Mindy* is an athletic woman who has been coming to me for wellness acupuncture for years. In her mid-fifties, Mindy is concerned about eating well and getting enough exercise to maintain her health. Unfortunately, Mindy’s diet could use some help. Despite my repeated urgings, Mindy has the notion that all fats are bad and should be avoided at all costs. This black and white idea that a food is all good or all bad has its consequences, and for Mindy, the result is readily apparent in her skin. Without the moisturizing effects of dietary oils and fats, Mindy’s skin is so dried out, that she reminds me of a raisin. Hers is not just dry skin that needs a little lotion; her face and the skin all over her body are desiccated and deeply wrinkled.
In Chinese medicine, your internal body can become too dry—not just your skin. Your acupuncturist may call it damage to the body’s fluids or a dryness pathogen, and it simply means that your body is lacking moisture.
The moisture in your body is considered a Yin substance in that it’s cooling, nourishing, and…well, moisturizing. Your body needs this moisture for every aspect of good health, from moistening your lungs to lubricating your joints and smoothing the passage of food through your digestive system.
As a pathogen (something that can make you sick), dryness can manifest with a variety of symptoms, including constipation; a dry sore throat; dry mouth, nose or eyes; cough; joint problems; indigestion; and fever.
While being well-hydrated helps, the solution to damaged fluids goes beyond drinking more water. For example, if someone has constipation from dryness, drinking more water will help a little. However that person will need to eat more moisturizing foods too, to moisten their intestines and relieve the constipation. This is similar to the difference between putting water on your dry skin (it briefly moistens) and applying a lotion or oil, which nourishes and moisturizes your skin in the long term.
To gently moisten overall dryness, try some of the following tips:
-Your body needs a certain amount of fat to be healthy. Some good fats include flax seed oil, olive oil and canola oil. Aim for eating more plant based fats, such as avocadoes, olives, and nuts.
-Seeds and nuts are especially moisturizing. Walnuts are commonly used in Chinese medicine to relieve constipation due to dryness. Choose a variety, and try to avoid those nuts and seeds that have been processed with other oils.
-Most fruits moisten dryness. For dry lungs, choose apples and pears. In general, the darkly colored fruits and vegetables nourish Yin and build up fluids in your body.
-Make sure you’re getting enough water. While water can’t really undo damage caused by dryness, becoming dehydrated will only make the problem worse.
-Make sure your house is hydrated, too. If you live in a dry climate or have the heat on in the winter, your surroundings are dry. Get some plants, set up an indoor fountain, boil water, or get a humidifier to put some moisture in the air.
*Names and identifying details have been changed.