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Owing to the poor fluid circulation, food that worsen the situation should be avoided such as refined sugars, fatty meats, cold raw foods, even bananas and avocados. For fixing phlegm-dampness, ingredients that promote water metabolism, circulation, and digestion should be promoted. Cooked whole grains and stewed fruits are also beneficial to those with this constitution. This includes:
- Grains - rice, toasted oats, barley, rye, millet, buckwheat, sourdough breads
- Fruits - pears, persimmons, kumquats, grapefruit, cherries
- Vegetables & legumes - asparagus, cucumber, celery, pumpkin, squash, carrots, corn, parsnips, peas, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, turnip, radish, mustard greens, water chestnuts, mushrooms, adzuki beans, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, fava beans
- Meat - chicken, quail, goose, mackerel, tuna, anchovy, perch, eel, catfish, crab, oyster
- Herbs & spices - black pepper, fresh ginger, mustard, nutmeg, cloves, cardamon, nutmeg, thyme, basil, fennel, horseradish, chili peppers, jasmine, rose
Your day-to-day lifestyle and habits can also play a big role. Here’s what can make a difference:
Have mindful mini meals
Eat smaller meals more frequently to promote digestion, and take the time to relax while you eat and savor your food.
Keep your living environment dry
If you live in a dry climate, you are already ahead. If not, there is still plenty you can do, like using dehumidifiers. Spending time in a sauna also offsets some of the effects of living in a humid setting.
Wear natural fibers
Wear cotton, linen, and silk for both your day-to-day and sleepwear — they are more breathable and moisture-dissipating relative to other textiles.
Skip high-intensity sports when it’s cold and dreary outside
You may want to take a break from practicing high-intensity sports when the weather is wet and cold. On those days, exercises that warm up muscles slowly, like badminton, brisk walking, martial arts, and swimming, are preferable for someone with a phlegm-dampness constitution.
Get 30 minutes of sun daily
It will help break up stubborn phlegm — and you can double up on the benefits by enjoying the sun during a brisk walk.
Overthinking and uncontrolled, unfocused thinking can contribute to liver qi stagnation, which could worsen phlegm-dampness. Meditation, or any activity that helps focus and relax your mind, can help you control your “monkey mind” as it is called in TCM.
Look beyond phlegm-dampness
People with the phlegm-dampness constitution often simultaneously have another TCM constitution, like yang-deficiency, yin-deficiency, dampness-heat, qi stagnation, or blood-stasis constitution. If tips for phlegm-dampness aren’t working for you, you may want to skim through the other profiles to see if any of their symptoms sound familiar — you may just unlock a new, richer understanding of your present and future health.
Want to know your constitution? Take our quiz to find out!