Have you ever taken a good look at your tongue in the mirror? Is it swollen? Does it have a white or yellowish, greasy coating?

Yes? The coating could be from eating too many fish and chip meals or you have a damp or phlegm pathology.

According to Chinese medicine(CM) theory, phlegm and damp are pervasive and accompany a vast array of pathologies including poor diet, weeping sores, headaches, leg swelling, irritable bowel, overweight, heart disease, mental illness, post- stroke paralysis, cancer and all forms of lumps. Diseases that are difficult to treat are nearly always complicated by the presence of phlegm or damp.

Of all the concepts in Chinese medicine (CM), damp and phlegm are the most difficult to explain as there isn’t a similar paradigm in western medicine.  To understand how damp and phlegm are created in the body, it is important to know how CM views body fluids.



In CM there are several types of body fluids. They are categorized either as:

  • Jin (thin) – clear and watery fluids that lubricate the skin and muscles


  • Ye (thick) – turbid and viscous fluids that lubricate the brain, spinal cord, joint cavities and all the orifices

Any disturbance of the production, transformation and transportation of these fluids leads to damp and phlegm pathologies.



Phlegm is caused by an imbalance in the processing of body fluids. It is both a cause of disease and a product of disease.

There are two types of Phlegm:

  • Substantial – visible – for example coughed up mucus
  • Insubstantial – invisible – for example, phlegm causing psychological imbalances

Phlegm can have numerous effects on the body:

Phlegm in the lungs – thick mucus, cough, asthma

Phlegm in the “mind” – called “phlegm misting the mind”, it is associated with depression, psychosis, epilepsy and manic depression

Phlegm stagnation – lumps, swellings, fibroids, gallstones, kidney stones

Phlegm blocking Qi flow to the head – dizziness, blurred vision

Phlegm blocking the meridians – numbness, stroke


Internal dampness comes from eating an incorrect diet, resulting in poor processing of food and fluids.

Damp combines with internal heat or internal cold to form damp heat or cold damp.

Internal damp symptoms include oedema, water retention, distended stomach, loose bowels, tiredness and weight gain (these symptoms are not unlike the symptoms of food sensitivities and Candida).

External dampness comes from the invasion of a humid environment, especially hot and humid weather.

Symptoms of external dampness are dizziness, a heavy sensation in the head, heaviness of the body, leg swelling, pain and heaviness of the joints.

In both external and internal damp, there may be turbid discharges from the body such as suppurating sores, weeping eczema, and profuse purulent vaginal discharge.

Treatment for a patient with phlegm and damp is not only about using CM herbal formulas, but also about eliminating damp producing foods from the diet.

Damp producing foods include dairy, sugar, some fruits, greasy foods, alcohol and cold foods (salads). It is obvious that the western diet is full of such foods. So much so that western populations are growing fatter and sicker with phlegm and damp diseases. In China the increased access to a western diet is creating an upsurge in obesity and phlegm and damp illnesses.


To find out what your tongue is telling you, make an appointment with Dr Estelle Abbas at Beachbox Physiotherapy 03 9036 7700.

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