Phlegm and Dampness are terms for thickened body fluids, and Phlegm is thicker, stickier and more obstructive than Dampness, which is more fluid and tends to drain downwards and affect the lower part of the body more than Phlegm. The movement and function of body fluids is really important for general health (most adults are about 50% water), and we have a wide range of body fluids that moisten organs, lubricate joints, form juices and hydrate cells and they work best at certain consistencies.
When the lung membranes get too dry gas exchange reduces and people cough and wheeze, yet fluids can also be excessive or thickened and obstruct the lungs and cause coughing and wheezing in a different (wet) way. Getting the balance and quantity of fluids right is essential for the lungs to be able to function, and the same principles apply to fertility as fluids are essential for the function of the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the womb, and fluids form the fertile mucus and most of the semen. There are different ways fluids can be imbalanced:
- Excessive fluids make tissues swell and concentrations of essential nutrients are diluted
- Insufficient fluids make tissues become dry and there’s no lubrication
- Thickened fluids impede and slow circulation, they builds up in tissues and creates a feeling of heaviness, swelling or distension
Phlegm and Dampness are heavy and turbid fluids that cause abnormal discharges, a general ‘stickiness’ and slowing down of the metabolism and they can prevent the movement of an embryo in a fallopian tube to the uterus. Phlegm or Dampness can originate from any (or a mix) of:
- A poor diet (especially one with high quantities of sweet, greasy and rich foods)
- Poor fluid metabolism, which is usually from either a weak Spleen (the most important organ of digestion) or Kidney Yang (it controls fluids in the lower part of the body)
- Liver Qi stagnation that tends to interfere with the function of other organ systems (especially the Spleen) and can cause weight gain and an abnormal appetite; a classic example is pre-menstrual bloating, food cravings and water retention
- Heat that ‘condenses’ the body fluids into Phlegm, that can either be high temperature illnesses, or from generally being too hot for a long time
- Blood stagnation which can obstruct and block fluids in the body, and many tumours, fibroids and cysts slow down Qi and fluid movement, which encourages Phlegm and Dampness to form
There’s a close relationship between Qi and the body fluids:
“Qi is able to engender fluids”
“Qi is able to move fluids”
“Qi is able to contain fluids”
These statementsi clearly express the healthy relationship between Qi and body fluids and that the production, movement and containment of fluids depend on the strength and flow of Qi.
The Su Wen states that “Qi stagnation leads to water binding” (Damp accumulating) highlights how Qi disharmony creates Damp
The mutual relationship between Qi stagnation and Dampness unfortunately increases the likelihood of both developing when one is imbalanced, and because of its thick nature Dampness tends to slow Qi movement and increase the likelihood of Qi stagnating, which in turn worsens the original Dampness problem. This problem is experienced by many people in the developed world where a sedentary lifestyle and high calorie diet weakens Spleen Qi and ultimately encourages both Qi and fluids to accumulate and stagnate.
“Qi is able to transform Dampness”
via its transforming and transporting powers; in effect Dampness is nothing more than untransformed and unmoving water fluids. By invigorating the Qi dynamic of the Spleen and the Kidneys the body fluids of the lower jiao can be moved, transformed and excreted to bring balance, health and greater fertility.
Accumulations of Dampness and Phlegm increase the chances of weight gain and this can reduce a woman’s fertility, as happens for many women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), where the accumulation of fluids alters the balance of sex hormones. Overall the presence of Dampness or Phlegm slows down the processes needed for conception and alters the Yin-Yang balance towards an excess of Yin, which makes it more difficult for Qi and Yang to transform and transport the substances (Blood, fluids, tissues, eggs and embryos) in both phases of the cycle:
- In the follicular phase the thicker fluids obstruct and reduce the flow of fertile mucus from the cervix and the release of eggs from follicles
- During the luteal phase Dampness cools, compromises and impedes important Yang processes so that the transformation of Yin to Yang is slower, the temperatures are lower and movement is slowed. The turbid nature of Dampness can slow an embryo’s journey along a fallopian tube so it’s less likely to arrive in the womb during the window of implantation, and sticky Phlegm is more likely to physically block this journey which increases the chances of an ectopic pregnancy.
i From Statements of Fact in Traditional Chinese Medicine by Bob Flaws. ISBN 0-936185-52-X
ii A Comparative Study of Serum and Follicular Fluid Leptin Concentrations among Explained Infertile, Unexplained Infertile and Fertile Women Kamyabi Z, Gholamalizade, Int J Fertil Steril. 2015 Jul-Sep;9(2):150-6.
iii Serum leptin level in women with unexplained infertility Demir B et al. J Reprod Immunol. 2007 Oct;75(2):145-9.