The Swamp Inside Us
"No, I'm not really thirsty, but I try to drink lots of water," is something that I hear all the time. I look at their nails; they're pale. They are cold, bloated, and may go to the toilet for a bowel movement three or four times a day. They often get stomach cramps before they go. In Chinese medicine, we call this a 'spleen deficient person with internal dampness'. These days it is one of the most prevalent conditions we see. Ironically few people consider it a problem until it is too late.
The Spleen and Dampness
To the Chinese practitioner, the spleen is that organ that is supposed to convert food from the stomach for nutritional use in the body. In function, it is more analogous to the pancreas and duodenum of modern day understanding. Anyway, to ancient Chinese, if effective, it takes the essence of this food and steams it up to the lungs. From here it is sent throughout the body mixed with the lung's air energy to form "Qi" or the basic energy of the body. This has a yang quality which is the moving and has a warming nature on the body's forces.
It also sends substance up to the Heart to help it make blood. We say that the blood needs the Qi to move it. Also, without the blood, the Qi would not have matter or substance and could not be anchored. In Western Medicine, we say that the blood circulation and nerve innervation are always paired.
We perceive this spleen like a boiling pot that converts what is dynamic out of food and steam it up. It sends the rest downward to be further separated from its water; one part becoming fecal matter, the other part urine. This, of course, is the responsibility of the Large Intestine. By nature, it essentially must be warm and dry, as too much liquid would douse its fire and make it ineffective. If this happened it could not steam up the essence. In this case, we would not receive what is necessary to give us vitality would descend in a cold sludge.
The Damp Patient
Whenever I'm dealing with such a patient, I find that their lives reflect a familiar pattern. Of course, they don't come to see me about the signs of spleen Qi deficiency. To them, these signs seem so normal. They come in with complaints of low energy, weight gain, being cold, or aching in the joints. Most of the time I can see their condition even before I start to ask them questions.
I ask them about their bowel movements. "Good!" they say. " I go several times a day and it comes out very easily." We have the odd notion here that if it's not constipation, everything is A-okay. By delving further we come to find out that it is soft, fibrous, thin, and bordering on ongoing diarrhea. "How's your thirst?" I ask. "It's okay," they answer. "I'm not thirsty at all, but I try to drink 8 - 10 glasses of water a day." People become defensive because they know that too much thirst could indicate diabetes, called polydipsia.
However, a good thirst should be well regarded. A total lack of thirst means that you don't want any because you already have dampness inside you. This is not very good, as inner dampness is one of the most stagnating of elements. Water travels with good energy down a babbling brook until it hits a pond in the stream and then everything stops.
What This Swamp Does to Our Health
It's what this 'stopping' leads to that should concern you. This is what I call the 'swamp'. Heaviness or feeling heavy is one of the main complaints. The limbs feel heavy and a related headache feels as if a tight band was compressing the head. Dampness is also usually synonymous with coldness. First, this is because energy can't circulate well to keep us warm. Secondly because water is what we naturally use to cool anything. So when this person catches cold they are chilled. They have clear symptoms like a runny nose and watery eyes. They urinate more frequently when it’s cold and the urine is clear like water. In advanced cases, there is a recognizable rounded paleness in the person; as pale as snow or ice and as sluggish as it is when it melts.
It is Hard to Drain the Swamp
Dampness is not very easy to get rid of. When dampness has stagnated for a long time and the stagnation increases, it may even turn to heat. At this stage, we call it 'damp-heat'. These people get urinary infections, yeast infections, wicked headaches, nausea, and a characteristic "thirst without a desire to drink." This would mean that the mouth is dry all the time. But because of the residual dampness inside them already, they have no desire for any real amount of water.
What Grows in the Swamp?
While neither of these conditions is fatal in themselves, the problems that spring from them can be very serious and debilitating. For instance, it is often a pre-diabetic condition. Water buildup is a step away from phlegm buildup, and with a lowered immunity, could be an invitation to pneumonia. Most ongoing cases become anemic and often soon become predisposed to hypothyroid conditions. Many people who feel exhausted and yet have a problem with high blood pressure, started here. Damp heat is a primary condition for growth to bladder and kidney infections, menstrual problems and prostate cancer. The list of possibilities is infinite. You shouldn't wait for them to come to become more serious before you do something about the swamp lurking inside yourself.