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.
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.
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
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
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!
Overloading the fire!
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.
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 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!
There’s Still More when it comes to Phlegm after Eating!
Yes – various factors increase the amount and longevity of that phlegm:
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 retard how well you digest and absorb nutrients. For example, swallowing too much water with food can dilute stomach juices and make your meal harder to digest. Food combining – a way of choosing which foods to eat with one another – may help.
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
Summary of foods bad for Spleen/Stomach
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:
raw – uncooked – food. That includes raw fruit and salads!
sweet food or food that turns quickly into blood-sugar, such as white bread and pasta, white of potato etc. Also, alcohol is basically a form of sugar – unfortunately. And you may have to reconsider your attitude to biscuits and cake.
foods high in gluten, including wheat and even rye. (Oats, millet and rice don’t contain much, if any, gluten.)
food swallowed in too great amounts at a time
un-chewed, or poorly chewed, food
very concentrated food
very fatty food eg for many of us, dairy foods from cows
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.
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, especially extreme or long-term
as you age
from over-strain, eg lifting too much
from emotions like fear and anxiety
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.
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
Chewing is vital, but there’s more! …
Chew food well and don’t eat too much at a time
Don’t eat much immediately before you sleep
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 after eating.
Reduce or 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
Think about what led to your phlegm!
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 interfere 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 nutrition and the page on supplements
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 after eating, 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 vitamins or foods you’ve eaten, eg beetroot, as mentioned. Also, first thing after sleep it tends naturally to be slightly more coloured.) Even this advice is not quite correct when it comes to absorbing moisture. Read Clogstoun Congee!
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.
What if you’re on Medication?
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 create 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 many problems – not just phlegm after eating!
Acupuncture for 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.