Damp heat and acne in Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), damp heat and acne are two issues that are often closely linked. This post looks at how damp heat can cause digestive problems within our body that can lead to acne and also how you can reduce internal heat and dampness by just making a few small changes to your daily routine!
How is internal ‘damp’ created?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, internal ‘dampness’ is thought to be caused by sluggish elimination pathways. If your body is unable to flush waste and toxins from the body due to poor liver function, digestion and lymphatic drainage, then the back log of waste and congestion can create a humid and moist environment which can lead to excess dampness within the body. Other factors that can contribute to excess dampness include too many raw foods and insufficient sweating.
How is internal ‘heat’ created?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is said that internal heat occurs when we’re dealing with too much toxicity, inflammation and stress. The stress can be due to emotional stress, but can also happen when our bodies are under physical strain and our hormones and digestion are out of whack too. Unfortunately, when it comes to stress and your hormones, there’s a whole vicious cycle thing going on that’s very hard to break. If you’re stressed out, your body isn’t able to do all the things it’s meant to do, to the best of its ability – this means your digestion, hormonal activity and everything else that’s going on in your body won’t be thriving at 100%. This creates even MORE stress, which will cause further hormonal and digestive problems and so on…
When I talk about ‘toxicity, inflammation and stress’, I mean pretty much anything that has a negative effect on our bodies. This includes (but no way limited to):
- The contraceptive pill
- Processed foods
- PUFA’s (vegetable oils and transfats)
- Excess alcohol
- Emotional stress
- Self-destructive behaviour
How does damp heat cause acne?
Stress management and healthy elimination are two of the key steps you need to undertake when healing your skin naturally so it makes perfect sense that damp heat caused by excess stress and poor elimination can have a major impact of the health of your skin! While there are many steps you can take yourself to reduce the amount of damp heat in your body, sometimes a little extra help is needed… TCM treatments such as acupuncture can really help to encourage the smooth flow of energy and fluid around the body – which can help eliminate excess damp and heat to kick start your body into healing itself.
Other symptoms of damp heat
Other than acne, too much damp heat within the body can also cause many other problems such as:
- Digestive problems
- Sinus congestion
- Food allergies/intolerances
- Yeast infections
- Ovarian cysts (PCOS)
- Thick tongue coating
- Respiratory problems
- Weight gain/Water retention
- Arthritic conditions
Foods which can cause damp heat and acne:
One of the easiest ways to reduce damp heat within the body is to reduce the amount of damp forming foods in your diet. Many of the foods that are recommended to cut out/reduce are all the foods that can have a really negative effect on your skin anyway, such as sugar, refined grains and dairy. However, there are some cooling fruits and healthy foods that could also be aggravating your system. I’m not saying you need to cut out all these healthy foods, but if you’re eating/drinking the same damp promoting foods every single day, then perhaps it’s worth cutting back and monitoring your digestion and skin.
- Cow dairy
- Refined grains
- Processed foods
- Deep fried foods
- Concentrate fruit juice
- Oil in large quantities
- Nuts (one portion of nuts per day is fine)
- Peanuts/peanut butter
Wait…avocados and bananas?!
I know! I never considered whole foods such as bananas and avocados could be fuelling my skin problems either, I mean, avocados are widely thought of as one of the healthiest foods on the planet and I was eating them every day in my breakfast smoothie! However, it turns out that these two foods can dampen our digestive fire meaning that our bodies have to work harder and longer to warm up the food before it can start breaking it down and digesting it efficiently.
Funnily enough, when I was seeing my Kinesiologist, I started showing up as intolerant to bananas and avocados one month, then the following appointment a month later (having removed both foods from my diet), I wouldn’t flare up with them! After being told that they were fine to eat, I included them back into my daily smoothies and salads only for them to show up as an issue AGAIN the following month!? So I cut them out again and guess what? The next month I tested fine again! This went on for about 6 months, then I started having acupuncture and my acupuncturist Emma Vickers told me about damp forming foods such as bananas and avocados and how that could be why I was showing hot and cold with these two specific foods.
I’m not saying cut out avocado all together, but if you are eating one every single day in a smoothie or salad then it may be worth switching to coconut as your main source of healthy fats for a while to see if it improves your symptoms!
What else is harmful to our digestive fire?
It’s not just types of foods that can dampen our digestive fire, it’s also how you prepare your food and how you eat it!
Raw foods: Excessive consumption of raw vegetables (i.e salads) can promote dampness within the body, especially during the colder winter months. Lightly steaming or grilling your vegetables prior to eating will have a really positive impact on your digestive juices.
Cold/chilled foods: Too much chilled food and drink including salads, ice cream and drinks straight from the fridge can all weaken and cool the digestive fire. Make sure your food and drinks are at least room temperature, if not slightly warm.
Foods which can improve damp heat and acne:
- Cooked vegetables (sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, turnip, asparagus, celery)
- Wholegrains (brown rice, amaranth, oats, quinoa)
- Soaked legumes (pinto beans, adzuki beans, red lentils)
- Fruit (figs, peach, plums, papaya, lemon, blueberries)
- Meat (poultry, lamb, beef, venison)
- Fish (trout, salmon, tuna, shellfish)
- Chicken/Beef broth
- Tea (dandelion tea, raspberry leaf tea, nettle tea, ginger tea)
- Spices (clove, ginger, garlic, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, mustard, turmeric, fennel, nutmeg, cayenne, tamarind)
- Herbs (thyme, basil, parsley, onions, nettle, horseradish)
How else can I improve my digestive fire?
Enjoy your food: I know too well how hard it can be to have a healthy relationship with food when you’re struggling with acne. It’s easy to fall into the habit of developing the fear that every food could break you out in spots. You may not believe it, but this negative mindset and stress will be making your skin worse. Enjoy each mouthful of food and don’t feel guilty if you have the odd “bad food”. The stress and worry of going ‘off-diet’ will be far worse for your skin than the odd ice cream!
Get your bowels going: I have struggled with chronic constipation for YEARS and unfortunately, this is one of the biggest issues many people with acne face. Constipation is extremely problematic for the skin. When faecal matter sits in your digestive system for too long and causes constipation, putrid and toxic matter gets reabsorbed into the blood stream where it causes inflammation. Constipation also prevents your body from absorbing essential minerals and vitamins properly – making you deficient in healing nutrients. Ideally, you want to be having 1-3 solid, smooth, medium brown bowel movements everyday. If you are unable to do this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. you must consider Magnesium Citrate, probiotics/goat milk kefir or digestive enzymes to help you achieve regular bowel movements.
Digest the best: I’ve just mentioned the importance of probiotics and digestive enzymes but it’s not just those with constipation that need to give their gut a bit of attention. Stress, environmental pollutants (pesticides, bromide, chlorine, fluroide etc), antibiotics, the contraceptive pill and low fat and low protein vegan/vegetarian diets can all cause low stomach acid and poor bile quality. Over time, this prevents us from digesting our food properly and leads to excess dampness, poor digestion, sluggish liver/lymphatic system and further nutrient deficiencies. Many people focus on probiotics alone which it comes to healing the gut and digestive enzymes are often overlooked. However, if you imagine that probiotics work to heal the second half of your digestive system (intestines, colon) and digestive enzymes heal the FIRST part of your digestive system (stomach, gall bladder, liver) it makes it easier to see the important of enzymes. Without fixing the first half of the digestive system, you will really struggle to maintain healthy intestines and colon.
The best ingredients to look out for in a digestive support are Ox Bile, Hydrochloric Acid, Pepsin or Pancrealipase – particularly Ox Bile as it improves your own ability to produce good quality bile so you can digest food better in the long-run.
Eat mindfully and chew: Switch the TV off, put down your phone and think about the food you’re eating! When you eat a meal without really focussing on it you tend to chew less which will result in digestive discomfort further down the line. Chewing helps to warm chilled food and kick start the digestion process so it’s less taxing on your system. Aim to chew each mouthful at least 20 times. Yes! 20 times!
Don’t flood your system: Having a drink before and during your meal is something I think we’re all programmed to do, yet it’s so bad for our digestive fire! Drinking too much fluid around your meal dampens your fire and weakens digestion. If you feel like you need a drink with your food, try switching your cold glass of water for a warm mug of ginger tea to accompany your meals and just sip it slowly rather that gulping it down!
Eat early: To prevent stagnation, it’s best to eat your last meal as early as possible. As your body prepares itself for bed, it naturally begins to slow down – meaning any food you eat will sit heavy in your system for longer.
Stop before you pop: Overeating can lead to stagnation as you create a backlog of food waiting to be digested. Eat smaller, more regular meals and stop before you get too full to prevent a queue of food waiting to be digested!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Traditional Chinese Medicine, damp heat and acne! Do you think your acne may be exacerbated by internal dampness and heat? Have any of the above tips helped improve your digestion and skin? Let me know in the comments below!
Peace, Love & Clear Skin