Category Archives: TCM Diagnosis



In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Damp and Phlegm are on a continuum Think of Damp as a mild spring day with an overcast sky. Think of Phlegm as thick fog.

Damp and Phlegm are excesses that have root causes. Either the cause is a weakness of the digestive system (Spleen Qi deficiency) or the condition is caused by too much of the wrong type of food.

When Damp assumes substance it becomes Phlegm. Usually that means something like extra pounds, thick drainage, or even soft nodules. In rare cases, the Phlegm can be invisible. Those people will have problems apprehending the world clearly. They can have difficulty concentrating, or in extreme cases, psychiatric problems.

Overweight people often skip breakfast, because they aren’t hungry. They may even feel slightly nauseated. The phlegm obstructs the natural hunger response.

Begin by reading the dietary recommendations listed for Spleen Qi deficiency, including breakfast suggestions. Please do not eat yogurt or cheese for breakfast.

Green tea can help with the muzzy-headed feeling.

Foods to be Avoided:

Avoid dairy, including milk. If you must have some cheese, then have a bit of goats-milk cheese or feta. Unfortunately, soy products and soy milk, as well as peanuts, also make Damp worse. Use grain such amaranth, or cooked lentils, to meet your protein requirements. Seeds can also be combined with vegetables to add protein. For instance, add sunflower seeds to salads and Muesli. If you eat meat or chicken, avoid fatty cuts and remove the skin. Butter and most oils should also be eliminated.

Refined sugar destabilizes the blood-sugar levels, making us hungry, which makes us eat again. Try to save refined sugar for an occasional treat.

Foods with Diuretic Properties

Alfalfa, parsley, radishes, celery, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, and kelp all drain damp, through their diuretic properties.

If the damp has already progressed to phlegm, don’t expect instantaneous results. TCM herbal therapy can be helpful, when used over a period of time, in conjunction with life style changes. Phlegm will make you feel lethargic, and your limbs might feel heavy, but exercise is a must.


Full Heat

Full Heat

Full-Heat Syndromes aren’t often seen in the West in the TCM Clinic. Originally, the Syndrome described what we would now call an infectious disease.

A person with a strong constitution, that is, someone robust, with lots of energy, will manifest full heat when they get sick. The body’s response to disease means that the course of the disease is usually short. In the past, the person would get better quickly, or die. Now, of course, they’ll be given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, which are stronger than TCM treatments.

Some older men manifest Full-Heat as well. Their high level of energy and strong appetites mean that they build up more and more heat. As they work harder, they eat and drink more to keep going. The classic hypertensive, with a red face, a pounding pulse, and an impatient nature, manifests Full-Heat.

If the Full-Heat is the result of long-term inflammation or alcohol and caffeine abuse, anti-inflammatories and steroids are not a long-term solution.

In addition to lifestyle changes, acupuncture, herbal therapy, and in some cases, psychotherapy, bitter greens and other foods can be helpful. Red meat and caffeine drinks should be eliminated. People with excessive heat can fast with juices or eat raw foods for a short period of time to detoxify.

Foods to clear heat:

Arugula, mung bean sprouts, cucumber, pomegranate juice, daikon, sorrel, dock, rye-bread, apple cider vinegar, berries.

Gabrielle’s anti-inflammatory cocktail

One cup organic tomato juice

1 gram organic curcuma * (espresso spoon full)

A few shakes freshly milled black pepper

A few drops olive oil

1 tbsp. umeboshi seasoning**

If desired, add Brewers Yeast for B Vitamins. Mix together and enjoy.

*Curcuma, known as Jiang Huang in TCM herbal therapy, is a strong anti-inflammatory which also has anti-cancer properties. As David Servan-Schreiber Md, explains in his book, “Das Antikrebs-Buch”, curcuma can’t be absorbed well unless it’s consumed with pepper and a little oil (as in a traditional Indian curry.)
** Umeboshi is a type of pickled plum from Japan. Vital Punkt on St. Leonhardstrasse sells Lima Ume Su seasoning.







Empty Heat

Empty Heat (Yin deficiency)

To understand the concept of Empty Heat, you first have to understand the concept of Yin. Yin is deep, earthy, and moist. In Chinese medicine, Yin describes the fluid, and substantial aspects of our bodies. As we age, our Yin decreases. When our Yin is insufficient to balance our Yang, the Yang heat-generating aspects of our body predominate. This can account for symptoms such as night-sweats or restlessness.

The recommended diet consists of 5% white meat such as poultry or fish, 30% cooked vegetables, 40% grains, 20% fruit and salad, and 5% milk products. If you tolerate dairy well, you can try a bit more,


  1. Food preparation is important. Steaming foods, or making stews, is the best method. Steamed vegetables can also be mixed into raw salads, and Muesli can be made with raw, grated fruit.
  2. Some Yin-nourishing foods are honey (a small amount), walnuts, black sesame, tofu, seafood, and berries.
  3. Black tea, and especially coffee, should be avoided. Don’t drink more than a cup or two of green tea. If you feel dry, pear juice is moistening. Grape juice, fruit tea, or yoghurt drinks like Lassi are good.
  4. For night sweats and sleeping problems, you can prepare wheat water. Use two tablespoons wheat berries and cook them in ½ a Liter of water for 20 minutes. Sieve and drink cool.
  5. Exercising excessively to stay very thin contributes to Yin deficiency, as does sleeping too little. Contemplative exercises such as yoga or tai-chi are suggested instead.

Blood Deficiency

Qi and/or Blood deficiency

Without a list of symptoms, it’s sometimes hard for the practitioner to distinguish between Qi and Blood deficiency. Women tend towards Blood-Deficiency. In Western Medicine, an actual blood deficiency is known as anemia. Though the TCM term Blood Deficiency includes this, it expands on the concept, to include other maladies.

The suggested diet consists of 5% meat, 30% cooked vegetables, 40% grains, 10% milk products, and 15% fruit and salads.


  • An exclusively vegetarian die is not recommended for Blood deficiency. If you would like to avoid meat and fish because of moral reasons, eggs, seitan, and tofu are important elements of the diet. If you don’t wish to get a TCM herbal formula, preparations such as Floradex can be helpful.
  • Eat lots of dark green vegetables such as chard and spinach. Eat red and purple fruits and vegetables such as red cabbage, beets, blackberries, and red grapes.
  • Meat should be prepared in such a way as to be easily digestible. More than 50 to 70 grams at one time can be too much for your digestion. Marinades such as apple cider vinegar (diluted 1:2 with water), tomato juice, wine, or lemon juice help break down the protein chains for better assimilation.
  • Heavy menses are often the cause of Blood deficiency. If you want to avoid the Pill and other pharmaceuticals, acupuncture and herbs can be helpful.

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Spleen Qi deficiency? Sounds pretty strange. The spleen is one the left side of the body, and sequesters red blood cells.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the term “Spleen Qi deficiency” is synonymous with digestive difficulties. In addition to our ancestral energy, which can be understood as “DNA”, we have only two sources available for energy—air and food.

If our digestive capacity is impaired, chances are good we’ll feel foggy-headed and tired.

With this diagnosis, it’s important to watch one’s eating habits.

  • Warm Breakfast: Warm breakfasts are recommended. That does not mean a cinnamon sticky bun right from the microwave! Rice or millet cooked with a stewed apple, some raisins, nuts and cinnamon can be warmed and eaten. Warm, slightly sweetened polenta with stewed fruits is another alternative.
  • Drink warm or room-temperature drinks. Ginger tea is very good for this condition, especially when prepared with fresh ginger.
  • Especially avoid ice-cream or cold beer. Be careful with excessive sweets.




TCM Diagnosis

TCM Diagnosis – Diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM has been used for centuries, well before the advent of blood and urine laboratory measurements, imaging tests, and other diagnostics. Properly trained TCM practitioners use subtle indicators to come up with a proper TCM diagnosis. The diagnosis is especially important when making herbal preparations or giving life-style advice. It does to some extent influence the choice of acupuncture points as well.

Diagnosis is a complicated process that is learned in the first full-time year of school. It depends on a proper medical history, as well as skills TCM practitioners learn. From the tongue and quality of different pulse positions on the wrists, the diagnosis can be further refined. Some practitioners like myself also use abdominal palpation to diagnose.

At markets and fairs, I often offer tongue and pulse diagnosis. Of course this is not the same as a full workup, which take into account many other factors. Also, sometimes the pulse and tongue contradict each other. People are rarely textbook examples.

To simplify things for the lay person, I use only six categories, three deficiency categories and three excess categories. Deficiency simply means you have too little of something, and excess means you have too much of something. You can think of it as something like weather. For example, some people seem foggy, and often, their pulse and tongue diagnosis also corresponds with that, suggesting they have damp.

And this man…would you say he looks hot?

Like he’s about to explode…


I’m sorry to say this man is a serious contender in the U.S. presidential race.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we do say someone like that has Full Heat.

The next posts will present all six simplified categories, along with some simple lifestyle advice for each. You will note the word Qi. In this context, it can be simply translated as energy.

Deficiency Syndromes

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Qi and/or Blood Deficiency

Yin Deficiency (Empty Heat)

Excess Syndromes

Liver Qi Stagnation


Full Heat




The Water Type


Like the Wood type, Water types can be very determined and strong. But while Wood is all flash and dash, impatient to get to the goal, and never satisfied, a Water type moves forward very carefully. The Water type is inherently suspicious, and will ask the same question different ways to make sure he gets to the same conclusion.

Their deliberate, calm manner and assurance can conceal anxieties and irrational fears. While Earth Types may worry about the welfare of others, the Water type is concerned about danger. The fear they experience may be almost paralyzing, and extreme cases, Water types will have a stillness about them, and a monotonous, hushing voice, that suggests they wish to escape notice. Nevertheless, they have strong will-power and endurance, and usually get what they want.

A Water type will not seek out a direct confrontation. It would be more their way to be passive, and elusive. They’re comfortable working alone, and though they can work very hard, they need times of replenishment and withdrawal. Unlike the Metal Type that is drawn towards detail and complexity, the Water Type is engaged by the purity of simplicity.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidney and Bladder meridians are associated with the Water Element, and Water types may experience problems with their lower back, knees, or bones in general.

The TCM Bladder meridian follows all along the spine before it descends down the back of the legs, and ends at the little toe.

The following exercise was adapted from Pamela Ferguson’s book, “The Self-Shiatsu Handbook.” You can work along the Bladder meridian with your knuckles while standing, going all the way down to your sacrum. Even better is the position known as the Child’s Pose, in yoga. Your back will be naturally relaxed in this position, allowing you to work deeper.

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Water Type people:

Quiet but charismatic, the enigma of the water type: Liam Neeson