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HoloSapiens - the TCM "Food as Medicine" Project




  • dampness in the Spleen
  • living in a damp environment
  • over-consumption of greasy, cold and raw foods
  • over-consumption of greasy, hot and spicy foods, and alcohol


"Phlegm in the Lung" often originates in the Spleen.


One of the functions of the Spleen in traditional Chinese medicine is to govern the water metabolism. It is in charge of the separation, transportation, and movement of fluids. If the Spleen is deficient it cannot sufficiently transport fluids, which eventually will lead to accumulation of "dampness" or "internal dampness”.


In Five Elements theory the Spleen belongs to element Earth and the Lung belongs to element Metal. Metal is contained in earth thus Earth element “generates” Metal element. Since the Spleen belongs to Earth and the Lung belongs to Metal the Spleen is in a “generating relationship” with the Lung. This means that if the Spleen is chronically imbalanced the Lung will become imbalanced as well. 


Foggy Messy Landscape


There are two types of phlegm – "cold phlegm" and "hot phlegm". "Cold phlegm" may be caused by over-consumption of oily, greasy and "cold foods" (foods consumed straight out of the refrigerator as well as all raw foods). "Hot phlegm" may be caused by over-consumption of oily, greasy and "hot foods" (spicy foods, alcohol).


Living in a damp environment may also lead to the accumulation of "internal dampness" which may develop into "phlegm in the Lung".


If you want to learn more about the Lung and its functions from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine go to "The Lung in Traditional Chinese Medicine" in the Physiology chapter.




  • chest oppression
  • shortness of breath
  • cough


  • cold-phlegm symptoms - cough with profuse white sputum
  • hot-phlegm symptoms - barking cough with thick, yellow or green phlegm, asthma


Phlegm is heavy and obstructive in nature. Thus whether the phlegm is “cold” or “hot” there is chest oppression and shortness of breath. The major symptom for “phlegm in the Lung” is cough as the Lung is trying to expectorate the phlegm. In the cases of “cold phlegm”, where the phlegm is more watery, the cough is accompanied by profuse white sputum that is easy to expectorate. As the phlegm is profuse lying down may worsen one’s condition. (1)

In the cases of “hot phlegm” the heat has condensed the phlegm making it yellow or green in color and more difficult to expectorate. The cough is profound with a “barking” quality. A typical symptom for hot-phlegm in the Lung is asthma. (1)




To treat phlegm in the Lung it is important to address the underlying conditions that cause it such as “dampness in the Spleen” and “deficiency of Spleen Qi”. Please read the materials Deficiency of Spleen Qi and Dampness in the Spleen in the Physiology chapter to review how traditional Chinese medicine addresses these two conditions and more importantly what foods to avoid in order not to worsen them.

The phlegm in the Lung also needs to be addressed. White color spicy-hot and spicy-cold foods are beneficial (the white color corresponds to Element Metal).


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(1) Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Nanjing: Harcourt Publishers Limited

(2) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books


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