Phlegm After Eating
Constant Phlegm

Do you get phlegm after eating, or constant phlegm, so you have to clear throat mucus before speaking?

It might be 

  • making you cough up mucus or 
  • preventing sleep and/or 
  • making you snore
  • embarrassing you when you speak

Phlegm after eating in Chinese Medicine

One-quarter (25%) of the world's population lives in China. (The European Union has about 7%, US and Canada 5%, the UK 1%).

They've got bad habits, like us. Many have constant phlegm.

When I stayed in Nanjing in 1982, there were spittoons on many streets: it was a punishable offence to spit on the road and there were phlegm wardens. 

Many of the Chinese in Nanjing at that time had phlegm after eating, and frequent mucus or catarrh in their throats ie constant phlegm.

Of course the atmosphere then - and now - was sometimes full of smog, further weakening their Lungs and inclining them to retain phlegm.

Phlegm supply!

A cake we gave my son for his birthday (a long time ago!)

I remember walking to the Nanjing hospital clinic where I worked, unable to see more than 2 yards in front of me.

It was a good thing I knew the way. Even so I tripped over people selling things on the pavements.

Also, what many Chinese ate was full of garbage, just like in the West.

Chinese doctors have thought about it!

Phlegm after eating, sputum, has been carefully thought about by Doctors of Chinese medicine. It occurs for various reasons and there are things you can do to help yourself.

However, if you have had it for some time, it has probably become chronic, and you may need treatment to clear it. You may also have to make some changes to your lifestyle.

Kinds of Phlegm after Eating

Throat mucus (phlegm after eating, sputum) comes in various forms.

  • clear mucus
  • watery phlegm
  • white
  • yellow mucus/phlegm
  • green mucus/phlegm
  • hard phlegm
  • stringy mucus/phlegm

There are different reasons for each of these. For more on this, read phlegm colour, but if your phlegm has become a constant companion, it will usually be clear, watery or white.

That's what this page is about.

The effect of the food you eat

This page is about ongoing, constant phlegm in throat, not about what happens immediately after eating, when the colour of the food you've eaten may colour the mucus in your throat.

For example, if you eat beetroot, the colour of your throat mucus (and a little later, the colour of your urine) will be purple. But an hour or so later it will revert to its usual colour - that's the phlegm/mucus we're talking about on this page.

By the way, for those of you who are picky about these things, I've used mucus and phlegm almost interchangeably here. That's not correct, of course, because mucus is a natural biological necessity to keep our tissues, mouth and throat moist.

What is Phlegm?

So as not to repeat myself, I've written separate pages about this.

  • Go to Phlegm
  • If you want to know more about the colour and consistency of your phlegm, go to Phlegm Colour.

These explain Chinese medicine in English, so if you're looking for an explanation of phlegm after eating from the Western medical view point, look elsewhere.

Causes of phlegm after eating

OK, perhaps you were dismayed by the size of those pages! All right, but bear in mind that the following is a summary.

Simplifying, the phlegm after eating is made by your digestion and stored in your lungs - and your throat.

That means there's something 'wrong' with your 

  1. Nutrition
  2. Stomach and Spleen energy
  3. Lung energy
  4. Kidney Yang energy

1/ Nutrition

Food has good and bad effects on us.

  • Its nutritive value keeps us alive
  • Often we don't use it for that, but for comfort, or because 
  • Eating gives us something to do.
  • Eating also calms us down.
  • Chewing violently - gnashing our teeth - can ease stress
  • Some foods warm us up - Chinese medicine has lots to say about this, see Hot Foods
  • Other foods cool us down - see Cold Foods

How we eat affects our digestion

Eat fast and don't chew and eventually you'll mess up your digestion:

  • Working while you eat
  • Eating in a rush, gobbling food
  • Snatching food when you can
  • Not chewing enough - this is really important!
  • Eating when upset, angry, vindictive, anxious, mortified or just generally 'hyper'
  • Eating when you are tired
  • Eating food that's too cold for your digestion
  • The same goes for eating foods that are hard to digest
  • ... and for food that is too sweet, too raw, to rich, too much...

2/ Spleen and Stomach

These are the equivalent in Chinese medicine of your digestion.

They are associated with various emotions or mental states, including worry and sympathy and the feelings that go with caring for others - and anxious about ourselves.

Their energy is badly affected by strong emotions like anger, grief, excitement, fear. It stops them working.

Stomach and Phlegm after eating

Any farmer will tell you that milk production from dairy cows is upset by over-exciting them. Making them run, frightened or cross reduces their milk-yield, and may change its taste.

Treat your digestion like a cow! It needs a calm, ordered, unhurried existence with regular meals and time to digest.

Your Stomach in Chinese medicine has the job of putting you in the right frame of mind to choose the food you need, then preparing, presenting and eating it.

Many would say that we've lost the instinctive ability to choose the foods our bodies need, but many pregnant women find themselves desiring or going off certain foods.

Many sick animals seek out plants that they'd normally ignore but which they desire when ill. If you've been on a very simple food diet, then are given the option of choosing by smell what your body desires you might be surprised by what you end up eating.

Putting too much into your stomach stops the processing of what you swallow: the actual translation (from the Chinese texts) of what the Stomach does is 'rottening and ripening' food. (This is like putting too much cold wood or coal onto a small fire: it absorbs so much heat before it lights that it may actually put the fire out.)

Once the Stomach has rottened and ripened what you've eaten, it hands it over to the Spleen.

Spleen and Phlegm after Eating

The 'Spleen' covers a good deal of the rest of the digestive process, which most people would put under the intestines and absorption of nutrients through the walls of the intestines into the blood that goes to the liver etc. For more about this important subject read Blood.

Strong emotions, especially worry, affect the Spleen.

The Spleen does more than absorb food; it also clears garbage from your system, patrolling your circulation, muscles and flesh for foreign or waste products. 

Now, here's the important bit! Dumping stuff on your Stomach and Spleen prevents it from clearing out the garbage and interferes with proper absorption.

Hence you get waste products from what you've eaten not being ejected properly.

So you end up with stuff your Spleen and Stomach can't burn away or clear out.

Guess what is left? Phlegm!

That delicious cake you ate re-appears  as snot, sputum, mucus: stuffing up your throat and lungs! 

Worse! There are various factors that increase the amount and longevity of that phlegm:

  • being tired
  • after an illness or an operation
  • as you grow older (because your yang energy decreases, see below)
  • how much, how long and how frequently you eat wrongly
  • the combination of foods that you eat which may slow how well you digest and absorb nutrients. For example, swallowing too much water with food can dilute digestive juices and make your meal harder to digest
  • the concentration of foods you eat: for instance if you eat very concentrated foods, such as vitamin supplements, they may be hard to digest. For more on this read supplements.
  • medications may upset your ability to absorb food, ie they mess with your Spleen and other energies. For more on this read Suppression.
  • your individual sensitivity to foods, which you might have acquired over time or, very occasionally, been born with
  • the temperature of the food you eat

Read more about this under

3/ Lungs and Phlegm after Eating

In Chinese medicine, your Lungs 'rule', or are responsible for a whole range of other activities besides your respiration. For example:

  • your skin
  • partly, your immune system
  • your energy
  • your 'spirit' - meaning how spirited you are 
  • clearing or dispering fluids from your system

It's that last function that concerns us here. If your Spleen has been unable to clear out the phlegm, which is, after all, a fluid of sorts, it is said to be 'stored by' your lungs.

Part of your body's mechanism for making good Blood and Qi (energy) depends on good Lung function. 

If your lungs are stuffed up with phlegm, your energy goes down and your Lungs can't disperse the fluids. Hence the gradual growth of phlegm in your lungs and the arrival of phlegm after eating.

The result? You have to clear your throat before speaking.

Now, it's Sunday as I write this. And, being Sunday, I've just enjoyed several bits of chocolate which someone gave us for Christmas.

I've enjoyed it greatly, though probably wolfed it down too fast - because I liked it too much and wasn't thinking. So, shortly, if I answer the phone, I'll have to clear my throat several times. And if I have to continue speaking, I'll have to speak more loudly to overcome the phlegm. That, were I speaking in public, might tire me.

I know perfectly well that this will happen. I don't regret it: at the moment! It will probably slightly upset my sleep tonight too. So I might not be at my usual sparkling best tomorrow. If so, some would advise me to have a coffee. But coffee has other problems, although the current medical view seems to suggest that coffee is good.

However, read the truth about coffee here!

Of course, the wrong foods soon start affecting other Lung functions, such as the state of your skin and your complexion.

But that's another subject. Read about cosmetic acupuncture here.

4/ Kidney Yang energy

How does 'Kidney Yang energy' produce phlegm after eating?

Kidney Yang energy provides the 'fire' that maintains heat in our digestion. Kidney Yang deficiency has a whole range of problems which you can read by clicking the link.

But from the point of view of this page, as Kidney Yang weakens, your Spleen Yang energy weakens, and that leads onto other problems.

Kidney Yang is weakened mainly

  • from cold (weather, food, environment, not enough clothes...)
  • from dealing with illness
  • as you age
  • from over-strain, eg lifting too much
  • from emotions like fear and anxiety

How to Deal with Phlegm after Eating

Your problem may be too far gone to cure by yourself. But you can do a great deal to reduce the problem.

Here are some suggestions. The first deal with general suggestions from what you've read above. Later there are tips to help.

For most people the following is good advice. There are always exceptions. If you find yourself saying as you read it that what you've read doesn't suit you, well: you may need professional help.

This first set of suggestions help your Stomach, Spleen and Lung functions to work better.

  • Take longer over your food and drink
  • Don't eat if upset. If you must, eat a little - perhaps an oatcake or some nuts - to recover your energy. Then when you feel better, go onto a bigger meal. A ginger drink may help (see below).
  • If tired or ill, eat only a little until you recover your energy.
  • Make sure you are warm when and after you eat: cold air is Yin which tends to drain your Yang. So if you go outside, wrap up well, especially round your chest and neck. Wear a warm hat. Keep abdomen and back warm.
  • Avoid air containing hazardous chemicals, paint odours, medications, cleaning chemicals, tar products (eg cigarettes), fuel odours... They increase phlegm by providing particles for your mucus to cling to and gather round.
  • Cut up your food and eat smaller mouthfuls at a time
  • Chew food well and don't eat too much at a time
  • Don't eat much immediately before you sleep
  • Don't overeat
  • Drink slowly, in small sips
  • Eat a sensible diet - read Nutrition for some ideas
  • Eat regular meals
  • Don't rush what you eat, and most people should probably not graze - ie eat too often. This leads to food retention, which overfed babies often get!
  • Most people with phlegm would be better if they avoided Cold foods. However, people who are naturally very warm-blooded should be cautious of Hot foods, especially damp-heat foods.
  • Avoid very sweet, sickly, fatty food, or food that is too rich or concentrated. Say no to pudding, chocolate, cake, sweet biscuits, sweets, foods containing sweeteners like honey and sugar... I'm sure you can think of more. These weaken your Spleen energy and quickly turn into phlegm.
  • Avoid greasy/fatty food and dairy foods (milk, cheese, cream, yogurt). These also soon become phlegm after eating.
  • Avoid refined foods
  • Prefer food that is organic or at least free of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and has been grown on good rich soil 
  • Avoid raw food and drink, including fruit and vegetables.
  • Avoid food or drink that is cold, especially chilled or frozen
  • Become aware of when your phlegm is bad: think about what you ate or have done recently. This page can't cover everything, and you may be the odd one out who reacts to a so-called 'healthy' food!
  • Alcohol may cheer you up but probably interferes with the action of your Spleen. Also, alcohol is basically sugar. However, your body has to work hard to turn it into sugar, and in doing so it produces other chemicals that heat your Liver and interferes with the absorption of nutrients into your blood.
  • After eating, take a short walk then rest for a few minutes before returning to work.
  • Don't work when eating
  • Don't eat when working
  • Stop smoking. Smoking builds up carbon deposits in your lungs, hampering your breathing and interfering with the (Chinese medicine) functions of your Lungs, including descending your energy - so you cough - and dispersing fluids - so you can't clear existing phlegm. That weakens your ability to absorb nutrients, which makes you more tired and weakens your Spleen and Stomach. That means you get more phlegm after eating.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is when your body repairs itself. If sleep is a problem, read insomnia.
  • Realise you must change your diet and food-habits if you really want to clear your tendency to phlegm after eating. Have another look at the page on nutrition.

More tips to help phlegm after eating

These are less important - in the long run - than those in the paragraph above, but as short cuts they may help.

  • Add sliced root ginger to hot water. Let it steep for a few minutes then sip it. Failing ginger, try hot water on its own, or try fennel seeds instead.
  • Add sliced root ginger to what you eat.
  • Every morning, first thing, add a tablespoonful of organic cider vinegar to warm water and drink it. Don't add sugar or honey. This doesn't immediately reduce your phlegm after eating, but tones your digestion. It also improves your complexion. For most people, this is also of long-term health benefit, but you have to do it every day!
  • What about drinking more fluids, eg water? This is sometimes good for clearing phlegm, but too much liquid - whether warm or cold - puts a strain on your Kidney Yang energy, and that works against your interests. If you drink, take the fluid warm, and preferably with a little ginger, as described. But basically, check the colour of your urine: if this is clear or only slightly yellow, probably you are drinking enough. If it is coloured, you may need to drink more. (But you need to allow for it being coloured by foods you've eaten, eg beetroot, as mentioned. Also, first thing after sleep it tends to be slightly more coloured, and that's all right.)
  • In the short run, acid foods may help to break up the phlegm: squeeze some lemon juice into warm water and sip it. This has a similar effect, though not quite as good, as cider vinegar.
  • If you are taking medication, read our page on antibiotics and stock up on the foods mentioned there.
  • Spicy food or herbs may initially stimulate your Lung energy to disperse fluids (including phlegm) from your nose and throat, but too much spicy food may disrupt your Spleen energy and create too much Heat, which forces your body to do other things  - like try to cool you down - before it digests food, so can worsen your phlegm after eating
  • If phlegm rises to your sinuses and blocks your breathing, either gargle with slightly salty water or, if you know how, sniff up slightly salty water and spit it out. It helps to clear the sinuses and nose, though it doesn't really reduce your underlying tendency to creating phlegm.
  • a warm shower, with the water playing for a while on your upper back, helps stimulate your Lung qi which helps it to disperse the excess fluids including your phlegm. It may help you to hawk up and spit out the stuff.
  • Failing a warm shower, lean your upper back against a warm radiator, or apply a warm wheat bag or hot water bottle to the area in your upper back. You'll soon realise where you like it placed, but be warned, don't over do it! You don't want a burn. (This area has special acupuncture points that can stimulate your Lung Qi.)
  • Remember the Chinese spittoons I mentioned? Phlegm is better out than in. Spit it into a handkerchief or paper tissue: not onto the pavement!

Treatment for Phlegm after Eating

Chinese medicine contains a lot of common sense. But it also includes some pretty good ways to treat problems.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs come to mind - developed over 3000 years, so there's quite a bit of knowledge and experience there!

Acupuncture can be very relaxing, tones your body and mind and when used to treat syndromes defined as causing health problems, very effective.


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