When treating children and babies, one of the most common complaints in the clinic is excessive phlegm.

Excess of this kind can be expressed in a large variety of symptoms and ailments – diarrhea, constipation, stomach aches and flatulence, regurgitation, vomiting, a runny nose, damp and abundant cough, bark-like cough, shortness of breath and asthma, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged adenoid, reoccurring ear and throat inflammations, fatigue, sluggishness, lack of concentration and confusion.

Children who suffer from phlegm are in a vicious cycle of reoccurring sickness. Often, after pharmaceutical intervention proves ineffective, parents despair and wonder how they can help their child break the constant chain of disease and develop better resistance and durability to illness. 

What is dampness and phlegm? Where and how are they created?

Dampness is an important component of our body fluids. It enables moistening, nourishment and lubrication of the different tissues of the body. This natural moisture is in a constant state of rejuvenation and dynamic movement, as part of the metabolism occurring in the blood, the digestive system and other tissues.

Excessive dampness is produced when the bodily fluids are not moving and renewing. Fluids can get stuck because of weakness of the digestive system in preforming metabolism of body fluids (digestion, transformation and transportation). Another reason can be the consumption of large quantities of thick foods and drinks, heavy and rich with damp (for example: peanuts, bananas and milk).

Over time, dampness contained in the body warms and dries up, becoming sticky and dense. This state is defined as Phlegm.

In conclusion, phlegm is the outcome of food not properly digested. The reasons for that may be:

  1. Weakness of the digestive system.
  2. Food difficult for digestion:for instance – heavy, cold or sticky foods or very wet or hard foods etc.
  3. Incorrect eating habits: for instance – eating before fully digesting the previous meal, constant snacking, drinking a large amount of water before a meal or eating complex meals with a large variety of foods.

How does nutrition effect babies and children?

Different foods have a strong influence on babies and children and can quickly and easily, throw them out of balance. Babies and children are more sensitive to the kinds of food they are exposed to.

We can generally classify the effect of foods into two major types: a cooling moistening effect (Yin) or a warming drying one (Yang).

All the systems of the human body are in a constant dynamic state of change and are seeking balance between the Yin and the Yang – warming and drying as opposed to cooling and moistening.

The force that enables the body systems to conduct the dynamic balance between these movements, is found in the food. There are foods that warm or cool, dry or moisten. Babies and children are very sensitive to these different qualities.

Babies and children develop patterns that resemble the qualities of the food they are given.

For instance, a child regularly consuming damp foods like ice cream and peanut butter snacks, will likely suffer from a runny nose and cough. A child regularly consuming heating foods like beef, eggs, fried foods and sharp spices will develop illness patterns of fever and inflammations with a tendency to restlessness and nervousness.

Food also has a similar effect when it comes indirectly to the baby – through nursing.  

Characteristics of the digestive system according to Chinese medicine

We can metaphorically say, that the digestive process is comparable to the process of cooking. Heat is required to knead the food, cook it in the stomach, disassemble it to small pieces and absorb the essential nutrients from the food into the body. Heat is also necessary in order to remove food waste from the body.

Without this crucial heat, the digestive process is damaged. As a result, all systems of the body are weakened since they are not provided with all the energy they need for proper function.

In addition to lack of energy, weak and cold digestion creates excessive damp and phlegm in the digestive system. The dampness and phlegm infiltrate the body and generate disease. These especially tend to accumulate in the respiratory system, causing conditions such as a runny nose as well as sever chronic diseases like asthma.

For this reason, cooked foods were always considered as strengthening foods and raw cold foods were found suitable for healthy children in the summer season. A popular example is that a weak person will be given steaming chicken soup and not a fruit salad.

The unique physiological characteristics of children 

It is of utmost importance, to nurture the strength of children’s digestive system for several reasons:

  1. Children are naturally and normally born with immature digestive system. That is why from the beginning they have weak digestion which is expressed as regurgitations, stomach aches and flatulence, changes in bowel movements, runny nose, frequent colds, cough and many common childhood illnesses. All of these are due to weak digestion and contribute to the creation of phlegm.
  2. Children are also born with immature immune system. The immune system needs strong digestion in order to get the energy it requires for its development.
  3. The growth and development of a baby, depends on strong digestion and optimal absorption in order to receive the building blocks for growth.

Expressions of excessive damp and phlegm in the respiratory system

  1. Runny nose: the more yellowish or greenish the mucus, the more progressed the condition is. It is also an indication of the involvement of hot phlegm.
  2. Cough: productive cough aims to remove dampness stuck in the respiratory system. Dry cough indicates contained sticky phlegm.
  3. Agitated breathing and shortness of breath.
  4. Reoccurring ear inflammations – children with ear inflammation, even if they don’t have a runny nose, usually suffer from advanced condition of phlegm.

There are four main food groups that encourage formation of damp and phlegm:

  1. Milk and dairy products.
  2. Oils and fats.
  3. Flours of different kinds.
  4. Sugar and sweets.

A good way to memorize this list is “Cheese Cake”, since it contains substances from all four phlegm producing food groups – cheese, butter, sugar and flour.

For part 2 of this article, Nutritional Treatment of Phlegm Condition in Children – Do’s and Don’ts, press here.

The information shown above is not a medical advice.  




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