Basic TCM Food Rules:
Proper diet, both what and how we eat, is fundamental in maintaining health and longevity. Diet is so essential, that it is considered the first line of defense in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In most cases, the patient must change a few food habits before the herbs can work properly. In severe cases, medicinal herbs are not given at all, unless the diet is completely revamped.
There are neither absolutely forbidden foods nor "one size fits all" diet fads in TCM. For example, sugary foods are generally not recommended. Nonetheless, sugar is sometimes included in an herbal formula because the patient needs it for their condition. For example, rock sugar and crushed chuan bei mu are steamed with pear to nourish the lungs and alleviate dry coughs. TCM’s viewpoint of a balanced diet is very different from that of the West.
Here are some basic rules:
As soon as you wake up, drink a cup of warm water to help to clean out the system before having breakfast. Everyday eat different fruits, grains, vegetables, meat, nuts, or eggs. Try not to repeat the same ingredients. Create a digestive and nourishing rhythm within the body by eating similarly portioned meals 3 times a day at regularly designated times (8am, 12pm, and 5pm). Stop eating before you are full. Undereat, just a little bit, so you don’t over strain your digestive system. For optimal health, strive to eat light, balanced meals that are easy to digest. Lastly, avoid going to bed soon after eating. Allow at least 2 ½ hours between eating your last bite and going to bed.
Do drink plenty of water throughout the day, but stop all liquids 2 hours before bedtime. It is best to avoid eating too much uncooked foods (sushi, raw veggies, etc.), greasy or deep fried foods, pickled or heavily spiced foods, and burnt meats. Also restrict your intake of chocolate, dairy, and vitamin supplements. Avoid fish without scales and fins and shellfish like mussels and lobsters. If you have rash or skin disease, then stay away from chips, beef, eggs, shellfish, mango, peanut butter, pineapple, cherry, coconut meat, and durian. No smoking, drinking alcohol, coffee, soda, artificial sweeteners and/or cold beverages.
Fish with Scales and Fins (OK to EAT) (Fishes that eat live bait)
Flounder, cod, haddock, and salmon are a few examples of fish with scales and fins. Albacore, Bass, Carp, Flounder, Grouper, Haddock, Halibut, Herring, Mackerel, Mahi Mahi, Orange Roughy, Perch, Pike, Pollock, Salmon, Sardines, Snapper, Sole, Tilapia, Trout, Tuna, Walleye, Whitefish, and Whiting are just some of the most popular fish with both fins and scales.
Beware of eating fish without both scales and fins or fish that eat dead bait. That eliminates many types of delicious seafood including shellfish, shrimp, catfish, lobster, eel, shark, sturgeon, swordfish, and mussels. Scientists have taken years to discover and now agree that fish with scales AND fins are equipped with a digestive system that prevents the absorption of poisons and toxins into their flesh from the waters they call home. Catfish have fins, but do not have scales. These scavengers are primarily bottom feeders and have digestive systems designed to absorb toxins from the water. Lobster, shrimp, crab, squid, mussels, and clams do not have scales or fins and are believed to be highly toxic. They naturally absorb the toxins from the water in which they dwell. Interestingly, lobster and crab are crustaceans and are a part of the arthropod family, which include caterpillars, cockroaches, and spiders!
Hyperhidrosis - Easily sweating body type
Food therapy for people who sweat easily or excessively from the armpits, forehead, feet or whole body
Spicy and heavily seasoned foods increase internal heat and stimulate sweat glands. Those who sweat too easily must avoid or eat less yang foods:
- Yang spices are chocolate/cocoa/cacao, pepper, mustard, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, and all the spices in curries.
- Yang meats are lamb, beef, and shellfish.
- Yang fruits are mango, durian, cherry, jackfruits, and lychee
- Yang drinks are beer, wine, hard liquor, all alcohol.
- Grilled, greasy or deep fried foods should not be consumed. Oily and fatty foods create Dampness which can only be eliminated through poop, urine, or sweat.
Suitable foods for consumption are grapes and pears; radish, tomato, spinach, kelp, yam, lotus seed, snow ear, cabbage, and sprouts; black bean, walnut, and sesame; pig liver, black fish, clam meat, duck, and egg.
Eczema and Rash
Food guidelines for people with skin rash
The old saying, “We are what we eat,” comes from observing how foods can either be helpful or toxic to our bodies. If we overload our bodies with foods that are toxic and the intestines cannot keep pace eliminating the toxins, then a rash erupts on the skin. Certain foods such as beef, eggs, chips, seafood, shrimp, crab, cock, pig’s head meat, lamb, dog meat, goose meat, bamboo shoots, fermented bean curd, cheese, and milk are known to cause “flare ups” of skin disorders. Therefore patients with skin issues should eat less of these foods or avoid them completely. If you are in the acute phase of a skin rash, you must pay extra attention to your diet to minimize the intake of flare up foods. Some hot foods such as red dates, ginger, peanut butter, and wine should not be consumed during a rash outbreak.
Having a rash and itchiness can affect sleep quality. You can try these foods to sleep better: lotus seeds, lily bulbs, jujube kernels, oyster meat, orange, papaya, longan, wheat, pig heart, yellow croaker, mushroom, reishi mushroom, and arborvitae seed.
For older people who have a rash
The rash that occurs in the elderly is usually due to blood deficiency and wind instead of excessive heat. The elderly should eat more foods that nourish the Yin and Blood, such as spinach, pine nuts, sea cucumber, lychee, grapes, black sesame, and eggs.
For people who have a rash due to excessive heat in the blood
For rashes due to excessive heat in the blood, cooling foods such as white radish, melon, loofah, celery, millet, barley, mung bean, tofu, wheat, watermelon, pear, apple, citrus, water chestnut, coix seed, buckwheat, duck egg, bitter gourd, lotus root, tomato, wild-rice, seaweed, kelp, sage, banana, melon, and mulberry are good choices.
With severe itchiness and redness, these foods help to detoxify and cool the blood: chives, cabbage, mustard leaf, taro, kelp, seaweed, tofu, mung bean, cucumber, bitter gourd, pigweed, and purslane, and green tea.
For people who feel itchy when exposed to cold weather
Itchiness due to cold weather can be alleviated with warming foods such as basil leaves, ginger, schizonepeta, cinnamon, alfalfa, and scallion.
For People who have a rash due to blood deficiency
For rashes due to blood deficiency, intake of blood nourishing foods is recommended. Mulberry, mulberry leaves, pine nuts, black fungus, snow fungus, spinach, carrot, pork, lamb, beef liver, goat liver, water turtle, mullet, sea cucumber, pear, grape, soymilk, almond milk, egg, lily, wheat, sassafras, and snake meat are beneficial.
Foods that improve the quality of the female egg and male sperm
In the treatment of infertility, TCM works on both the ability to conceive and the ability to carry the pregnancy to full term. With respect to conception, certain foods are known for improving the quality of the egg and sperm. Daily consumption of at least one of these foods: fungus, walnut, lotus seed, fox nut, leeks, loach, oyster, catfish, shrimp, fish belly, sea cucumber, abalone, lamb, beef, venison, sparrow, and animal kidney can enhance fertility.
Besides improving egg and sperm quality, fortifying the parent-to-be’s overall health with the proper foods increases the odds of both conception and the mother’s ability to carry the pregnancy to full term. Examples of food therapy for certain conditions follow below:
- For people with Kidney deficiency, walnut, goji berry, Chinese yam, and black sesame are nourishing foods.
- For people with Liver depression, citron, fingered citron or Buddha’s hand, and dried tangerine peel are beneficial.
- For people with Dampness, poria, coix seed, adzuki bean help drain excess fluids.
- For people with Blood stagnation, hawthorn, peach kernel, seaweed, and kelp help invigorate blood flow.
This is only a partial list. To get a complete assessment of your condition and proper food or herbal recommendation, please contact us.
Food therapy for internal or external hemorrhoids
All spicy and heavily seasoned foods increase heat in the digestive system and aggravate the anus and any hemorrhoids in the area. Those who have hemorrhoids must eat less or avoid yang foods:
Yang spices are chocolate/cocoa/cacao, pepper, mustard, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, and all the spices in curries.
Yang meats are lamb, beef, and shellfish.
Yang fruits are mango, durian, cherry, jackfruits, and lychee
Yang drinks are beer, wine, hard liquor, all alcohol.
In general, it is best to avoid spicy, heavily seasoned, or pungent foods. These foods perpetuate heat in the digestive system. You can feel the burn in your anus when you poop after eating very spicy foods.
Also, grilled, greasy or deep fried foods should not be consumed. Oily and fatty foods create Dampness. Dampness increases the swelling of hemorrhoids and therefore should be avoided.
Alcohol increases both Heat and Dampness in the body, and therefore should be completely avoided during the treatment of hemorrhoids.
Suitable foods for consumption are grapes and pears; radish, tomato, spinach, kelp, yam, lotus seed, snow ear, cabbage, and sprouts; black bean, walnut, and sesame; pig liver, black fish, clam meat, duck, and egg.
Dietary guidelines for combatting recurring headaches
Headaches can be caused by a variety of factors such as lack of sleep, excessive dampness, and mucus accumulation, internal heat, catching a cold or insufficient blood going to the head.
It is best to have three regular meals at the same time with similar portions each day. A balanced diet of 60-70% vegetables, 5-15% meat, and 30-40% grains is optimal. Vegetables provide essential vitamins and antioxidants. Meats provide protein to build blood and the yang energy to balance the yin of vegetables. Excessive grain consumption causes mucus, but eliminating grains completely causes dryness. Therefore, grains are necessary for a balanced diet. Eat a variety of foods, but don’t overeat -stop eating right before you are full.
If you already know that certain foods cause headaches, try to avoid or minimize intake of those foods. Common foods that induce headaches are chocolate, cheese, monosodium glutamate (msg), alcohol, caffeine, and preservatives, and packaged, highly processed foods. Lastly, to prevent the onset of headaches, drink plenty of water and try to sleep early. Get in bed before 11pm and try to be sound asleep from 11pm to 7am.
When you have a cough, you should avoid spicy, cold or iced drink, lemon, heavily seasoned, and strongly flavored foods such as pepper, barbequed items, popcorn, tobacco and alcohol, etc., which increase the irritation of the throat and delay the healing process.
Foods that are good for the throat by clearing heat are chrysanthemum, mint, licorice, broccoli, olive, pig skin, duck egg, and tangerine.
Foods that reduce phlegm/mucus are mangosteen, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, radishes, loofah, kelp, seaweed, jellyfish, onions, dried tangerine peel, grapefruit, and kumquat.
- Food that nourish and moisten the lungs are lily bulb, chuanbei, dried persimmon, rock sugar, brown sugar, almond, ladybell, Solomon’s seal, pear, fig, peanut, snow fungus, and fungus.
If you have slightly white mucus, itchy throat, and can’t sweat, then you have a COLD cough. You should choose foods to help expel the cold and reduce the mucus. Spices such as ginger, scallion, garlic, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and dried tangerine peel reduce phlegm, warm the lungs and expel the cold. As for foods, cooked radish, pumpkin, almond, peanut, vinegar, millet, koi, and silver carp are warming and appropriate for alleviating a cold cough.
A cold cough is aggravated by eating cooling foods. Bananas, persimmons, crab meat, clams, bamboo shoots, mint, cabbage, melons can trigger more coughing and may cause lung occlusion. In addition, raw and cold foods like sushi and salad are hard to digest and easily generate more internal mucus, which will delay the process of recovering.
If you can sweat, cough up yellow mucus, and have sore throat, then you have a HOT cough. You should eat foods that clear heat and reduce mucus. Raw radish, lotus roots, tofu, coix seed, mung bean, wheat, pear, mangosteen, persimmon, alfalfa, olive, water chestnuts, apple, strawberry, mango, pineapple, starfruit, melon, cucumber, celery, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, chrysanthemum, seaweed, jellyfish, duck are appropriate foods for a Hot cough.
A Hot cough is aggravated by eating warming foods. Wine, deep fried, spicy foods, longan berry, lychee, heavily spiced stew, and pepper are warming and therefore contraindicated for a hot cough. Eating these foods can cause more phlegm to accumulate and increase the severity and duration of the cough. Warm, yang foods are not suitable to consume for this condition.
If you have a Dry cough or Stubborn cough, then you should eat moistening foods such as wheat, lily bulb, honey, sugar cane, olives, snow fungus, fungus, pine nuts, Chinese torreya nut, bird's nest, sesame seeds, dried persimmons, almonds, pears, tomatoes, mulberries, alfalfa, almonds milk, soy milk, figs, duck, pigskin, and silver carp.
If you suffer from a chronic cough or have a recurring cough, you should eat foods that are heated to a warm temperature or at the very least room temperature (not refrigerator cold). Raw food is inappropriate. Food should be steamed with minimal seasoning. It is best to eat a variety of proteins, veggies, beans, and nuts. You may drink almond or soy milk but stay away from lemon or lemon water, which will prolong a chronic cough.
Ying and Yang foods
Using the flavor and temperature of foods to balance the Yin and Yang within the individual
- A person who is Yang deficient tends to be cold and lethargic. Therefore, the recommended TCM diet is higher ratio of Yang foods to Yin foods. Yang foods supply warming, functional energy to balance a person who is too Yin.
- A person who is Yin deficient tends to feel overly warm (especially in the chest, hands, and feet) and a bit restless. Therefore, the recommended TCM diet is a higher ratio of Yin foods to Yang foods. Yin foods have a solidifying and cooling energy to balance a person who is too Yang.
- A person who has too much fluids or dampness in their system tends to feel heavy or sluggish. Therefore, the recommended TCM diet is to restrict foods that are overly sweet, salty, and/or sour because these flavors tend to be moistening. An excessive amount of moistening foods will exacerbate the damp condition within the person.
- A person, who has a lack of physiological fluids, suffers from dryness (of the skin, mouth, throat, etc). In this case, the recommended TCM diet is to eat moistening foods. However, one must be careful with the temperature of moistening foods. The sour flavor tends to be warming, whereas the salty flavor tends to be cooling. Therefore, if the person has a cold and dry condition, the sour flavor is appropriate. If hot and dry, then the salty flavor is the better choice.
Inherent Food Temperatures: Cold, Cool, Neutral, Warm, and Hot
- Grains, Bean - mung bean
- Milk - cow milk, yogurt, cheese
- Sea - crab, clam, octopus, oyster, snail, jellyfish or preserved jellyfish, kelp, seaweed, cuttlefish, razor fish
- Meat - duck, field snail, pig's bone marrow
- Egg - duck egg
- Fruits - banana, melon, honeydew melon, grapefruit, pomelo, watermelon, tangerine, cantaloupe, carambola/starfruit, kiwi, passion fruit, sugar cane, mangosteen, mulberry, pear, persimmon
- Vegetables - water spinach, bamboo shoots, lotus roots, bitter gourd, tomato, water chestnut, soybean bud, sprouts, watercress, sea lettuce, mushroom, lettuce, bok-choy, bitter melon, root of kudzu vine, wild rice stem, angled luffa, water spinach, lettuces,
- Drink – chrysanthemum, green tea, aloe vera, sugar cane,
- Season - salt, soy sauce
- Grains, Bean - millet, coix seed, wheat, barley, buckwheat, yellow split pea
- Milk - soy milk, coconut milk
- Sea - conch
- Meat - rabbit meat, pig skin, frog
- Egg - thousand year egg, egg white
- Fruits - apple, pineapple, strawberry, orange, citrus/tangerine, loquat, mango, papaya, pears, muskmelon, coconut
- Vegetables and Beans- eggplant, cucumber, loofah, white radish, lettuce root, celtuce, wax gourd, cauliflower, broccoli, chard, celery, mustard leaf, cabbage, spinach, Chinese kale, Chinese cabbage, amaranth, Indian lettuce, peppermint, lily bulb, pea, Chinese wolfberry leaf, water caltrop, tofu, tofu skin, mung bean, lily flower
- Drink - honeysuckle tea, kapok tea, hibiscus tea, lily flower tea, apocynum tea, camellia tea, mountain tea, hops tea, marigold tea, meddler flower tea, silk flowers, beer, tea leaf
- Season – vegetable oil, cream, yogurt, cheese
- Grains, Bean - round-grained rice, rice, zucchini, oats, whit sesame, black sesame, black rice, peas, red beans, white beans, soybeans, edamame, lentils, broad beans, kidney beans, lentils
- Milk - rice milk, almond milk
- Sea - water turtle, sea shrimp, squid, turn, shark, rubber fish, sea cucumber, stingray, abalone, squid, sardine, silver fish, stingray, sea bream, sea urchin, surimi, scallop, quail, sea eels,
- Nut - peanut, lotus seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, ginkgo, pumpkin seeds, almond
- Meat - pork, goose, water turtle, snake meat, donkey, pigeon, quail
- Egg - pigeon egg, quail egg, egg yolk
- Fruits - plum, apricot, coconut, figs, raspberry, grapes, peach, olives
- Vegetables and Beans - corn, taro, sweet potato, potato, leeks, kohlrabi, beetroot, turnips, carrots, radish leaf, lemon, olive, black fungus, snow fungus, shiitake mushroom, sea shrimp, squid, loach, Chinese cabbage, cabbage, sage, lentils, yuan vegetables, fuzzy melon, water lily, artichoke, shiitake mushroom, bamboo stalk, black fungus, white fungus, oyster mushroom, chicken leg mushroom, sea cabbage, puffball, monkey head mushroom, fern, corn mustard
- Drink - honey, bird’s nest, black tea, plum tea, mimosa tea, peach tea, lotus tea, honey, milk
- Season – white sugar, rock sugar, monosodium glutamate(msg), soybean oil, peanut oil, sesame oil
- Grains, Bean - sweet rice, sword beans, black beans
- Milk - goat's milk
- Sea - water turtle, sea shrimp, squid, turn, shark, rubber fish, sea cucumber, stingray, abalone, squid, sardine, silver fish, stingray, sea bream, sea urchin, surimi, scallop, mussel, freshwater eels, abalone, hairtail, lobster
- Nuts - pistachios, walnut, pine nuts
- Meat - sheep bone, sheep marrow, tripe, golden ham, chicken, black-bone chicken, swordfish, salmon, silkworm cocoon, lamb, beef, bone marrow, sparrow
- Egg – goose egg, sparrow eggs
- Fruits - kumquat, pomegranate, guava, jujube, lemon (sweet), rambutan, hawthorn, cranberry, cherry, lychee, longan berry, jackfruit, bergamot, apricot, peach, raspberry, dates
- Vegetables and Beans - coriander, pumpkin, asparagus, sweet peppers, green mint, bergamot, sage, Chinese chives, leeks, green onions, sweet peppers, sword beans, spearmint, sweet basil, sword bean, garlic, ginger, fennel, clove, cumin, maltose
- Drink - jasmine, nutmeg, red wine, rice wine, white orchid tea, magnolia tea, azalea tea, calendula tea, rosemary tea, thyme tea, spearmint tea, royal jelly, rose flower tea, osmanthus flowers
- Season - vinegar, star anise
- Meat - venison
- Fruits - durian
- Drink - coffee, liquor, tobacco
Season - black pepper, cinnamon, dried ginger, chili pepper, mustard seed.
The 5 Tastes
A balanced diet includes all 5 tastes - spicy, sour, bitter, sweet, and salty. Foods and herbs which have a particular taste tend to have particular properties:
- Bitter herbs and foods tend to be drying and cold. This makes bitter foods good for treating Damp Heat conditions like urinary tract infections. Many bitter herbs have antibiotic-like properties and must be used with caution for people who are too Cold and/or too Dry.
- Salty herbs and foods tend to be warming and moistening. This makes the salty flavor great for treating people who suffer from Cold and Dryness, but they should be used cautiously in people who are Hot and Damp.
- Sour-tasting herbs and foods also tend to be warming and moistening. Astringent herbs and foods tend to be cooling and drying. (These remarks about taste are general because there are exceptions.)
- Spicy herbs and food can be described as those with warming properties. Foods such as ginger, garlic, chilies, and spices can all contribute to hot energy and expels cold or heat and can regulates qi and blood flow.
- Sweet herbs and food can nourish and provide moistening properties which are beneficial in conditions where excess dryness is present such as constipation.
Bland, a “6th taste” is also recognized. Bland herbs and foods tend to be neutral in temperature and drain
Dampness. Bland herbs are capable of penetrating places in the body where other flavors cannot enter
A food or herb can have more than one taste. For example, the herb Wu Wei Zi (五味子) is prized because it contains all 5 tastes. In fact, its name translates as Five Flavor Seed. The ratio of the different flavors varies according to the individual's needs and the season of the year. For example, bitter herbs are cooling and can be beneficial for patients who run hot, but if they also tend to be dry, and then the dosage of the bitter herb has to be lowered or regulated by other herbs that are moistening. In general, astringent herbs tend to be cooling, and bitter herbs even more cooling than astringent herbs. Spicy herbs tend to be very warming or hot in nature.
In addition to temperature, each taste has an affinity for a specific organ system in the body.
- The salty taste has an affinity for the Kidneys (and Bladder). Sometimes dishes are salted in order to get the properties of the food to the Kidneys.
- The sour taste has an affinity for the Liver and Gall Bladder
- The bitter taste has an affinity for the Heart and Small Intestine
- The spicy taste has an affinity for the Lungs and Large Intestine
- The sweet taste has an affinity to for the Spleen (aka Spleen-Pancreas) and Stomach
Salt can be harmful to people with hypertension because salt is known to raise blood pressure. These people benefit from a low salt diet. However, a low salt diet can have a devastating effect on people with adrenal insufficiency or Neutrally Mediated Hypotension.
Most people need to drink more water, but some people - like those with epilepsy - can be harmed by this practice (if they aren't very careful to eat something at the same time, even if it's just a cracker). Some people require more fat in the diet than others.
But you can eat the wrong things at the wrong time and aggravate an existing condition.
Many food restrictions come from the flow of the 5 Elements/Organs system. Within the 5 Elements, there is an inverse relationship between 2 specific organ systems. When one organ gets stronger, the inversely related organ gets weaker. For example, if too much energy accumulates in the Liver, it can attack the Spleen. The term for this is, “Liver invading the Spleen.” When the Liver is too strong it can invade the Spleen when the Spleen has been weakened. Liver invading the Spleen would cause digestive issues and pain. If a person with a weak Spleen eats something sour (which has an affinity for the Liver), then the Liver becomes activated to pull energy from the Spleen which weakens it because of the inverse relationship between the two organs.
Here are some examples of the food or fruits with five tastes which are spicy, sour, bitter, sweet, and salty
Spicy flavor has an affinity for the lungs and large intestine, expels cold or heat, regulates qi, regulates blood flow, tonifies the stomach and digestion: ginger, onion, green onions, shallots, pepper, garlic, celery, coriander, leeks, fennel, spearmint leaf, white radish, pepper, sweet pepper, kohlrabi, taro, mustard leaf, small leeks, cinnamon, dried tangerine peel, bergamot, kumquat, mustard, and wine.
Sweet flavor has an affinity for the spleen and stomach, nourishes, moistens, warms, and relaxes tension: honey, jujube, shiitake mushroom, taro, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin, carrot, pea, soybean, rice, wheat, black bean, glutinous rice, corn, sugarcane, peanut, milk, apple , pears, cherries, chestnuts, grapes, lotus seeds, longan, koi, abalone.
Sour flavor has an affinity for the liver and gallbladder, converges, astringes, and stops diarrhea: lemon, tomato, pineapple, apple, strawberry, papaya, pear, alfalfa, orange, kumquat, peach, hawthorn, olive, pomegranate, plum, pomelo, mango, plum, vinegar, royal jelly, grapes, red eyes trout, purslane, red beans, lychee, fingered citron
Bitter flavor has an affinity for the heart and small intestine, releases, clears heat, descends, drains dampness, and fortifies the stomach: bitter gourd, lactuca sativa, wine, vinegar, lotus leaf, tea leaf, kohlrabi, almond, lily, ginkgo, plum, plum seed, peach, seaweed, pig liver, fingered citron, sagittaria, sophora flower, asparagus, coffee, beer
Salty flavor has an affinity for the kidneys and bladder, softens, loosens, moistens, and nourishes the blood: leek, millet, barley, seaweed, jelly fish, seaweed, kelp, clam, shrimp, crab, sea cucumber, snail, pork, pig marrow, pig blood, pig offal, oyster, razor clam, mussels, ham, pigeon eggs, abalone, duck, and squid.
Body Type specific foods
It’s hard to know what to eat if you don’t know your body constitution. TCM categorizes five different body constitutions. The body’s make up is influenced by congenital and acquired factors, which vary from person to person. Your body's metabolism, structure, and organ systems all work synergistically to fend off disease and the effects of time. The five different types of physical constitutions are: Neutral, Yin and Cold, Yang and Hot, Phlegm and Dampness, and Dry.
This constitution is ideal because the body’s metabolism, structure, and organ systems are in balance and the person does not have any health complaints. This type of person tends to exhibit the following characteristics:
- Healthy with vibrant skin tone
- Proper appetite and sound, restful sleep
- Don’t feel hot or cold easily
- Light yellow urine, 4-6x per day; Light brown, banana shaped stool, 1x per day
- Soft, moist, pink colored tongue that moves easily.
- No teeth marks on the edge of the tongue
- No dark purplish spots on the tongue
- No red, purple, or black patches or dots scattered on the tip and sides of the tongue
- No cracks, sores, or blisters on the tongue
- No thick yellow, white, or black coating on the tongue
Yang and hot type
This type of person has a sturdy build and is very sensitive to warm temperatures. This constitution tends to exhibit the following characteristics:
- Frequently feel hot
- Have a reddish complexion
- Mouth dryness
- Prefer cold drinks when thirsty
- Easily annoyed
- Bouts of insomnia
- Scanty urine of a dark color
- Hard stools
- Yellow tongue coating
- Red tongue
Yin and Cold Type
This type of person has a frail body and is very sensitive to cold temperatures. This constitution tends to exhibit the following characteristics:
- Frequently feel cold
- Have a pale or whitish complexion
- Dislike of wind or cold drafts
- Limbs are cold
- Prefer hot or warm food and drinks
- Reluctant to speak
- Tire easily
- Frequent, clear urination with soft stools and a tendency to suffer diarrhea
- Pink tongue with a whitish coating
Phlegm and Damp Type
This type of person tends to become overweight or bloated from water retention. They may appear fat and drained of energy and are very sensitive to damp weather. This constitution tends to exhibit the following characteristics:
- Prefer sweet foods
- Heaviness in the body
- Get dizzy or tired easily
- Look fatigued and sleepy all day
- Prone to snoring
- Low metabolic rate
- The tongue has teeth marks on the edge of the tongue
- The tongue looks moist and bulky, and is covered with a greasy coating
This type of person tends to be skinny and does not gain weight easily. They are very sensitive to low humidity levels. This constitution tends to exhibit the following characteristics (all due to lack of lubrication):
- Feel thirsty easily
- Experience dryness in the eyes, throat, lips, and skin
- Itchy skin, nose, or eyes
- Cough without mucus
In reality it is difficult to classify a person as being one type specifically when in fact they are usually a blend of constitutions. For example, a person might be a blend of cold and dry; damp and hot; or cold and deficient. You should always mix different flavors and energies according to your needs when planning a balanced diet. Your TCM doctor may guide you with Chinese dietary advice, which is not limited to only Chinese recipes but inclusive of all ethnic cuisines. Eating properly for your constitution is a conscious process of shifting to a more balanced diet. The shift will not restrict your diet; you may give up or limit some foods but you may also discover a whole variety of foods that you have never tried before.
Lifestyle Factors that Affect the Body’s Constitution
There are several causes for disharmony or dis-ease in the body. Some are:
- External - like the six evils (Wind, Cold, Summer Heat, Dampness, Dryness, and Fire)
- Internal - like the seven emotions (Joy, Anger, Anxiety, Pensiveness, Grief, Fear, and Fright)
Many of these causes are beyond control, like the weather, but there are additional factors that you can directly control and help the healing process. These factors are discussed below.
TCM has discovered that your energy system is comprised of inborn Qi and Jing produced throughout life.
- Inborn Qi represents our general state of health, which inherit from our parents. Inborn Qi cannot be changed much like genetics. If inborn Qi is deficient, then you are more susceptible to a whole range of external and internal factors, which might cause a disharmony. If we discover that we have any constitutional weakness, we must take precautions to ensure that any other potential causes of disharmony in our lives are avoided if at all possible.
- Jing is stored in the kidneys. It is the basis for growth and development and various other physiological activities in the human body.
TCM has always recognized the importance of lifestyle choices or habits in the maintenance of good health and well-being. Only recently has this become the focus of Western medicine’s attention. Like the old saying, “an ounce of preventions is worth a pound of cure.”
Continuous hard physical labor can cause physical harm. The type of work we do, or even unemployment, can profoundly affect our energy system.
- Too much physical work can disrupt our Qi (vital energy), and with excessive lifting the lungs become deficient. If you work outdoors, for example, is more liable to be at risk from cold, dampness, wind or heat evils.
- Too much mental activity can damage the spleen and make the Yin deficient.
All things in life should be approached in moderation. Extreme exercise or a sudden and sustained increase in activity can cause disharmony. For example, many athletes, who train to an excessive degree, may appear very fit. A full TCM health workup would show they are often very susceptible to infections and injuries because they constantly deplete their vital energy. In the long run they may become chronically Qi deficient because of overstressing the kidneys. Stretching, heart strengthening, muscle toning, and hydration are all essential to good health. Many Chinese exercise regimes such as Tai Chi only appear not to be aerobic in nature like many Western forms of exercise. When correctly performed it combines a balance of aerobic, anaerobic, and Qi strengthening in balance consistent with the principles of TCM.
Diet is a common factor that can lead to the development disease.
Diet is crucial in Chinese medicine. You should ingest functional foods, which usually contain significant levels of biologically active components, which boost a person's physical and physiological well-being. Food is considered more than just sustenance; it contains therapeutic properties and is prescribed by TCM doctors. While acupuncture, massage, and herbal mixtures infused to make teas works very well, the first line of treatment is usually diet itself. TCM believes foods boost your entire system with concentrated energy provided by a carefully selected combination of herbs. Referred to as "medicinal diet,” many of the herbs can be given as tasty dishes. It is not uncommon for the Chinese to treat a minor ailment with a specially prepared meal, or by including a particular ingredient in a dish.
The stomach and spleen process food and extract the nutrient essence, which is then passed onto the lungs as a central part of the production of Qi (vital energy) in the body. When bad food choices force the spleen has to work against poor and damaging foods, then it will suffer (especially from damp) and the body will deplete the Qi (vital energy) of the body as a whole.
Balance instead of specific dietary instructions represents the Chinese approach to nutrition. If an individual follows a healthy and balanced diet, then the spleen will remain healthy and the Qi (vital energy) of the body will be sufficient. The overemphasis on sweet and processed foods in many Western diets that are devoid of fiber and natural goodness often leads to serious medical problems.
There is much debate about what is considered excessive sexual activity. There is no question that Western media is fixated on heightened sexual stimulus. The Chinese system recommends a natural decline in this activity as healthy part of the aging. In TCM:
- Excessive sexual activity is considered to be damaging to kidney Jing and can lead to long-term deficiency problems.
- An excessive number of pregnancies can seriously deplete a woman's blood and Jing.