Lipedema and Chinese Medicine. Lynette wrote in and asked, “Can you explain what excess a body with Lipedema has. Are they damp diseases! feedback most welcomed for myself and my support groups!”

Lipedema is a a disorder of the adipose (fat) tissue that occurs almost exclusively in women and involves abnormal swelling of the legs and hips all the way down to the ankles where the fat forms a ring just above the ankle. It is unrelated to obesity, and can be seen even in women with anorexia.


This poorly understood disorder is due to accumulations of fat and fluid in the tissues under the skin. Fatty bulges can be seen on the outer surfaces of the thighs and sometimes the upper arms are affected as well. While the swelling typically extends from the waist down, almost in a distinct line toward the ankles, the feet remaining unaffected. 

This disorder can be inherited; most cases gradually develop during puberty, although it may develop or worsen due to trauma, such as surgery, peri-menopause or pregnancy.  It may be possible to limit the effects of Lipedema, through careful weight management, if diagnosed early enough. (1)

To give the very short answer to Lynette’s question, yes, too much fluid in the wrong place, another word, where it does not belong, is seen as an accumulation of pathological dampness in Chinese Medicine. Fat, or adipose tissue, is nothing more than congealed dampness. Indeed, when cook flesh food, ergo, the flesh of one of our mammalian cousins, whose biology is not so different from ours, when you remove the fat first, the flesh becomes dry, when you cook with the skin and subcutaneous fat on, the flesh, ergo the muscle, is moist and tender. Indeed, the fat in muscle, when grilled or broiled, “melts” away, as ice does in the sun…this tells you without a microscope that, indeed, fat is nothing more that congealed dampness.

So if there is too much fat, whether due to Lipedema or due to Obesity, in both cases its a damp condition. Other examples of damp conditions in the body are the runny eyes and nose of allergies, the drooling and tearing of infancy and old age, the immature gut of toddlers, prone to vomiting and diarrhea, the oily skin of some people with acne, the oozing sores of some skin conditions, etc.

Dampness and the Chinese Medicine Diet for Lipedema

When you look at the diet recommended for Lipedema by Cure Lipedema dot Org, the animal proteins recommended, for example, chicken and fish, are both hot type flesh foods. In Chinese medicine, and, as in nature, heat can have a drying effect on the body. Chinese medicine also describes chicken as having an “raising” property, as exemplified by how you feel with chicken soup when getting over a cold, it brings your energy back and makes you want to get up and do things. Another words it tonifies the Qi, but also brings the Qi up and to the surface, and promotes sweating, all of which can help dry dampness, because its the Qi that moves the fluids around. Being a warming food is even better, since, as I said, warming foods can have a drying effect. Indeed, along with turkey, fish and chicken are the two least damp producing flesh foods. The most damp producing flesh foods are pork and beef, by the way, and these are recommended to be avoided in people living with Lipedema (2).

What is Dampness in Chinese Medicine?

Dampness is how Chinese medicine describes too much (excess) fluid in the wrong place, just as dryness is not enough (vacuity) fluid in the right place–dry mouth, dry eyes, dry vaginal mucosa of aging is one example of pathological dryness, and the phlegm (a kind of congealed dampness) that accumulates in the sinuses and lungs with a cold or flu, the serous discharge of eczema, and the white discharge of vaginal yeast infection are all examples of pathological dampness in the body. So pathological dampness and dryness are the human corollary to pathological damp and dry in nature…life needs moisture, but not flooding, life needs appropriate levels of dryness, soft skin vs. oily, for example, but not the dryness of the desert in summer. Again, the starting point for every concept in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda is how nature works in terms of the natural elements.

Pathological dampness arises in Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda as a result of diet, too little exercise, and mental factors involving stress and even some kinds of emotional clinging. (To be clean, IN NO WAY am are we saying that Lipedema is due to emotional clinging, I am just giving a thorough but simplified explanation of pathological dampness—the emotional case cited could account for fatigue and depression in an otherwise healthy person, e.g.

It is harder for pathological dampness to accumulate in the body when digestive fire, called Pi Hun Hua in Chinese Medicine and Agni in Ayurveda, is strong. Digestive fire is strong naturally in some people, and is engendered by both a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle. All the things your mom taught you, sitting down, relaxing, and chewing your food well when eating, not eating under stress, help promote digestive fire. A light diet rich in bitter vegetables and as wide a variety of foods as possible does the same.  Most importantly not overeating, not eating the same thing all the time, and not eating too much cold, sodden, or heavy foods, are what preserves your Agni digestive fire. At the same time good stress management, dealing with conflicts rather than avoiding them through sugar, sweets, and alcohol contribute, as does keeping your body moving.

Lipedema and Chinese Medicine–Damp Producing Foods

All the foods recommended to be avoided on the Cure Lipdedma website are damp producing foods, foods that create an excess of pathological moisture in the gut and body. A Chinese Medicine diet for Lipedema restricts these foods.

These foods fall into three categories—

Foods that are intrinsically moistening, like sugar and sweet foods. The sweet taste is made of water and earth in Ayurveda. Sweet foods are nourishing and moistening. They even may make your mouth feel moistened.

Sweet foods include

All sweeteners

All starches

Most dairy (which contains lactose sugar)

Much flesh food

Alcoholic beverages, especially wine and beer

All fruit

Obviously you want to eat some fruit, but choose wisely from less sweet choices.

—Foods that are naturally cooling, like cucumber, watermelon, coconut, pork and milk.

Cooling foods (this is not related to cooked or refrigerated, but refers to an innate quality) are foods which are either

Cooling in hot weather like watermelon and milk.

Nourishing to the Yin, like pork or jelly fish, which nourishes the yin, because it is not warming the way chicken and fish are. Pork can have therapeutic value under the right conditions of pathological dryness and weakness.

All non-cultured dairy is cooling, coconut water and most fruits are cooling (indeed coconut water is extremely cooling—no one drinks it in winter or the rainy season in India), and wheat is cooling, and also, heavy, grain.

Cooling foods are damp producing because your body has to provide fire to bring them up to the warm temperature of digestion. Digestion is a warm process which is slowed by cool foods, just as fire is reduced by the cool chill of rain. Cold in nature inhibits movement and life itself, there is little life at the poles; the tropics are gushing with life. You put an ice pack on a bruise to inhibit movement of fluids and blood. But everything that promotes digestion does so by increase movement, peristalsis, secretion of enzymes, etc.

—Foods that are heavy, like beef, cheese, wheat, bread, lamb and fatty foods like deep fried foods.

Heavy foods create pathological dampness in the body by overwhelming the digestive fire. We all know what it feels like to overeat. You feel heavy, you belch and taste the food coming back up, you feel sluggish and don’t want to move. Isn’t that just like a bog of mud in nature?

Its fine to have small amounts of heavy foods—but notice how the Chinese eat beef—chopped into small slices with spices like ginger and LOTS of vegetables, alongside a non-damp producing grain like rice. Indeed, in my Chinese herbal medicine texts, many of the case studies for damp-type digestive disorder were cases in which folk had overrated wheat buns…because wheat is both heavy and cooling. This is why bread in general is damp producing, less so when sour dough.

Its worth noting that Qi is the “commander” of Blood and Fluids. Its because of good Qi flow in the body that there is good circulation. This is why stress and psychic tension can inhibit circulation, such as you see with tension headache, migraine, and raynauld’s disorder. The inhibit the flow of Qi. But heavy food does the same, by forcing the Qi of the gut to work harder, then temporarily there is less Qi for the rest of the body. When eaten over and over again heavy food leads to more pervasive stagnation of fluids in the body.

What You Should Eat to Remove Pathological Dampness from the body


–A variety of immune and digestive fire enhancing spices and herbs, especially when eating heavier or cooler foods.

e.g. Thyme/Zatar with bread and olive oil, or with feta cheese.

e.g. Chile or Curry spices with flesh foods


–an array of vegetables every day.

e.g. leafy greens or cruciferous vegetables with flesh foods

–lighter grains like rice, millet, quinoa, and rye in place of wheat

The above dietary restrictions are generally accurate for any condition of pathological dampness, including the examples given in this article. But there is very specific fine tuning for each individual disorder and each individual person.

copyright eyton shalom, san diego ca january 2017 all rights reserved.

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