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!
Throat mucus (phlegm after eating, sputum) comes in various forms.
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.
No spam, notifications only about new articles and updates.
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 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:
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:
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.
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 – and 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 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 it usually reduces any phlegm after eating.
Stomach Cold and Deficient is a syndrome in Chinese medicine that explains what happens when you either don’t eat enough protein or do eat too much cold food – though there are other causes.
How to reduce stress, pain, inflammation and all the symptoms of stagnating Qi. Get your life moving again!