I have noticed all along that I would have a
favorable response to a certain food or herb at one time and a not so
favorable or even opposite response at another time. Consequently, I was
For those new to TCM it is a given that diet and herbal strategies need to
change according to the seasons. For example, I am very Cold. I require
more warming foods and herbs in the winter than in the summer. It's so cold
in the winter that I need extra to help me. But the same amount taken in
the summer warms me too much.
I tend to have more trouble with certain foods in the spring than at other
times of the year. I do have some food allergies. They're a lot milder
than they used to be. But sometimes I do run into problems with certain
foods. This is more likely to happen in the spring because Wind is the
predominate atmospheric condition at this time of year, and Wind can worsen
existing allergies and possibly can play a role in the tendency to develop
new allergies. Foods that can be eaten okay with no noticeable effects at
other times once again start to cause problems in the spring if I am not
Dampness is another factor that one has to watch out for. Some "allergies"
actually are reactions due to the foods increasing Dampness in the body.
External Dampness can invade to the Interior and damage the Spleen. The
Spleen hates Dampness. The Spleen doesn't work as well when it's under
attack by Dampness. The Spleen not working well can trigger even more
Dampness arising internally in addition to the Dampness which is invading
from the Exterior. Foods which engender Dampness - like milk, dairy
products, wheat, oranges, etc. - that can be eaten ok when it's fairly dry
can cause problems in people whose Spleen already isn't up to par when eaten
during damp periods of the year. Especially when it's cold and damp. (The
Spleen also doesn't like cold. Dampness bothers it the most, but Cold comes
in a close second.
The predominate atmospheric energies are Wind in the spring (Wood - Liver &
Gall Bladder are the most vulnerable), Heat in the early summer (Fire - Heart,
Small Intestine, Pericardium, Triple Heater), Dampness in late summer
(Earth, Stomach and Spleen), Dryness in the fall (Metal, Lungs and Large
Intestine), and Cold in the winter (Water, kidneys & Bladder).
Western medicine, recognizes that checks and balances exist in the body.
One of the checks and balances recognized in TCM is the Victor-Vanquished
relationship. What this says it that each Element controls another. These
Wood (Liv, GB) controls Earth (Sp, St)
Fire (Ht, SI) controls Metal (Lu, LI)
Earth (Sp, St) controls Water (Kd, Bl)
Metal (Lu, LI) controls Wood (Lv, GB)
Water (Kd, Bl) controls Fire (Ht, SI)
If Wood is too "strong", Earth will be
over controlled. If Wood is too "weak", Earth will be out of control.
Some people have imbalances in the Spleen because of problems in the Spleen.
Simply supplementing with Spleen-strengthen foods and herbs will help
these people. End of problem. BUT, sometimes the reason the Spleen is
"weak" is not because of something in the Spleen but because the Liver is
too "strong". In these cases just giving Spleen-strengthening herbs and
foods to the person is going to be like continuously bailing a leaky
rowboat. You have to keep bailing until the leak is plugged. In this case
the "leak" is that the Liver is too "strong". It's suppressing the Spleen,
not allowing it to perform in tiptop shape. It's not enough in these cases
just to tonify the Spleen, you also have to sedate the Liver. Calm that
Liver down some so it's not a control freak overcontrolling and suppressing
Wood overacting on Earth (the terminology for it in the Elemental approach
to diagnosis) is the same thing as Liver Invading the Spleen (the term for
it in the Organ Analysis approach).
Each of the 5 main tastes have an affinity for different Elements and
Organs. The sour taste has an affinity for Wood (Lv, GB), bitter for Fire
(Ht, SI), sweet for Earth (Sp, St), acrid or pungent or spicy for Metal (Lu,
LI), and salty for Water (Kd, Bl). If an Organ gets too much or too little
of what it needs, it can run into problems. For example, cut too far back
on salt, and a person can run into some major problems like the loss of too
much fluid through the urinary system. But load up on too much salt, and it
can be damaging to the heart. Water (Kd) controls Fire (Ht). When a person
consumes too much salt, water literally is in excess and the heart can be
stressed as a result.
In addition, each taste has certain properties. The sour taste tends to
generate fluids and Yin, and it also "plugs leaks" (can be good for
excessive sweating, diarrhea, etc.). Wood (Lv) controls Earth (Sp). The Spleen plays a major role in the transformation
and transportation of food and drink. Translation: When the Spleen is weak,
one possible symptom is Dampness accumulates. The last thing a person with
Dampness problems needs is something that generates fluids.
The bitter taste tends to clear Heat, to sedate, and to harden. It also
tends to clear Damp Heat and to subdue rebellious Qi. Fire (Ht, SI)
controls Metal (Lu, LI). Too many bitter herbs can trigger problems in the
Lungs. The bitter taste tends to be drying. Even though the Lungs don't
like to be Damp, they also don't like to be too dry.
The sweet taste "tonifies, balances, and moderates. It is used to tonify
deficiency and to stop pain." (Maciocia, Foundations, p. 33) Earth (Sp, St)
controls Water (Kd, Bl). Think of the urinary problems diabetics have when
you think of this relationship.
"The pungent taste scatters, and is used to expel pathogenic factors."
(Maciocia, p. 33). Think of the spices in the spice section of the
supermarket. They're warming in nature and can be great for people who are
too Cold but hard on people who are too Hot. Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, etc.
Metal is the Mother of Water, and these spices can be godsends to people who
are too Cold because of Kidney Yang Deficiency. But heat has a tendency to
rise. Eat too many foods and herbs with the spicy taste, and the Lungs can
accumulate too much Heat. Metal (Lu, LI) controls Wood (Lv, GB).
"The salty taste flows downward, softens hardness and is used to treat
constipation and swelling.") (Maciocia, p. 33). This action may be described biomedically as the osmotic gradient that is created when salt passes through the large intestine. This draws fluids back into the LI ( or prevents them from leaving) and that assists patients with constipation in which the stools come out hard and dry. The salty flavor will moisten those dry stools.
One of the TCM concepts of diet is that one should eat food which has the
energy of that season in order to be in tune with that season. Thus, one
should eat some cold foods and salty foods in the winter in order to partake
of the energy of that season (and head off problems that can arise later).
Yang energy is increasing in the spring so eat Yang foods. But, it's also
important to correct personal deficiencies. A person who is too Cold needs
warming energy; a person who is too Hot needs cooling energy, regardless of
what the season is.
The Chinese concept of a balanced diet is one that includes all 5 tastes at
each meal. The ratio of these tastes will depend on the individual's needs.
For example, even though I include all 5 tastes, I need to go heavily on
spicy (warms me up) and salty. Many years ago I cut back on salt because of
all the bad PR salt got. This is a definite no-no for someone like me who
has CFIDS. Many CFIDS patients report that increasing salt in their diet
helps them to feel better. Most PWCs have Kidney imbalance and need to
tonify the Kidneys.
One TCM diet concept I personally disagree with is the prohibition against
raw foods. One can go overboard with raw food, but even though I have a
weak Spleen, there is something that a salad provides for me that helps me
to feel better the next day even though I'm so Yang Deficient and raw foods
tend to be Yin. I just don't go overboard. I also sprinkle cayenne pepper
on my salad dressing. This works real well for me. Some people can NOT
handle raw foods, and there is nothing healthy about raw foods for them.
Other people do benefit from raw fruits and veggies in moderation. I have
known people who could handle raw food some of the time, but not at other
time. Some of them could tell ahead of time if raw food was going to bother
Beginners will benefit from starting to memorize these correspondences like
Wood - Liver - Gall Bladder - Spring - anger - sour taste, etc. Directions
also are associated with Elements: The East is Wood and the Green Dragon,
South is Fire and the Red Phoenix, Middle (or center) is Earth, West is
Metal and the White Tiger, and North is Water and the Black Tortoise. These
color correspondences also will be helpful in diagnosis. Very often people
with greenish skin tones will be suffering from Liver imbalance. Black or
dark tones in the complexion very often will be a sign of Kidney imbalance.
And so on.
The really weird thing is that directions can be diagnostic too. I can't
explain this, there is no logical Western explanation for it, but it happens
sometimes. Some people - not all - will feel uncomfortable when they sit in
a certain quarter. For example, people with Liver imbalances sometimes will
feel uncomfortable when they sit "in the East" (back to the East and facing
West). If they have a choice of seats, they will not choose the one on the
West side of the table or room. Sometimes when a person meditates in the 4
quarters, testing sitting in the East, South, West, and North, they discover
that some quarters feel uncomfortable to them and some feel more comfortable
than the others. Sometimes this discomfort can indicate imbalance in an
Element. There's no rational explanation for it, but it happens.