Headaches Part 11: Internal Dampness or Phlegm

VI. Internal Dampness or Phlegm

This is a common cause of headaches and is associated with a digestive deficiency which results in the accumulation of undigested food in the form of “dampness”, phlegm, or excess mucus in the body. It is often caused by the pattern of Qi Deficiency (page 22), and many symptoms overlap. It can be caused by overeating in general, and is usually associated with poor diet. The modern western diet of fast food, junk food, and generally processed food is a planetary plague contributing to many health problems and disease processes. Hydrogenated oil, refined sugars including high fructose corn syrup, and refined, bleached, and enriched white flour are found in most processed foods. These are often the source of dampness in modern westernized society. Some people are able to digest these food poisons, as I like to call them, and the dampness is not evident, until after years of eating these poisons, the digestion and immunity are weakened and eventually the accumulation of these poisons or toxins becomes apparent as obesity, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders such as Chron’s disease, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and other modern digestive disorders. It can also result from eating too much raw or cold food, or just by consuming very rich, damp natured food like dairy, pork, duck and other fatty meats, eggs, nuts, shellfish, and others in excess proportions, or without other foods which promote digestion like warming aromatic herbs (ginger, cinnamon, onion, garlic, and others). While diet and digestion play key roles in the formation of this pattern, it can be aggravated by living in a damp climate (external dampness) as well.
In Chinese Medicine the emotional state of worrying, or over thinking, as it is often translated into English, can be the source or the symptom of this pattern of imbalance. Basically, the energetic resources of the body are allocated to mental processes instead of to digestion (transformation and transportation) of food. In other words, the act of worrying or excessive mental pressure consumes the Qi which should be used for digestion. In our modern culture of long working hours, followed by recreational activities of over-stimulation of the mind (think of watching television, computer activities, being bombarded by loud stimulating music, etc.), the mind never really gets a proper rest. The physical body is often pushed to exhaustion as well. The energy needed to sustain these human processes is becoming more and more difficult to extract from modern degraded food sources. All these factors combined lead to another hallmark pattern of our modern world, the accumulation of undigested or untransformed food in the form of “Internal Dampness”. Here are the symptoms related to this pattern:
1) The headache can be in the whole head, but is often located in the forehead. It is usually a dull ache (as opposed to a sharp headache from “Blood Stagnation” or throbbing headache from “Liver Yang Rising”). It is often described as a heavy sensation of the head, and the sense organs and thinking is often cloudy. It can manifest as a feeling of the head being “wrapped in a cloth” or “full of cotton”. Often the pain is worse in the mornings. The headache may be alleviated by inhaling strongly dispersing aromatic oils (like camphor, menthol, borneol) or by consuming herbs which disperse phlegm in the body (like cardamom, coriander, fennel, anise, and others).
2) This pattern is often associated with digestive problems, especially modern conditions like lactose or food intolerances, “food allergies” or the inability to digest dairy, wheat, nuts, and other damp forming foods. Symptoms include abdominal pain, especially above the umbilicus (belly button), loose or watery stools, fatigue or low energy in general, poor appetite (but could manifest as overeating or sweet cravings as well), a feeling of fullness or distention after eating, tiredness after eating.
3) There may be edema, swelling, or water retention in the body, or a generally overweight condition.
4) Nausea and/or vomiting of saliva or sputum
5) A feeling of fullness or pressure in the chest and upper abdomen (epigastric distention)
6) Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses of the nose), ear infections or blockage of the ear, and cloudy or fuzzy vision or thinking in general.
7) The classic tongue has a thick sticky tongue coating, and often the body of the tongue is large or swollen, with teeth marks visible ( small scallops on the side of the tongue caused from indentations of the teeth, due to edema of the tongue from improper circulation of water in the body)
8) The classic pulse is weak and floating, or soft, so it is easy to push down and feel no pulse at all, especially in the middle right position. If the dampness is strong, the pulse will feel rolling or slippery, as if a pearl or little ball was moving through the blood vessel, pushing up on the finger.

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