Learn about the nine body compositions ― each reflecting a different state of health ― in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

healthy couple jogging

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the body constitution (TCMBC or ) reflects our unique physical, physiological and psychological functions. It stems from our parents’ prenatal essence and the postnatal essence we acquire in life.

One’s physical traits, psychological character, emotional status, lifestyle habits, diet and living environment influence our TCMBC. The nine subtypes of TCMBC are unique in their own ways.

You can achieve optimal health and prevent diseases if you understand your body constitution and adopt the relevant lifestyle changes.

1. Balanced ― Reflects optimal health

Characteristics: Toned body, radiant skin, thick, shiny hair, good stamina and appetite, has regular bowel movements and adapts well to different surroundings and climate changes.
Enhance your health: Eat in moderation, do not overindulge in cold or very hot food; consume more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and less greasy and spicy food. Engage in exercises such as jogging, brisk walking, tai chi and ball games.

2. Inherited Special Constitution ― Prone to allergies

Characteristics: Allergic to pollen, certain food odours, food and medicine. Some may also suffer from nose congestion, itching, sneezing and runny nose unrelated to the flu. They also tend to have conditions like asthma.
Enhance your health: Improve qi and nourish the blood to remove wind in the body. Avoid contact with possible allergens. Eat a good mix of vegetables and meat, with more brown rice and leafy vegetables. Honey, dates, enoki mushrooms and carrots can help fight allergies. Cut back on tea, buckwheat, fava beans, white hyacinth beans, beef and goose meat. Note that spicy and stimulating food such as mutton and seafood can aggravate your condition.

One’s physical traits, psychological character, emotional status, lifestyle habits, diet and living environment influence our TCMBC.

3. Dampness-heat ― Acne-prone

Characteristics: An oily face, frequent acne breakouts, constant thirst and a bitter taste in mouth, a sense of heaviness in the body, difficult bowel movements, leukorrhea (white vaginal discharge). Easily agitated and not adaptable to hot and humid climates.
Enhance your health: Do activities to regulate the flow of qi in the liver and gall bladder organ systems, so as to clear heat and dampness in the body. Consume food that is sweet and cooling or balanced, such as green beans, water spinach, celery, cucumber, winter melon, watermelon, lotus root, and light food like barley and red bean porridge. Avoid smoking or drinking, and late nights.

4. Yang deficiency ― Feels perpetually cold

Characteristics: Cold limbs, a tendency to feel cold more than others, usually full-figured, has lustreless complexion, suffers from hair loss, lethargy, is prone to water retention and diarrhoea. Such individuals are usually quiet and shy, and prefer hot meals and summer over winter.
Enhance your health: Nourish the qi and keep warm. Consume warm food such as chestnuts, red dates, walnuts, cashew nuts, pine nuts, onions, ginger, garlic, mutton, beef, chicken, prawns, sea cucumber and abalone. Eat less cooling food like cucumber, bitter gourd, lotus root, pear and watermelon.


Sick woman with cold

5. Qi deficiency ― Easily exhausted with poor immunity

Characteristics: Soft-spoken, easily out of breath and tends to be quiet. This individual is prone to exhaustion and colds. Some are introverts who are risk averse, do not adapt well to sudden climate changes, and are predisposed to conditions like organ prolapse.
Enhance your health: Nourish the qi and strengthen the spleen organ system. Foods that are good include glutinous rice, sweet potato, barley, mushrooms, dates, honey, chicken and beef. Avoid overexertion that could disrupt the qi; engage in gentle exercises like brisk walking and tai chi.

6. Yin deficiency ― Feels warm and hot

Characteristics: Dry mouth and throat, warm, feverish palms and soles, skinny appearance, always thirsty and prefers cold drinks, dislikes hot and humid climate. These individuals can be more impatient extroverts with a bubbly character.
Enhance your health: Consume sweet and cooling food which hydrates the body. Eat more duck, sea cucumber, snow pear, white and black fungus, Chinese wolfberry and fish. Fresh lotus root is good for women who suffer from a yin deficiency. Afternoon naps are encouraged. Avoid excessive sweating when exercising and stay hydrated.

[If your body type is phlegm dampness] Consume food and engage in activities that help improve the spleen and stomach organ systems... Consume less fatty meat, and sweet and oily food. Maintain a good mood and avoid emotional disturbances.

7. Phlegm dampness ― The Marshmallow

Characteristics: Overweight, with dull facial complexion, often experiences stickiness in the mouth and heaviness in the limbs, tends to indulge in greasy food as well as alcohol. These individuals are typically mild-mannered and patient, and are averse to damp environments. Enhance your health: Consume food and engage in activities that help improve the spleen and stomach organ systems. Eat more corn, millet, barley, oats, soybean, red bean, tofu, sea cucumber, prawns, Japanese rhizome (huai shan), radish, celery and apples. Consume less fatty meat, and sweet and oily food. Maintain a good mood and avoid emotional disturbances.

8. Qi stagnation ― Moodiness

Characteristics: Thin and frail looking, a tendency to overthink and feel unhappy, and worries too much. This individual is typically an introvert who often feels depressed, sighs frequently and is unable to let go of the past. They adapt poorly to mental stimulation, dislike rainy and gloomy weather and are prone to conditions like hysteria and globus hysteriocus (lumpy sensation in the throat with no visible physical changes). Physically, they also tend to be bloated at the sides and belly.
Enhance your health: As moodiness is closely related to the liver organ system in TCM, try to disperse the liver and improve the flow of qi. Don’t be isolated, join more social activities and practise lifelong learning. Diet-wise, eat more millet, kelp, seaweed, radish, kumquat, pomelo, kiwi, hawthorn berry and deep-sea fish.

9. Blood stasis – Dull complexion, experiences pain

Characteristics: Dull and dark skin, dark lips, dark undereye rings, frequent pigmentation, bruises easily, engorged veins beneath the tongue. Easily agitated, forgetful, cannot endure cold environments, and susceptible to lumps in the body and circulatory conditions.
Enhance your health: Eat black beans, black fungus, hawthorn berry, radish, onion, garlic, ginger, mushroom, seaweed, vinegar and rose tea. Cut back on fatty food, sweets and cold drinks. Be more active, but exercise in moderation, keep warm and avoid the cold by relying less on air conditioning.

Physician Lai Ming Woan practises at Thomson Chinese Medicine at Waterway Point.

This article first appeared in the February/March 2019 issue of Thomson Medical’s Celebrating Life magazine.

Photos: iStock

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