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Late Summer, Humidity, and Digestion

Posted Aug 15 2008 5:02am




The summer is flying by! In fact, in Chinese medicine land, it’s already a new season: Late Summer. In my estimation, Late Summer begins right around the time the 7-year-olds start practicing football in the field near my house. It’s an amazing thing, seeing these little kids fully decked out in football padding.

Late Summer in Chinese medicine is governed by the Earth element. In practical terms, this is the season when the earth offers us heaps of fresh, nutritious food and a general sense of abundance. Emotionally, this element is associated with nurturing, nourishing, and grounding. Late Summer is a good time for relaxing, eating fresh food, and being with family and friends.

In Chinese medicine, the organ system associated with the season of Late Summer is the Spleen. The Chinese Spleen is quite different from the anatomical spleen (an organ whose main function is to filter the blood). It is responsible for all aspects of digestion; its primary function is to convert food into the energy we use in our everyday lives.

The Spleen has an intimate relationship with humidity and dampness, conditions we often experience at this time of year. The Spleen’s functions are easily disrupted by excessive dampness, whether in our environment or within the body (internal conditions are often described in terms of weather in Chinese medicine).

Conversely, when the Spleen is taxed, symptoms of “internal dampness” are more likely to occur. These may include digestive symptoms, such as bloating, gas, decreased appetite, or loose stool; a feeling of lethargy, heaviness, or a foggy feeling in the head; or increased congestion, to name a few.

The digestive system is especially vulnerable this time of year. Many people experience an increase in bloating, nausea, poor digestion, reduced appetite, and diarrhea or loose stool. Chronic conditions, such as IBS, may be more difficult to manage. Changing a few eating habits can help enormously in supporting your digestive system to handle the humid weather better.

If you are experiencing any stomach trouble, or any of the other damp symptoms listed above, try these suggestions. If that doesn’t help enough, consider scheduling an acupuncture appointment or two to help get back in balance.

Some Suggestions for Decreasing Dampness

  1. Eat fresh, nourishing foods. There is a lot available this time of year — try a farmer’s market for fresh, local foods.

  2. Be moderate with sugar, greasy fried foods, and dairy , all of which are taxing to the spleen.
  3. Cook your food. Lightly cooked food may be easier than raw food on your digestive system if you are having any kind of stomach trouble. Try blanching veggies in hot water for a minute or two — they retain their crunch, but are easier to digest.

  4. Eat some sour or pungent flavors , which help disperse dampness and regulate digestion. Examples include pickles, sauerkraut, lemon, garlic, and onion.
  5. Get some exercise: dampness tends to settle in the body, and make you feel lethargic, but it can be moved if you move!

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