Let’s Generalize About Phlegm

Let’s Generalize About Phlegm

For those of you who have not seen Crazy Ex Girlfriend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa_QtMf6alU

For those of you who have, let’s move on from phlegm puns into why this is relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Phlegm is a very important aspect of this disease. First off, it is one important factor that separates a severe case from a mild case. Why is that? Because phlegm obstructs breathing. As we have seen in prior material, there’s lots we can do to support the lungs and keep breathing. But if the phlegm is severe, these efforts are futile.

An excerpt from “Report from the Front Line in Wuhan” by Liu Lihong describes the importance of phlegm’s role in covid cases:

“Typical symptomology includes either a dry cough or no cough. Because on one hand the normal way of phlegm expulsion by coughing is missing and on the other turbid damp pathogens are obstructing the middle burner, the resultant blockage of normal transformative pathways causes turbid phlegm to congeal into a rubbery and glue-like material that severely interferes with proper airway function and has no way out.”

A resident Shan Han Lun school expert described it this way:

“Strong invasion means it not only attack taiyang (fever) but straight into yin (lungs, causing cough and shortness of breath – building up fluids quickly to block oxygen exchange with blood vessels).

In order to fight this invasion, one must restore normal functioning of 3 yin (taiyin, shaoyin, jueyin), harmonize ying wei, transform fluids/phlegm and descend lung qi.”

Before you despair or get totally lost in Chinese medical terminology, there is a point: there is much we can do to preemptively treat phlegm before we get sick or in the early stages of the disease.

In a germ theory mentality, disease is like an invading army. In a Chinese medical model, the symptoms of the disease are created by the interaction between the external pernicious influence (ie germ) and the internal landscape of the body. Therefore, if we have done everything we can about the former (social distancing, sanitizing, don’t touch your face, etc) we can turn to the latter. Namely, our internal landscape. To do that, we need to look at how we might influence the production of phlegm in our bodies.

All this is to say that thus far in our covid material we have been focused on lung function. That is well and good, but there is more that we can do. And that is to look at the role of the digestive system in supporting healthy lung function.

In Chinese medicine, phlegm is produced by the Spleen as a kind of by product of inefficient digestion. Think of your digestion as a fire. If you feed wet wood into the fire it may burn but it will steam and water will bubble out the end. If that byproduct overwhelms the lungs capacity to disseminate fluids (it’s other job in the Chinese system) that steam and water congeals into phlegm. So to review, phlegm is created in the digestive system and stored in the lung.

So how can we reduce phlegm? Herbs are very effective and you can contact me for herbal consultations. Diet is one way to treat yourself and your family.

You can either prevent phlegm by supporting digestive function and avoiding phlegm-producing foods or actually break up phlegm once it’s already there. All methods are listed below, information is sourced from Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. 

Avoid: cold food, greasy food, and dairy products.

Support digestive function: 

“The dietary treatment involves foods that are warming in termal nature. Foods with cooling properties weaken the digestion. Likewise, food that is cold in temperature extinguishes the “digestive fire”; in fact, just the process of warming up cold foods absorbs a fair amount of the body’s digestive energy. 

Carbohydrate rich vegetables: winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin

Pungent vegetables and spices: onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg”

Treat phlegm: 

Seaweeds: “Cooling thermal nature; salty flavor, softens hardened areas and masses in the body; detoxify; moisten dryness; transform phlegm; build the yin fluids and improve water metabolism; act as lymphatic cleansers.

Bitter foods: “help drain various damp-associated conditions [including] mucus. The kidney and lungs are said to be tonified and vitalized by bitter flavors. Bitter is superb for removing mucus from the lungs.” 

Examples of bitter foods include: 

“Alfalfa, bitter melon, romaine lettuce, rye, radish leaf, scallion, turnip, white pepper, amaranth, asparagus, celery, lettuce, papaya, quinao, vinegar.”

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