Western and alternative medicine agree warm is best.
A few years ago, after some busy months at work, I popped into a Chinese clinic one Saturday morning, just off the King’s Road in London, to get a shoulder massage as a knot in my left shoulder had become troublesome.
After going through a few introductory questions, the receptionist suggested I had a quick chat with the doctor. She pointed me towards a cubicle at the end of the corridor. Hesitantly, I walked in, still holding my takeaway coffee, and awkwardly smiled at a wise, aged looking woman. Sitting behind a small wooden table, she looked up at me, gave a brief nod to my discomfort and motioned her hand towards the chair opposite her.
A younger, immaculately presented woman slid in alongside her and, with a big smile, welcomed me in. The ancient healer said something, prompting the young woman to ask me to show them my tongue.
‘My tongue?’ I queried, ‘I was just hoping to get a knot taken out of my shoulder.’ She nodded as if expecting my hesitation and then reiterated the request. I gently pointed my tongue out with every bit of my body language saying, ‘You said tongue, right?’ She asked for it to be pointed right out and bent down. I swallowed, thought about any remanence of coffee, and showed them my tongue. The old lady shook her head in disappointment, also denoting a lack of surprise.
‘Everything okay?’ I nervously queried with the young girl.
She shrugged and said, ‘You have damp.’
‘Damp?’ I understood there could be room for misinterpretation as the three of us were not native Kings Road linguists.
‘Damp,’ she affirmed. ‘Do you have a lot of stress?’ she asked. ‘You are not sleeping well? You think too much, right?’
My goodness, she was spot on. Years of therapy and I had not had such a quick diagnosis. ‘So now what?’ I asked excitably.
I walked out an hour later, one shoulder knot less, clutching a concoction of various Chinese teas, having booked five more appointments for acupuncture and massages.
What is ‘damp’ and why is it I now drink a lot more warm water, whether because of Chinese medicine or other observations?
A simple definition of dampness in Chinese medicine
Damp in Chinese medicine refers to a deficiency in the spleen’s function. The spleen is an extremely important organ in Chinese medicine, and imbalances in the spleen system are some of the most common. Its primary function, which defers to western medicine, is the transportation of bodily fluids. When this process slows down, more fluidity sits around, which creates an overall dampness in the body. Dampness in a person shows itself (other than in the colour of their tongue) through symptoms of tiredness, a phlegmy chest, joint paint, water retention, sinus problems and an overall sluggish feeling. I categorise the two principal causes of damp as both internal and external forces. The internal being negative emotions, over worrying, over thinking, depression, nervousness, and the external being what you eat and your environment (wet climate, damp basement living).
I know that I live in a damp climate (and a basement apartment) and struggle at the best of times with my ‘monkey brain’, so I asked more about the foods that I shouldn’t eat or drink.
Foods that are discouraged
Here are a few no noes if anyone has damp: dairy, wheat, processed sugar, caffeine, and cold (and raw) foods and drinks. I did not make a drastic change to my diet at that point, but I did re-look at my morning ritual of food and liquid. For the last 20 years, my mornings have started with a caffeinated cup of tea, followed by a stronger caffeinated cup of coffee, a bowl of muesli, yoghurt, and fruit. The caffeine, sugar and dairy (cold and wet) seemed a harsh introduction to my already damp existence.
The immediate change I made and cannot help but feel better for, is starting my day with warm water every morning. Sometimes, I add a slice of lemon or ginger, but most mornings it is just a big mug of warm water.
Warm water, according to western doctors, activates the digestive system and helps one avoid indigestion; it detoxifies your body, relieve nasal congestion and help towards combatting pain. The warm water increases the flow of blood to the tissues to help relieve pain, an excellent choice for joint pain or cramps.
According to Dr Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., the Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC)/New York-Presbyterian Hospital, water is the best brain food of all. Emphasising warm water over cold. Just a 2% difference of hydration to the brain can cause neurological symptoms.
My observations after a year of warm water:
#1) I love the healthy pick-me-up feeling in the morning, as I sip on my warm water, sometimes with a slice of lemon or ginger or both. I don’t feel as sluggish as before, which is clearly the hydration after many hours of sleep, a sensible, and now seeming obvious, change to the caffeinated tea of the last 30 years.
#2) The main visible differences I have noted are in my skin and hair, both showing a healthier and more hydrated glow, which I value enormously as I seek to fight premature aging.
#3) As someone that has repeatedly been prone to chest infections and phlegmy chest, I don’t have those nearly enough these days.
Drinking water every day is key to good health and well-being. Using what I have learnt from both Chinese and Western doctors, I try to ensure the water is warm, but I realise this isn’t always possible and that’s okay too. I am not sure what difference I have made on my overall ‘damp’ state of well-being. My bathroom cabinet mirror tells me ‘not too significant’ as I eagerly point my tongue out to it each morning, but I am encouraged by the hydrating, warm start to my mornings and I aim to keep this up. A little gift to myself that hopefully contributes towards a revitalising and youthful start to my day.