Full summer hit us after summer solstice last week – People often associate Hong Kong summer with damp heat. And you may have your way of cooling down (like the icy pops, iced tea, staying in a cool gym or office). What we hear more is not only the heat but tiredness seem to be a common theme in summer too. Do you know that fatigue means we run out of energy (either mentally or physically?) and this often is a direct result of the dampness congestion rather than the heat itself, like you may feel hotter when you are walking on the congested streets of Causeway Bay.
No More Dampness?
The biggest dampness drainers in your body are:
Digestion: Food, when digested, get transformed into micro-nutrients that get transported to cells in different parts of the body to provide the nutrition and energy the body needs. In TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), the blood and grain qi came from these digested and assimilated food. If there is impairment in this transformation process, there will be stagnation and dampness will accumulate. If you think of cooking a pot of soup on a stove, the stove provides the heat for breaking down the food. Now if you add ice water midway during the cooking, guess what happens?…. your pot of soup will take much longer to cook, wouldn’t it? This is analogous to you drinking a cup of iced tea during the meal: your ice tea put out your digestive fire and slows down your digestion. So order warm/hot drinks with your meal support your transforming dampness into vitality! For even better results, drink 2 cups of warm water first thing in the morning. This can kick-start your digestion system and get the circulation moving for the day.
Sweating: Your biggest eliminatory organ is your skin (when laid out flat, your skin can cover 3-4 tennis courts) – through breathing (yes, you breathe through our skin too) and sweating, you drain the dampness, assuming the channels (pores) are free of obstacles. When you spend most of your time in the over-cooled air conditioned environments (gym, office, shopping malls or home), your pores will remain closed. With the channels blocked, your dampness will have nowhere to go but remain congested in your body. Hence, consider adjusting air conditioners in the home to be just comfortable (not too cold) for your skin to breathe healthily. Talking a stroll after meal or work will also be a great way for venting off the sweat – you don’t need to be sweating wet, just letting it breathe is very beneficial.
Urination: Fruits and vegetables in season in summer (like all melons) in general are diuretic. They certainly helps in draining dampness. However, minerals that are highly soluble in water may also be leaving your body at the same time, and minerals are vital micro-nutrients for your vitality. Dark leafy greens (e.g., spinaches, purslane, nettles, dandelion) are an excellent way to replenish the minerals and vitamins needed by your body.
How about Summer Heat?
Acne, sore throat and mouth ulcer are heat signs that you may have experienced easily during summer months. These heat “signs”, however, they may not be true heat. They can stem from the congested dampness explained above: congestion will always lead to heat and heat has a tendency to rise hence most heat signs that you experience is in the upper part of your body. If you have dull pains in your body or your hands and feet feel cold easily in cooler months, you may tend to have more cooling constitution rather. In those situations, it is more important first to drain dampness and your heat signs may go away afterward. So don’t rush to cool down your body immediately.
Getting Rid of Lethargy in summer
Fatigue is often a result of dampness stagnation, especially if you feel tired 1-2 hours after meals. The simplest and proven way to be more vitalized is to reduce consumption of simple carbohydrates (simple carbohydrates refer to white rice, pasta and bakery items from refined flour). Imbalanced electrolyte can also lead to fatigue, that’s also why ensuring minerals replenishment are important. To enhance the digestion (and hence transformation of dampness), add a bit of bitter tasting food to your meal or in between meals can help, e.g., fennel, celery, rocket leaves, dandelion greens (in fact, most dark leafy greens have a bitter taste) or even dark chocolate.
If you feel tired all day long, it can be a signal of your liver overload (your liver is responsible for metabolism and detoxification) hence overloading your liver will spare it with little energy to keep your metabolism working properly. You can reduce your fructose consumption (especially all desserts and processed foods that invariably contain fructose) to help to offload the liver, as the primary site of metabolism of fructose is in the liver, unlike glucose. Other pathological causes for fatigue may include sub-optimal thyroid hormonal level or anemia, which there are specific laboratory test indicator(s).
Foods and Herbs for Draining Dampness
To help remove dampness, your diet should support healthy digestion, the transformation of micro-nutrients, and moderation of heat clearing:
- Support Digestion and Transformation of dampness: Astragalus Root, Fennel Seed, Orange Peel, Hawthorn Berry, Dioscorea (use smaller quantities if you are prone to constipation), etc.
- Supporting Diuretics: legumes like adzuki beans, black beans or mung beans (remember to sprout your legumes before cooking for reducing purines and easier assimilation), job’s tears, poria, dandelion (dandelion is one of the best diuretics that replenishes minerals), zucchini, elderberry, peppermint, etc.
- Support Liver Metabolism: Carrot, beets, apple, avocado, lemon, olive oil, chia seed, flax seed, dandelion, burdock root, sarsaparilla, milk thistle, etc.
Apart from diet, staying active is a great way of getting rid of dampness. So take 20 minutes stroll after your meal can be perfect!