Key Learning Points
Do you get phlegm after eating, or phlegm in your throat, or constant phlegm, so you have to clear throat mucus before speaking?
It might be
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.
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.
Phlegm after eating, sputum, mucus or phlegm in throat, have all been carefully thought about by Doctors of Chinese medicine.
I’ve written a book on phlegm explaining it. Before writing it, I looked at a huge number of websites to see what suggestions people made.
As far as I could see, nobody explained why their treatments worked. They all said, “this or that worked for me so try it”.
Well, there are good reasons why one treatment works for you but not for someone else.
Once you understand it, you can choose what’s best for YOUR personal type of phlegm, and not waste time on stuff that might even make it worse!
There are different reasons for each of these. For more on this, read phlegm colour, but if your phlegm after many years has become a constant companion, it will usually be clear, watery or white.
That’s what this page is about.
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 (have you tried my recipe for Best Borscht soup, full of 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 whatever is its usual colour – that’s the phlegm/mucus we’re talking about on this page.
Nor is it about the phlegm you acquire during a cold or acute illness, although sometimes the solution IS in the book, but don’t depend on it.
(When you’re ill, different rules probably apply. For more on this rather more complicated subject, you could throw yourself at one of the following pages:
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.
So as not to repeat myself, I’ve written separate pages about this.
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.
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 one or more of these:
If you’re new to Chinese medicine, the last three above are a kind of shorthand used to save time when explaining things. If you click on them you’ll arrive on pages which I hope you’ll find interesting, even, dare I say it, educational and useful.
But if you can’t be bothered, what follows is a pale imitation.
Food has good and bad effects on us.
Eat fast and don’t chew and eventually you’ll mess up your digestion:
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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.
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.
Sick animals often 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. To rotten and ripen you need time. Give your Stomach time to process what you’re eating before stuffing down more!
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. The same thing happens when you dowse a fire with water.
On the other hand, if the fire is more powerful than the water, you get steam and can easily scald yourself!
Over-feeding yourself leads to Food Retention. Lots of babies suffer from this after they’ve been fed on demand for a while. If you yourself tend to graze on food continuously, you could get this too.
Once the Stomach has rottened and ripened what you’ve eaten, it hands it over to the Spleen.
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 the latter from clearing out the garbage and interferes with proper absorption.
Hence from what you’ve eaten or ‘chucked down the hatch’ 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, phlegm: stuffing up your throat and lungs!
Yes – various factors increase the amount and longevity of that phlegm:
Read the pages linked below, but foods that in themselves may be fine but are NOT easy for your Stomach to rotten and ripen and/or which can mess up you Spleen’s ability to transform include:
Of course, if you are very healthy and with an excellent digestion, these things matter less. However, as you age, your gastro-intestinal tract becomes less resilient to punishment so you may notice problems occurring more often.
Read more about Stomach and Spleen under
In Chinese medicine, your Lungs ‘rule’, or are responsible for a whole range of other activities besides your respiration. For example:
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.
Whatever those scientists say, coffee is partly beneficial for some people but definitely not for others. Click to read the truth about coffee!
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.
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
There are things you can do about Kidney yang deficiency, but they take time. Find out more about the underlying ideas on Yang in my book on Yang Deficiency.
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.
These are less important – in the long run – than those in the paragraph above, but as short cuts they may help.
Chinese medicine contains a lot of common sense. But it also includes some pretty good ways to treat many problems – not just phlegm after eating!
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.
Anyway, by making your Spleen and Stomach work better acupuncture usually reduces phlegm after eating.
Check my collection of books:
Too much food with the Salty taste in Chinese medicine will make you ill. But you need some! Which foods do they mean?
The spicy taste in Chinese medicine adds lightness and energy to your diet, helping your lungs work better. You need some, but not too much!
Foods classified as having a sweet taste in Chinese medicine are vital for health. But too little or too much ‘sweet’ food leads to disease.
This has to be the best easiest to navigate article I have ever read!!!!! Thank you 😊!!!
Thanks for your praise!
Phlegm at any time can be a big issue, especially phlegm after eating.
Diseases like Covid 19 seems to damage some people’s Spleen and Lung functions, probably by draining their jing-essence and their Kidney Yang energy.
If so they need to read what Chinese medicine says about these matters, ie what helps and what hinders recovery.
For other people, the presence of phlegm, generated during disease, obstructs the free movement of qi, leading to qi stasis (see our pages on Qi Stagnation) and Lung Deficiency and this leads to Blood Stagnation eg in the chest for which ventilators may not be the best solution and may sometimes make it worse.
Chinese medicine has treated many cases of Covid 19 in China and elsewhere, apparently successfully, and the experience has helped practitioners elaborate the theory behind the illness and how to treat it, though I doubt if the final word has yet been written.
I mention all this because just about any disease likes there to be phlegm present if it’s invading us. Phlegm harbours the bug and impedes our body’s resistance to it. So to stay healthy, we should – of course – take seriously government advice on masks and hand-washing etc, but also take action to limit our body’s production of phelgm.
Again, thanks for your kind comment! Jonathan
I am so very grateful for your invaluable time and knowledge in this information on Phlegm after eating. I have been struggling every single night for 3 years with excessive phlegm in my throat and I have to get up out of bed and clear my throat for at least one hour and often it takes longer .. and then sometimes I don’t get back to sleep.. and I am very exhausted from it. Also I have phlegm after eating my meals so I learned a lot from your article. My sinuses are also full and phlegm gets stuck at the back of my throat. I have to get better..I wish I lived close to you but if you could write me and advise me what I could do I will sincerely appreciate your kind help. Antibiotics haven’t helped (I don’t tolerate any medicines very well ) and it seems when I take ginger tea or aloe vera or anything to clear the phlegm I hardly sleep all night after taking it as it keeps on trying to clear out the phlegm all night and doesn’t get it out .. so it keeps me awake all night with the phlegm coming up in my throat all night it chokes me . I have been diagnosed with Acid Reflux and am on a strict diet but I believe I also have another issue with the sinuses …I would appreciate any advice you can give me very much. Also I want to buy your book .. for Phlegm after eating.. should I buy Phlegm Yuck? Thank you in advance for any help you can give me . I desperately need to get better.. I need to get sleep…Again I am so grateful to have read this article on Phlegm after eating. I have taken 5 pages of notes . I am having acupuncture treatments which have helped me feel stronger and it also works to try and clear my phlegm all night.. it is so difficult to have a treatment because all the time I am taking something to clear the phlegm it keeps on working all night long and I can never sleep. A very difficult situation… and I am getting so very tired. Kathleen
You seem to have it badly – I’m so sorry! It can devastate normal life.
You don’t say what kind of phlegm you have so the following is surmise.
If you’ve had the problem a long time so that it exhausts you then almost certainly you have what in the book (Yuck! Phlegm!) I describe as Fatigue Phlegm.
That is probably not all. I think you probably also have a combination of both Damp Phlegm and Cold Phlegm. For these, you should avoid various foods and take others – I can’t list them all here because there’s lots of information in the book. Certain situations may also aggravate them.
If I’m wrong, your phlegm would be much darker, yellow or green, suggesting an underlying Heat problem or, from Western medicine’s point of view, an ongoing infection, not solved by antibiotics. In this case you’d need to read the chapter on Hot Phlegm.
I’m sure there is a way forward, so please persevere. One other thing, and please forgive me if this sounds intrusive: sometimes there’s a big emotional issue in the background which is compounding the problem. Five Element theory often points to where the problem lies.
Phlegm is a complicated subject and curing it is not easy, but usually good acupuncture, sometimes with herbs, can make a huge difference. However, you can antidote good treatment by eating the wrong foods or not dealing with any big life issues aggravating it.
I just wrote you but I also wanted to tell you your article on Phlegm after eating is the most informative article I have ever read .. you have explained everything so well .. you are an exceptional doctor who cares about healing those of us who are not well. I will go for more acupuncture treatments as acupuncture has always cured me of my pain .. and helped me heal from whatever I have wrong. Again.. thank you for your incredible article. .
Thank you Kathleen! Yes, it seems there are thousands of people who suffer from phlegm after eating and the ‘take’ that Chinese medicine has on it makes so much sense – as on many other health problems too.
By the way, I’m not a doctor. Just a practitioner of various forms of ‘natural’ medicine.
Best wishes Jonathan
Kindly check your hormone stress hormone in specific ei cortisol that may be in low production as that lack of cortisol can create inflammation. This issue can’t be fixed by taking corticosteroid ei eg prednisone if an endocrinologist suggest it must not surpass 3mg . There are many therapies as suggested by dr jonathan that can help.
I an having samr issue for Long. For few days i started green led bulb light on head and blue on face and lungs. Plus i used nasal spray to stop nose clogging to sleep.
I an also taking 25000 iu of vitamin d 3, twice day and sun bath. Plus magnesium, vit e, b 12 etc too.
I have been fasting past 21 days yet i have same symptoms. I m thinking of getting acupuncture therapy soon.
Thanks to dr Jonathan for all his mind help.
For reference, Kathleen wrote about her problem August 2020 and I replied soon after, partly by private email to her.
This response from ‘Atleast’ makes some good suggestions.
However, I can’t comment on the light therapy as I don’t use it, except to say because light is a form of yang, if a problem is in part yang deficient, light may help.
As regards Vitamin D dosage, 25000iu twice daily is currently regarded as a high dose, and might lead to some toxicity. How effective the sun bath is depends on latitude, time of day and time of year and for how long exposed.
A cortisol test might help explain by how much stress is a factor.
Thanks your reply. Well color therapy is even better if water is solarized ei putting green and blue bottles in Sun rays for whole day and drink that water in natural not refrigerated in small doses. I mean that is like a supplement. Vit D is in fact a substitute for slightly risky prednisone that has helped. I am in scaled down phase of prednisone that i lowered to 2 mg. The best help is when i slept at same time and min 8 to 9 hours over last weekend. Another therapy that can work for anyone is making a lemon juice in hot water with some cinammon ground, paprika and hot cayenne pinch and a natural organic sweetner but not honey, sweetner can be a natural sugarcane jaggery bit or maple syrup real natural. Anyone who has continual phlegm should try this along with acupuncture sessions. On another level it is important to meditate and try remove negative emotions by positive affirmations. Thanks Dr. Jonathan Clogstoun-willmott for your suggestions and help. I wish near your city. Any help to people suffering is a big help anyway.
These suggestions from ‘Atleast’ are mainly yang: light is yang; probably Vit D is yang; cinnamon, paprika and hot cayenne are yang. The sort of yang in question is mainly warming. So probably ‘Atleast”s underlying problem is yang deficiency, probably Cold. If so, theory agrees that the suggestions made would help.
But the assertion that (this) “therapy would help anyone – ie lemon juice with cinnamon etc” – is NOT right, in that it would probably worsen phlegm after eating symptoms of someone whose problem was HEAT – ie too much yang.
By the way, I am not a Dr!
I apologize for sending yet another e mail… But I have another important message to let you know about my phlegm which I hope will help you in your advice to me . It seems that when my stomach is empty (if I wait too long to eat before a meal) and always when I sleep I always get phlegm and it takes at least an hour to get it all cleared out. It is a constant battle and has been for the last 3 years and I am exhausted from trying to find a cure.
I sincerely thank you for any help and advice you can give me.
Kathleen, please check your emails as I replied privately to you on 1st September. Jonathan
My daughter (age 22) has been suffering with phlegm after eating for about 2 years (or have noticed it for this time). She went to our family Dr. yesterday (after months of waiting) and was given a prescription for anxiety. She was told that this was caused by anxiety (which she began to suffer from just mildly following the traumatic and sudden loss of her dad at age 9). She has managed to work through her short anxiety episodes by using a holistic approach. Our last resort is usually medication. I am concerned that aside from being addictive, the side effects are usually damaging in other aspects. Is there a natural/holistic supplement/treatment you can suggest (aside from acupuncture) that may be helpful? Your article is immensely helpful and I will certainly pass along your recommendation for a diet free from fat/sugar and including ginger. With so many supplements on the market, I am not sure which one, if any, I should look at.
Many thanks for your kind assistance.
I’m sorry to hear about your daughter. Phlegm after eating isn’t good for her social life or self-confidence!
However, the whole point of my pages – and my book – on phlegm, is that there is no single natural/holistic supplement/treatment talisman for it.
I describe, more fully in the book, a number of different kinds of phlegm, each of which has a different cause and needs its own kind of treatment and diet. Because, in Chinese medicine, all phlegm is regarded as coming at least in part from Spleen deficiency, there are some basic similarities in what to do and not do food-wise (eg as regards sugar etc) , but after that there are many important differences.
In at least one respect your doctor is right: after such a long time, I would be very surprised if there were no emotional issue behind it. Whether it is ‘anxiety’ (which does affect the Spleen) or something else I can’t say – this is where 5 Element acupuncture theory comes in. Treatment for that would need to be considered too.
So I suggest you look into finding someone who can help her with suggestions appropriate to her particular needs, including herbs and food. I wouldn’t rule out acupuncture, however: it can be a powerful force for good.
By the way, any single substance, medicine or herb or vitamin or …, which claims to cure every type of phlegm, is bound to be suppressive for most situations, even if spot-on for one of them. Suppressive treatment clears symptoms at one level but sooner or later produces – or depresses the body’s reaction to its problem down to – symptoms at a deeper level, often not attributed to the original substance. Then you need another substance for those deeper symptoms. Read more under Suppression.
Truly appreciate your response and advice. You’ve surmised it clearly and honestly… it’s hard to figure out the nitty-gritty with so much information available out there. I’ll check out the links you so kindly provided and try to encourage my daughter to look at acupuncture as an option as well.
Thanks so much for taking the time and effort in providing such great detail. It has been immensely helpful.
(Please keep doing this good work. Our world needs more of this in it… especially in these times.)
That’s fine Jay: happy to help! – and I hope your daughter finds a solution for her phlegm after eating. Jonathan
WOW!!! This is the best article I have read yet! I have had phlegm since probably middle school. I’m 24 now and I have yet to meet anyone who spits and produces as much mucus as I am. For a long time my family told me to stop but i literally cannot breath. Now in my adulthood i just feel bad spitting everywhere and having to get up if I am in bed to release some of the build up. I been looking closer at what I am eating and sugary things (even some chap sticks) really do me in or super oily things. But even on days where i restrict those things I still have phlegm. Other things too like even today I had a cashew butter and banana smoothie.. I have used half a box of tissues to spit into. There isnt added sugar there! In general I really enjoy those types of snacks that are packed with sugar and with the holidays coming up I assume I’ll have more than normal. Do you think long term cutting out a lot of those foods the phlegm will go away even though it doesnt if i go a few weeks without ?
Hi Sandra, Sorry you’ve got it so badly.
You do not mention what kind of phlegm you get so it’s hard to be sure, but probably what you eat does contribute a considerable part to your problem. So reducing all those sugary etc. type foods will help – and you may need to keep it up for some time.
But if the problem definitely began at a particular stage of life – you mention middle school – something else could be going on that is weakening your Spleen energy. This is because – other things being equal – if the cause is just something(s) you eat, putting that right sorts out the problem fairly quickly.
The most likely possibility, though not the only one, comes from your Liver energy (this is Chinese medicine we’re talking about! – this makes little sense in Western medicine) and may relate to events and to hormone developments at the time. In a way, phlegm may have been your body’s defence against something, or a way through a problem.
You’d need to talk this through with someone understanding, or see a good acupuncturist, who could check your tongue and pulse picture, because the latter would almost certainly reveal any other energy ‘mis-function’, such as of your Liver.
Best wishes – Jonathan
Brilliant article – thank you so much for sharing this valuable info.
Thanks, Malise, for your praise. Glad you like it! The ideas behind Chinese medicine have lots to offer us if we choose to take notice of them.
If you suffer from Phlegm, take a look at the pages on Damp too, because one often follows the other!
Thanks again – Jonathan
Hi Jonathan- I am staying still to read your article. Very interesting. I am worried for my mother that mentions often for more than 8 years already that her lungs are full of phlegm, her nose is stuffy all the time with white phlegm. Some types of food, mostly sugary ones make that condition worse. I wish I could have an immediate solution to her problem. PLEASE PLEASE HELP! THANK YOU.
You do not say how old your mother is, nor what her general health and health history are, which limits what I can offer.
In general, the longer a condition persists and the weaker the individual, the longer it will take to ‘cure’. Having this phlegm for 8 years means this is a chronic condition and the first question is what happened 8 or 9 years ago to set it off. Knowing that might help an experienced practitioner diagnose and treat any underlying condition.
Secondly, by adopting the advice on our pages on Phlegm (https://www.acupuncture-points.org/phlegm.html) and phlegm after eating (https://www.acupuncture-points.org/phlegm-after-eating.html) and phlegm colour (https://www.acupuncture-points.org/phlegm-colour.html) into the indefinite future will eventually make a difference, but of course, the older you are the more difficult it is to change habits.
So, what to do? I suggest you find an experienced practitioner of Chinese medicine (acupuncture and/or herbs). For example, there are powerful herbal strategies to deal with phlegm – though they aren’t sold on taste! Acupuncture also has a number of effective ways of treating it. Practitioners who knows what they are doing might be able to suggest foods to avoid and others to take, to help.
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