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Hot Enough For You?

by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.

It seems that everyone is talking about the weather these days. We all know that summer is the season of heat. This is great if you want to go swimming, or play in the river, but it can be quite distracting if you are doing most other outdoor activities. Chinese medicine focuses a lot of attention on the internal body temperature. Unlike the western approach of using a thermometer to determine the body temperature, Chinese medicine pays greater attention to how a person feels subjectively about their temperature. In other words, does a patient feel hot or cold, or are they generally comfortable. Temperature is such an important subject in Chinese medical treatment, that it is one of the primary 8 principles used to diagnose and treat any illness.

On hot days, it is natural to feel warmer in response to the temperature of our surrounding. It is also expected that when the weather turns cooler our bodies would feel cooler as well. But these tendencies can be influenced by our internal balance. If we are cold internally, than colder weather can exacerbate cold symptoms, leading to a feeling of chilliness, nasal discharge, frequent colds, diarrhea, frequent urination, or digestive problems. If we have “internal heat” in the body, then the warm days may effect us more intensely, leading to symptoms of headaches, increased sweating, red eyes, irritability, dryness, skin rashes/itchiness, constipation, urinary difficulty, digestive complaints, or bleeding problems.

Though many of us consider air conditioning or cold drinks the only way to beat the heat on midsummer days, Chinese medicine offers ways to diminish the heat from the inside out. We look to diet, acupuncture and herbs to help deal with the extra heat in the body that makes us feel warmer. Many of us are somewhat familiar with a few ways that diet can effect body temperature, because we tend to crave foods that are appropriate for the season. Cooling foods such as cucumbers, watermelon, raw veggies, and leafy greens, and limited dairy products can be very helpful in cooling down the body naturally. Acupuncture is also very effective at clearing heat, in the same way that opening a window of a stuffy house can clear heat from the house. By opening upcertain acupuncture points where heat tends to collect, a good deal of heat can be cleared from the body, We also use acupuncture to move stagnation that can increase heat in teh body. This can be illustrated by looking at water. IF water is in a puddle or bog, it tends to heat up rather quickly when exposed to the sun; if water is moving in a river or stream, than the temperature stays cooler. By keeping the “qi” or energy of the body moving freely, a lot of heat can be cleared from the body. If a heat condition is more severe, and acupuncture and diet alone don’t fully resolve the issue, Chinese herbs can be used to clear heat and move stagnation that leads to heat. We use herbs to vent heat through the pores, or to guide out the heat through the urine and feces.

While most of us believe that air conditioning or swimming are the only ways to stay cool on hot summer days, Chinese medicine can be a very effective way to lower our internal thermostat and enjoy a much cooler and more comfortable summer.