Key Learning points
Damp-Heat might not seem that interesting, but in Chinese medicine, the combination of damp and heat in your body can be unpleasant, and sometimes lead to more dangerous health syndromes.
In life, we use water to douse fire, as in the picture above.
Think of the effect warm, humid weather has on you. If you’re like me, it makes you feel tired and heavy. Sweating doesn’t work! Your body tries to cool itself through perspiration, but the humidity prevents the sweat from evaporating, so you stay hot. Meantime the perspiration on your skin becomes more salty.
Assuming that global warming is a reality, then we may expect the incidence of damp-heat to increase. Some forms that it takes are contagious, but not all. Read on for the details.
With this syndrome, usually the main problem is the Damp. After all, the heat of a sauna becomes more uncomfortable the more water you pour on the hot coals. If there’s no water, the air, though hot and dry is easier to endure.
Dryness, by the way, if too intense or prolonged can harm your Lung energy and your lung organs.
Damp-Heat is one of the ways the body first produces symptoms when invaded by a ‘warm’ disease, meaning a disease that is infectious, ie bacterial or viral.
There is a huge theory about this, called the Four Levels – how ‘Warm’ or ‘Hot’ diseases penetrate your body. It’s quite a read if you have time.
These symptoms are produced by your immune system as its first response, so in Chinese medicine they occur at the wei level, the outer level of its defences. In Western medical terms, this equates roughly to your immune system.
In Western medicine we know much more about this level than we did even a few years ago, and realise that some 80% of our immune system derives its energy from our gastro-intestinal tract and the gut’s biome, meaning the huge numbers of micro-organisms living there, including bacteria, fungi and viruses. Together they support your body’s health, including helping its defence against invaders.
At this first defence or wei level there are basically four typical responses:
If the invader is too strong for your immune system at this level, it tramples on inwards over your body’s wei or first resistance to what is called the Qi level. Your body’s symptoms of resistance at the qi level are both more powerful and potentially more dangerous. Few people die at the wei level but at the Qi level, and other levels further in, they can die.
Western medicine is often very good at preserving us from death at these inner levels, but there’s usually a price to pay, and it’s called ‘chronic’ disease. What that means is that we take medication to palliate symptoms of chronic disease so we can continue with our lives supposedly as if nothing had happened.
But actually, something has happened and we are slowed down by it and may not notice a gradual deterioration in our ability to function properly. In effect, we grow older, faster.
All medication comes with baggage. Read our page on primary and secondary actions.
In Chinese medicine, many health problems and conditions are wholly or partly due to an invasion of damp and heat together. Here are just a few – you’ll think of more when you understand how it works:
When you combine the signs of damp and heat in your body, you get one or more of the following symptoms:
In Chinese medicine, there are two broad ways to describe how you get it, called External and Internal, with some overlap.
External means that damp-heat forces its way into your body from outside. Your body tries to slow its progress by putting up barriers.
These barriers are not physical blocks, but energetic blocks. I’ll try to explain what this means.
Where those barriers occur, you get a syndrome which describes how the body defends itself via symptoms. In effect, the symptoms are the signs of that particular syndrome. The name of the syndrome is shorthand for the way the body defends itself, ie how it blocks. The barrier consists of the symptoms of that particular syndrome.
Everybody uses shorthand in everyday life.
Chinese medicine is full of shorthand ways to describe health and illness situations. It’s useful for health practitioners, because they don’t have to explain everything when talking about it with other professionals.
However, if it’s new to you it can be very confusing. Damp-Heat is one of those areas which seems easy on the surface, but after several thousand years of hard thought, Chinese medicine has managed to complicate it, at least for newbies! That’s because its repercussions can reach so far into our health. So you’ll find all sorts of side-avenues from this page.
With attacks invading from outside, the Chinese worked out that there are three ways the body reacts. Each of these three ways has further subdivisions.
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This syndrome can arise in several ways.
Here damp-heat appears as your body’s defence against contagious disease. Your body defends itself through Four levels – already mentioned above – each deeper than the last.
The first of these levels is the wei or Defensive level. You will be familiar with this if you’ve ever suffered from an acute contagious disease.
If the bug is really powerful, it can overcome this level and push deeper. The common cold is usually easily stopped at the wei level – nobody dies at the wei level!
More powerful bugs like Ebola can easily push through this level, for instance to the Qi level, also mentioned below. But for susceptible people, when their immune system is weak, even mild bugs like the common cold can push through the first level and become dangerous.
For more on the actual symptoms and what happens, click on Four Levels.
This ‘invades’ through your skin and then along up your acupuncture channels (or meridians). Here there is no contagious disease, just something to which your body responds with this syndrome of damp-heat.
In susceptible people, getting cold and wet might do it: it happened to me once!
After riding my bicycle through a thunderstorm and getting my legs and low back soaked, I had no time to get dry and warm before starting work. The next day I had symptoms of damp and heat (mainly damp) in my back. (What symptoms were these? Stiffness, heaviness, very hard to get moving after rest, temporarily better from continued movement and warmth: aching back.)
I had several massage treatments which helped temporarily, but what got rid of it was a homoeopathic remedy, which worked instantly.
We are all going to become more susceptible to Damp Heat if and as when global warming affects us. A report in Nature says climate change will make hundreds of diseases much worse. These are diseases with symptoms of Damp Heat, and climate ‘hazards’ include flooding and heatwaves, (respectively Damp and Heat).
What can do about this?
Internal means that the syndromes arose from problems within your body, though they may have started externally.
Damp-Heat (internal) can be either acute or chronic.
This depends on where your Damp-Heat has reached in your system. For instance, if it has managed to progress into your joints, or deeply into your Zang-fu energy organs, you’ll need treatment from a professional. (Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have helped many.)
You can help yourself, however, wherever it has reached.
The following is pretty well common sense!
In Chinese medicine, the aim is to release the exterior (ie open the exit door to let or push the invader out!), resolve the Damp and clear the Heat. There are acupuncture points for each of these, also herbs. If this is an acute syndrome, caused by invasion by a ‘warm’ disease, you might treat the patient several times a day. Appropriate herbs would be taken every few hours.
Some invaders are so strong that they can overcome your body’s normal responses, of which this ‘damp-heat’ level is one. They trample over it onward to the Qi or Nutritive-Ying levels.
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