I tell all of my patients who suffer from chronic sinus congestion to give up dairy. Many cringe and ask if it’s truly necessary. Does it really make them more congested? Has there been any true biomedical evidence of this? I tell them to run their own experiment. Give it up for a few weeks and see how they feel. Here is an explanation in terms of my understanding of Chinese medicine.
I think this is becoming more of a problem because of the quality of our dairy products themselves and the copious amounts of sugar in our diets. In Chinese medicine the spleen qi is responsible for the transportation and transformation of fluids in the body. If this function is inhibited a state called “dampness” in the body is produced. This produces symptoms such as lethargy, trouble focusing, and heaviness in the limbs. As the dampness settles and stagnates it turns into phlegm which may manifest as chronic sinus pressure, post nasal drip and congestion. Some factors that weaken the spleen qi include a diet high in refined sugars, dairy and raw foods as well as a tendency to worry and ruminate when under stress and sitting for long hours concentrating or working.
The spleen and stomach are yin-yang paired organs that work best under a warm and dry energetic conditions. Think of a pot containing water on the stove as your stomach and the heat that you apply as your spleen qi. When you have sufficient heat (spleen qi) some of the water will start to evaporate. Now imagine the following:
You add ice water to the pot: What happens? It cools everything down. You have to add more heat (spleen qi) to get the water back up to a simmer. This is what happens when you drink something cold with meals. You are using more spleen qi and making your body work harder to digest your food which may result in symptoms of gas and bloating. This is ok in the short term if you have sufficient spleen qi to draw from. If not, you may start to develop chronic digestive problems. What to do? Avoid ice water with meals and drink warm temperature fluids between meals. Avoid raw vegetables in cold weather and end the meal with ginger tea as that helps to aid digestion.
You add large amount of sugar to the pot: The contents of the pot will start to thicken into a viscous syrup. You turn up the heat but it just makes things worse. Over time there’s no more heat to add. The spleen qi has been exhausted. This is what happens when you eat a lot of sugar. Everything slows down and feels heavy. No fluids are evaporating they are congealing and settling into the tissues and sinuses creating pressure, pain, and making it difficult to move and concentrate.
You add dairy to the pot: Now you’ve made caramel in your head! Everything is stuck. There is no longer any transformation of fluids because it’s all a solid goo. You may even notice that in addition to the thick yellow mucous in your sinuses, your digestion has slowed and you’ve become constipated.
Try to source your dairy from pasture raised animals on local farms. It is more expensive but you won't be eating as much anymore anyway. Quality over quantity. I’m not suggesting that you have to give up dairy entirely. I love pizza and ice cream as much as everyone else. I am suggesting to use food as medicine, especially when you’re not feeling well. Dairy should be avoided when you are coughing up and blowing out copious amounts of phlegm. Variety is important in your diet, anyway! Try hemp seed or almond milk instead of cow’s milk. Try coconut oil instead of butter. Try probiotics instead of yogurt. There are many of other non-dairy sources of calcium as well.
So the next time you pour that glass of milk or cut that slice of cheese ask yourself, “Is this going to make my condition better or worse?”