If you ever wonder why your skin is often oily-looking or feeling inexplicably warm even your body temperature is normal. It might be an indication that there is an accumulation of heat in your body. Add dampness to that, and you might feel like you’re dragging your feet and unmotivated to do much – it is too uncomfortable to do anything! In many cases, that might be attributable to your damp-heat body constitution, which could make you feel like you’re perpetually stuck in Florida on a hot summer afternoon.
Damp-heat is one of nine body constitutions in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in which your body accumulates an excess of dampness and heat. It is typically caused by insufficient perspiration, poor dietary and lifestyle choices (e.g., too much greasy food, alcohol, or smoking), and excessive amounts of stress and frustration. While not all the factors that contribute to your body constitution are changeable, once you know which body constitution you are, you’ll know how to ease your discomfort from the root.
Damp-Heat: the Tell-Tale Signs
Do any of these physical characteristics, temperaments, and other attributes sound familiar?
Common physical characteristics of the damp-heat constitution are:
- Itchy and / or red eyes
- Easily irritated skin
- Frequent occurrence of blackheads and acne
- Oily face
- Dry mouth and constantly thirsty
- Bitter taste in mouth
- Feeling of heaviness in body or head
- Bad breath
- Greasy, thick tongue coating
- Abdominal distension
- Poor appetite
Common temperaments and other non-physical attributes of the damp-heat constitution are:
- Easily agitated
- Easily distracted (i.e., poor concentration)
- Lethargic and low energy
- Poor sleeping quality
- Prefer cooler environments
Possible Causes of Damp-Heat Constitution
So, how does one end up with a damp-heat constitution? TCM practitioners believe that there are a few causes of a damp-heat constitution, ranging from genetics to life habits. All-nighters, excessive drinking, and smoking are unhealthy habits that contribute to the formation of a damp-heat constitution, as does one’s living environment – if you live in a hot and humid climate, you’re more prone to have damp-heat relative to others who live in dryer, cooler climates as it is easier for the dampness to accumulate in your body. You can also end up with a damp-heat constitution if your metabolic process is not allowing normal perspiration to occur, i.e., you are not sweating enough. Your mental well-being matters too, as a prolonged suppression of emotions and feelings could lead to a build-up of liver qi, which can slow down your stomach and spleen’s functions and thereby affect your body’s ability to metabolize water – and this could be exacerbated by alcohol intake. Genetically, some people are more prone to having this body constitution as well if either one of their parents lived under the aforementioned circumstances before and / or during the pregnancy.
Possible Links Between the Damp-Heat Constitution and Health Conditions
The combination of excess heat and dampness commonly leads to skin problems such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea. Conditions unrelated to skin often manifest in the liver and gallbladder, as the accumulation of heat and dampness can more easily cause inflammation. Apart from skin problems, the accumulation may cause difficulty in sleeping or insomnia. The damp heat body constitution is also found to be related to the most common chronic disease of hypertension.
Restoring Damp-Heat Constitution with Diet and Lifestyle Changes
If you have a damp-heat constitution, you may want to reduce your intake of spicy food, food and drinks that are high in sugar or fat content, fatty meats, deep-fried food, lamb, lychee, various peppers and chilis, dairy, and alcohol. The ideal diet should focus on dispelling the heat and dampness, strengthening the spleen and stomach, and clearing liver and gallbladder qi. During hot, humid months, certain “cooling” food and drinks could provide relief from some of your symptoms, but be aware not to overindulge as consuming too much could damage the spleen and stomach and slow down the flow of qi and blood. Moderation is key.
Some food that are generally favorable for a damp-heat constitution include:
- Grain & nuts - Rice, whole grains, rye, wheat, barley, coix seeds, ginkgo nut, almond, walnut
- Fruit - Banana, pear, watermelon, blueberry, cranberry, persimmon, lemon, tomato
- Vegetables & legumes - Lettuce, carrot, spinach, arugula, alfalfa sprouts, celery, cucumber, swiss chard, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, lotus root, asparagus, kelp, cabbage, turnips, kidney beans, mung beans
- Meat and dairy - Tofu and soy products, tempeh
- Herbs & spices - Honey, tamarind, ginger, cinnamon, basil, rosemary, sage, parsley, cardamom, nutmeg, coriander
Your day-to-day lifestyle and habits can also play a big role. Here’s what can make a difference:
Avoid overeating, avoid smoking, avoid caffeine and alcohol, avoid damp and moldy spaces, avoid stress, find an exercise routine you enjoy and stick with it
Practicing mind-calming activities to de-stress
Irritability is a common symptom experienced by those with a damp-heat constitution (if you find summer heat unbearable, imagine always feeling internal heat to different extents – it is stressful!), but mind-calming activities such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help. Abdominal breathing is the most important skill to activate your parasympathetic nervous system in order to release your stress. You may also want to spend some quiet time by yourself to clear your mind – it will literally help cool you down, as excitement (good or bad) could turn up your body temperature and make you feel agitated more easily.
Rest plenty to allow body to heal
Sleep is one of the most critical processes – it allows our minds and bodies to recharge and heal. TCM practitioners generally advise being asleep before 11pm as that is when your liver and gallbladder begin to regulate qi. It might be tempting to check your phone and emails before going to bed, but you may wish to stay away from devices for at least an hour before going to bed – doing so can contribute to getting better quality sleep as well. Avoid strong teas and sugary drinks that can keep you up.
Engage in higher intensity exercises to expel dampness
Practicing high-intensity exercises are good for those with a damp-heat constitution as sweat is one of the most direct ways through which our bodies expel dampness. That said, be cautious when doing high-intensity exercises during the summer months – the body can get overheated more easily, so make sure you’re replenishing your body with enough water and rest.
Keep your surroundings dry and well-ventilated
You may want to consider turning on the dehumidifier when the humidity is running high – not only will you feel more comfortable, but you will also feel more energized as dampness can make one feel lethargic. Air conditioners can also help draw out the humidity in the air, so that could be another alternative during hot summer months.
Choose what you wear wisely
Skin lesions can form more easily for those with a damp-heat constitution, e.g., eczema, acne, rashes, and what you wear can potentially worsen the condition if the skin can’t breathe properly. Loose-fitting clothing and breathable fabrics such as natural cotton, linen, and silk are all good choices for hot, humid climates.
Cut back on cigarettes
Smoking can exacerbate the accumulation of heat and dampness in one’s body, so for smokers with a damp-heat constitution, you may want to cut back on – or better yet, quit – your smoking habit. You might just start seeing your overall health improving as well.
Remember, our body constitutions aren’t fixed
Finding your balance is an ongoing process. Don’t put too much pressure on any single one of these tips — try what speaks to you, listen to your body, and adjust as needed. Reaching balance isn’t a one-and-done deal for most people. Follow your natural ebbs and flows, adjust your lifestyle and nutrition as needed, and your body will thank you.
Want to know your constitution? Take our quiz to find out!