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3. Dampness and Phlegm

If the solid portions of food are jam-packed into the stomach or their digestion is impaired by cold, chilled foods and liquids or if too many hard-to-digest foods are eaten, stagnant food may accumulate in the stomach. The stomach tries all the harder to burn these off and resembles a car stuck in overdrive. It becomes hotter in an attempt to burn off accumulation. This often results in the stomach becoming chronically overheated. This, in turn, causes the stomach to register hunger, which, in Chinese medicine, is a sensation of the stomach’s heat. This hunger then results in eating more and more and a vicious cycle is created. Overeating begets stagnant food, which begets stomach heat which reinforces overeating. Further, persistent stomach heat may eventually waste stomach yin or fluids causing a chronic thirst and preference for cold drinks and chilled foods.


If the liquid portions of food and drink jam the transporting and transforming functions of the spleen, these may accumulate as dampness. This plethora of water inhibits the spleen’s warm transforming function in the same way that water inhibits or douses fire. Over time, this accumulated dampness may mix with stagnant food and congeal into phlegm, which further blocks the entire system and retards the blood circulation throughout the whole body.


Different people’s digestion burns hotter than others. Those with a robust constitution and strong ming men, or fire of life, tend to have a strong digestion. These people can often eat more in general and more chilled, frozen, hard to digest foods without problems. Likewise, everyone’s metabolism runs at different temperatures throughout the year. During the summer when it is hot outside, we generally can eat cooler foods and should drink more liquids. However, even then, we should remember that everything that goes down our gullet must be turned into 100° soup before it can be digested and assimilated.

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