Hepatitis C and Damp Heat
One of the reasons acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists have success in helping people with chronic Hepatitis C is because they approach each client as an individual. As practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), these professionals see past the medical diagnosis to the pattern of imbalance blocking each person’s wellness.
There are approximately ten, very different, major TCM imbalances responsible for progression of the Hepatitis C virus. According to this system of medicine, damp heat accumulation is commonly seen in individuals with Hepatitis C. While the best way of benefiting from TCM is to visit one of its practitioners, here is a general guide for deciding if damp heat accumulation is part of your imbalance and how to approach it nutritionally.
According to TCM, health is largely dependant upon the continual transformation and movement of various energetic and material substances throughout the body. When the body’s fluids are prevented from being properly transformed and moved to their destination, dampness ensues. Treating dampness is challenging because it is sticky, heavy and tends to further clog all surrounding avenues. This is why imbalances diagnosed by TCM as damp are often long-term, chronic conditions. Additionally, people with Hepatitis C are encouraged to reduce dampness because infections thrive in damp environments.
Dampness is usually accompanied by a weakness in the body’s digestive system. Responsible for separating food into nutrition and waste, a weak digestive system causes the excretion of nutritional elements, and allows unhealthy substances to remain in our systems. When a weak digestive system allows material that should be excreted to circulate, proper fluid movement is hampered, causing dampness.
Heat is generated when dampness resides in the body for any extended period of time. The accumulation of damp heat in the body can be compared to an overheated engine. As sludge builds up in the moving parts of an engine, there is increased resistance to its proper functioning. With increasing resistance, the parts get hotter and hotter, drying up any remaining lubricants. If nothing is done to break the cycle, this unfortunate chain of events ends in an overheated engine.
Damp Heat Manifesting
Although diagnosing damp heat as the predominant imbalance requires a knowledgeable practitioner’s evaluation, those aware of what is happening with their bodies can get a general idea if they are living with this disharmony. Since TCM diagnosis is based on pattern differentiation, every given symptom of an imbalance will not fit each person. Interestingly, many classic symptoms of acute Hepatitis C are synonymous with symptoms of damp heat. These include:
- Jaundice – Bright yellow coloring of the eyes or face. While jaundice can be a dull or pale yellow, bright yellow is more characteristic of a damp heat disharmony.
- Nausea, vomiting and/or reduced appetite – It is important to separate a love of food from listening to the food desires communicated by your body. Nausea, vomiting and low appetite are all signs that dampness may be obstructing the digestive system.
- Fever – Whether it is high or low grade, fever is a manifestation of heat.
- Abdominal or rib-area pain – In TCM, sharp or intense pain is characteristic of stagnation. As damp heat is a type of fluid stagnation, this is one explanation behind this type of pain.
- Thirst – Damp heat characteristically involves thirst (as a result of the heat), but with actual little to no desire to drink (as a result of the dampness).
One branch of TCM is using dietary therapy to help balance the body. In the case of damp heat, there are four primary goals to accomplish: cool the heat, dry the dampness, move the congestion, and strengthen digestion. The following foods perpetuate stagnation, heat and dampness, and should be avoided:
- Oily and fatty; these qualities perpetuate dampness
- Raw; this takes more energy for an already weak digestive system to break down
- Sugary; refined sugar and other concentrated sweeteners contribute to dampness’ sluggish quality
- Spicy; perpetuates heat
- Alcohol; anything containing alcohol worsens both heat and dampness
In general, foods that are bitter, cooling and alkalizing help neutralize damp heat conditions. When experiencing an acute bout of damp heat-related symptoms, the following dietary advice will make the person more comfortable and headed in a healthy direction:
- Focus your food choices around light soups, broths and herbal teas.
- Include aduki beans, mung beans, lima beans, celery, carrots, winter squash, potatoes with skins, asparagus, mushrooms, dandelion leaves, lemons, cranberries, and huckleberries in your food selection.
- Lightly cook vegetables (instead of a raw salad) to help your digestive system extract nutrients.
Symptoms dominated by a TCM damp heat imbalance can be turned around with dietary therapy. While this dietary advice may seem limiting, remember that it is only intended to get you through the rough times. By including some of the food suggestions and avoiding some of the contributors to damp heat, your body will get a break from the self-perpetuating cycle dampness encourages. Just because an engine has accumulated some sludge, and is working harder to drive around, doesn’t mean it is doomed to overheating. The beauty of the human body is that by paying attention to what it is telling you, you can use something as simple as your diet to reset it in order to live a long, healthful life.
Cohen, Misha, OMD, L.Ac., Hepatitis C Virus: The Silent Epidemic, Part Two, Acupuncture Today, October 2002.
Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1993.
www.acupuncture.com, Dampness and the Circle of Wellness, Aram Akopya, Cyber Legend, Ltd., 2007.