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Pattern Discrimination of Spleen Qi Vacuity Dampness

In my last article I invited Pulse readers to send me their TCM Pattern Discrimination according to their Practitioner so that I can write an article about how to treat specific imbalances through diet. Two Pulse readers wrote in with the Pattern Discrimination of Spleen Qi Vacuity Dampness. Thanks for writing in because I frequently see this condition in my practice, and it's very important to address.

Before we discuss diet, it is important to understand the causes and effects of Spleen qi vacuity dampness. One function of the Spleen is the assimilation of nutrients from food in the stomach to form qi, blood and body fluids. Therefore the Spleen main function is its governance of transformation and transportation (referred to as T&T throughout this article) of grain and water into essence which is distributed to other organ systems in the form of Qi and Blood. Thus it is vital to keep the Spleen healthy because it is the source for qi and blood production for your entire body. An important saying in Chinese medicine states, "The Spleen hates cold and the Spleen hates dampness." So we must do what we can to keep the Spleen warm and free of dampness. Spleen vacuity occurs when the process of transformation and transportation malfunctions, thus causing dampness to gather and stagnate instead of transforming which further weakens T&T. Then a vicious cycle begins.

Since other organ systems depend on receiving qi and blood from the Spleen, they will become weakened when a patient suffers from chronic or long term Spleen qi Vacuity.

Spleen qi may become vacuous due to one or a combination of the following factors:
  • Over work
  • Over fatigue
  • Too much worrying
  • Over-thinking and obsessive thought patterns
  • Unhealthy dietary habits
  • Lack of exercise
For example, students who work in addition to going to school or college, need to find time to study and may, quite naturally, worry about exams. In other cases, some patients have fatiguing chronic illness like cancer and fibromyalgia. Dancers and actors worry or even obsess about their weight despite the fact that many of them are underweight. Over weight patients worry and obsess about their weight for health or aesthetic reasons and feel a ridiculous amount societal and self-induced pressure to lose weight. Many of my patients (over weight or not) are mentally obsessed with their weight and thus are constantly over-thinking about counting calories and sticking to hard to follow diets with point systems, blocks, deprivation diets or set meal plans of foods they don't even enjoy eating.

And no matter who the person is that is dieting, whether skinny or overweight, many feel guilt instead of pleasure when indulging in a food they like but which isn't in the meal plan. This feeling of guilt fits into the worry category.

Patients who do not exercise do not invigorate the Yang warming aspect of the body's qi. Chinese medicine asserts that too much sitting or lying down creates qi vacuity.

Many people damage the Spleen qi by eating too many cold foods. Cold foods are literally cold from refrigeration or frozen, like ice, are foods that are cold in nature (see the list below) and include cold beverages and salad and last nights left over cold pizza (yeah, we've all been there).

Other detriments include our society's over eating of wheat as our main source of grain, and too much beer drinking. Both are cool and dampness producing. Not to mention our over consumption of dairy. Imagine all the Spleen qi vacuity amongst college students between all that studying, beer and pizza!

Dietary Therapy
The treatment principle for Spleen Qi vacuity dampness is to fortify the Spleen and disinhibit the dampness. We also want to avoid further detriment to the spleen.

Yang tonics will help to warm the Spleen and to motivate the energy for the T&T cycle. They maintain and improve our ability to generate warmth and stimulate our system. Yang tonics include:

BasilFenugreek SeedRosemary
Chestnut ChiveGarlicSage
Seed CinnamonDried GingerSavoy
CloveLobsterStar Anise Thyme
Dill SeedNutmegWalnut
Fennel SeedPistachio Raspberry 

Qi circulation is stimulated by the sweet and pungent flavors. The Spleen likes the sweet taste and pungent flavors circulate the qi. Foods which particularly influence Qi circulation include:

BasilDill SeedRadish
CarawayGarlicStar Anise
CardamonJasmine TeaTangerine Peel
CayenneMustard Leaf 
ChiveOrange Peel 
Clove CorianderPeppermint Tea 

Cold conditions are improved by warming foods. In chronic cases, warm and sweet/pungent foods are used to warm us steadily. In acute cases of pathogenic invasion, warm or hot foods are combined with stronger pungent flavors to drive out the Cold. Warming foods include:

Bay leafKohlrabiScallion
Black PepperLambShrimp
CherryMustard LeafSweet Potato
ChestnutMuttonSweet Rice
CorianderOatsTurnip Vinegar
Dill SeedOnionWalnut
Fennel SeedPeachWine

Dampness results from the body's failure to transform fluids.
Dampness is treated by avoiding dampening foods, strengthening the body, including bitter foods and foods which counteract Dampness. Effective foods to eat include:

Aduki Bean AlfalfaGreen TeaParsley
AramanathJasmine TeaPumpkin
BarleyKidney BeansRadish
BuckwheatKohlrabiRice Bran
CranberryMarjoramTurnip Umeboshi Plum
DaikonMushroom (button) 
EelMustard Leaf 

Some foods will exacerbate the tendency towards Dampness and need to be reduced by people with damp conditions. Avoid these foods:

  • Dairy Products (sheep and goat products are less dampening)
  • Pork
  • Roasted Peanuts
  • Concentrated Juices, especially Orange
  • Wheat products
  • Bread
  • Yeast
  • Beer
  • Bananas
  • Sugar and sweeteners
  • Saturated fats
  • Greasy, fried and oily foods
  • Iced or cooled beverages
  • Uncooked raw vegetables and salads

Phlegm refers to a condition of dampness where moisture is retained as Phlegm or Mucus. Phlegm-resolving foods include:

Apple PeelMushroom (button)Seaweed
ClamMustard LeafShitake Mushroom
DaikonMustard SeedShrimp
Lemon PeelOrange PeelWalnut

I have so much more information about diet, but it would take a whole book to explain. Don't worry I am working on that! In the meantime I am available for live seminars. Take these recommendations to your kitchen and cook some delicious meals for yourself to be well and stay healthy.

Chinese Dietary Therapy is a necessary component to healing this qi disharmony. I urge my readers to continue to take the herbs and acupuncture treatments your practitioner recommends and incorporate the above information about diet into your therapy.


Written by:
Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac.
Aiyana Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs
41 Union Square West, Suite 519
New York, NY 10003
(212) 894.0767

Read What People are Saying About Aiyana Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs:

"I've struggled with my weight since I was a child. For the last seven years and, for the first time in my life, I have been successful in losing and keeping off over 60 pounds. I hit plateaus every now and again, but the slow and steady progression of weight loss has been the best solution for me. It's been a long process that involved a lot of changes in my eating habits, but I eventually found something that worked for me: acupuncture, Chinese herbs and Chinese nutritional therapy at Aiyana Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs.

Earlier in this year, I decided to take another big step, and in June 2006 I quit smoking. I was nervous about the risk of weight gain and other withdrawal symptoms, but knew it was time, so I stopped cold turkey. It was not easy and I felt horrible. I was not a heavy smoker (I averaged 2 cigarettes a day) so was very surprised at how significant the physical effects were. I was tired, cranky, constipated and suffering from congestion, sometimes severe, that would worsen after almost every meal. To make matters worse, in August I had what I believed to be an allergic reaction to something I was ate. In addition to the congestion, my feet swelled so much I was unable to get them into my shoes. Making matters worse, I couldn't connect a specific food to the attacks, and the battery of allergy tests performed by my doctor all came back negative.

I was successfully treated for an inner ear problem with acupuncture years earlier so, having exhausted my options with traditional treatments and not wanting to resort to continued steroid use, I decided to try it again. I found the Aiyana Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs on the internet and hit if off with its founder, Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac. on the phone when we first spoke. My first visit was on August 31, 2006. It included a very comprehensive exam and began treatment to rid my body of the remaining toxins from years of smoking and the water retention causing the congestion and swelling.

In addition to an acupuncture session and prescribing herbs, Juliette instructed me to write down everything I ate, which I did diligently for over three weeks. Juliette evaluated my dietary habits and suggested a few minor changes that were compounding my water retention problem. Since making those changes, I've lost weight, noticed a marked increase in my energy level and no longer suffer from congestion.

Before seeking treatment at Aiyana Acupuncture, I was unaware of Chinese medicine's approach to nutrition. Juliette educated me about the different energetic properties of food and the effects it can have on metabolism. I can honestly say that I've never felt better and now find it easier to manage my diet, giving me renewed confidence in my ability to keep off the weight I've lost."

- Fran M. Female, Age 39

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