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HoloSapiens - the TCM "Food as Medicine" Project


Note: In traditional Chinese medicine the concept of the Spleen differs from the understanding of the spleen in Western medicine. In TCM main function of the Spleen is the transformation of food into "food essence". The symptoms of an imbalanced Spleen point to imbalance in the digestion. So in order to avoid confusion whenever we refer to the Spleen in this project we will consider the collective work of some organs and systems that participate in the transformation and transportation of nutrients and fluids, rather than solely focus on the organ spleen as defined in Western science. 






There are two causes that lead to the generation of “dampness in the Spleen”. The first cause is deficiency of Spleen Qi.


The Spleen is responsible for the transformation and transportation of "food essence" but together with the Lung and the Kidney the Spleen also governs the body's water metabolism. It is in charge of the separation, transportation, and movement of fluids. If the Qi of the Spleen is deficient it cannot sufficiently transport fluids. Eventually this will lead to the generation of “internal dampness”. 


The other cause for generating "dampness in the Spleen" is living in a damp environment.




  • feeling of heaviness in the body
  • cloudy head
  • cloudy urine
  • edema or swelling
  • bloated abdomen
  • loose stools
  • lack of appetite
  • numbness in the limbs
  • bacterial and yeast overgrowth


  • cold-damp symptoms - oppression in the chest and epigastrium, feeling of cold in the epigastrium, vaginal dyscharge in women, lack of thirst
  • damp-heat symptoms - loose stool with offensive odor, scanty dark-yellow urination, thirst with no desire to drink, nausea, vomiting


Dampness is heavy and turbid in nature. Thus symptoms of internal dampness manifest in feeling of heaviness in the body, cloudy head, cloudy urine. As "dampness" is accumulation it manifests with edema and swelling. Other symptoms include bloated abdomen, loose stools and lack of appetite (the major symptom of deficient Spleen). 


There are two types of internal dampness – cold-damp and damp-heat. Cold-damp symptoms include all the above symptoms of internal dampness together with oppression in the chest and epigastrium, and/or feeling of cold in the epigastrium. Dampness is heavy in nature, thus dampness has the tendency to sink downward manifesting in white vaginal discharge in women. As dampness is excess water in the body there is no desire to drink thus there is no sensation of thirst. (1)


Damp-heat symptoms include all the above symptoms of internal dampness together with stuffiness or pain in the epigastrium and lower abdomen, loose stool with offensive odour (when there is heat there is odour), and scanty dark-yellow urination. As heat manifests in thirst but with dampness there is no thirst an interesting sign of damp-heat is thirst with no desire to drink. Some nausea and vomiting may be present. (1)

Thinker For Spleen


Besides having a heavy and turbid nature dampness is also obstructive. Thus dampness blocks the free flow of blood and Qi, and invades the joints. Movement becomes difficult and numbness in the limbs is experienced. The pain is fixed in location. The condition worsens in damp environment or in cloudy and rainy days.


Just like bacteria and parasites thrive in an external damp environment so do they do in an internal damp body environment. Therefore chronic internal dampness may lead to bacteria and parasite overgrowth, and is the fittest environment for yeasts, viruses and bacteria. Internal dampness is also more difficult to clear because of its heavy nature, and it takes longer time to cure.




Internal dampness originates from a "deficient Spleen" therefore changing the diet is essential in treating this condition.


Foods that contribute to accumulation of dampness are all “cold” and mucus-forming foods, and they all should be avoided until the dampness is cleared. Such foods are all raw foods (which are cold in nature), eggs, milk, and dairy products (mucus-producing) and sweet foods (the sweet taste tonifies the Qi of the Spleen but taken excessively it has the opposite effect). Fats, oil, butter, nuts, seeds, and all fried foods should also be avoided, meat should be consumed moderately, in small quantities, and very well cooked. The meals should be simple with not too many spices or ingredients. Overeating and late-night eating should be avoided. (1)


Foods that particularly dry dampness are bitter foods. 


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Food Therapy


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(1) Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Nanjing: Harcourt Publishers Limited

(2) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books


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