April Crowell, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA CI & CP, CHN

We love our Summers and the sunshine here in Boise.  It’s time to be in the garden, rivers and mountains.  The temperature can swing nearly 40 degrees from sun up to sundown, and then there is that spell in July and August where it hangs out above 100 and never seems to cool off—ack, melt.  Occasionally, we spend too much time in the sun, or the season changes so rapidly that we have problems adapting. You may experience a little ‘Summer Heat’ invasion.

Each of the 5 Seasons in Chinese medicine has a climatic nature.  Spring relates to Wind, Autumn to Dryness, Winter to Cold, Late Summer  (the transition of seasons) relates to Dampness, and Summer corresponds to Heat. These climates are simply part of the  nature of the season and Chinese medicine practitioners observe these climatic influences and their behaviors in the body as they can become a source of disease or disharmony.  For example, Wind can be involved in many forms of headaches, allergies and palsies.  Any of these climatic conditions can pop up in any season due to rapid weather changes, change in location, etc.  Heat is most likely to affect us during the Summer and the Summer organs are most vulnerable to Heat, and the 6th Pernicious Influence–Summer Heat.

 Summer Heat is an exterior pathogen

Exterior pathogens or the 6 Pernicious Influences or 6 Evils are hot, cold, wind, damp, dry and summer heat.  They are acute in nature and come on quickly. They invade our bodies either because the pathogen is excessively strong compared to normal Wei Qi (immunity), like in the cases of plagues,  or our Wei Qi is too weak to fend off the invading factor, like those with chronically weak immune systems.  These patterns are acute and come on quickly.

Interior patterns are chronic, long term patterns that are generated by disharmonies within the body.  Eating too many hot foods can damage the Yin (cooling) of the body and lead to Heat.  Although there may be a bit of overlap, the treatment focus of interior vs exterior will be different. Interior patterns are long term, chronic conditions, although they may have first started out as an exterior pattern that wasn’t fully released from the system.

Wind, Heat, Dry, Damp, and Cold are terms that can be used to identify either an exterior or interior pattern.  The exception is Summer Heat, which is always an exterior invasion, though it may aggravate an existing interior heat pattern.  Fun, right? Read more on Exterior and Interior patterns here.

Summer Heat

Summer Heat occurs when the weather becomes hot rapidly or you’ve been out in the heat for too long.  Your system simply has problems trying to  handle the excess heat. In an extreme form, it can lead to what western medicine calls heat exhaustion or heat stroke.   Likely you’ve experienced it from long day at the pool or in the garden.  Here’s how you can tell if you are experiencing Summer Heat.

Summer Heat symptoms

  • Excess or absence of sweating
  • Fluctuating between fever and chills
  • Flesh will usually feels hot
  • Headache
  • Thirst
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Exhaustion
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Dry eyes, lips and throat
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Palpitations
  • Dream disturbed sleep

If Summer Heat isn’t resolved quickly we can see it can agitate the The Fire Element organs of Heart, Small Intestine, Triple Warmer and Pericardium.

The Chinese medicine practitioner will look for a rapid, full and floating pulse indicating and exterior heat invasion red tongue indicating heat in the body.

Heat stirs Heat

Like most patterns, Heat exists on a continuum from a mild to a raging Fire, and any sustained influx of Heat in the body will burn up the Yin (fluids) of the body.   Summer Heat is an exterior pattern, so it will come on quickly and it can whip up or aggravate any interior Heat or Fire pattern whether they are excess or deficient in nature. These patterns can include–menopause, diabetes, GallBladder or Liver heat patterns, post viral syndromes, or any pattern with hot flashes, high blood pressure, anxiety or any pattern of heat in the body. Any existing interior pattern of heat needs to be addressed through proper assessment and recommendation–so don’t wait for the exterior Heat to aggravate your interior Heat if you have it.

Cooling down Summer Heat

The protocol for treating Summer Heat is to cool or clear heat and nourish the Yin, or replenish the fluids.  The following recommendations are simple steps you can use to handle Summer Heat in the body.

Get out of the sun and slow down and cover up

Find some lovely shade and cool off—but not too much.  The nature of cold is to contract and tighten. Too much cold too quickly will contract the pores and stop sweat—keeping heat locked in the body.  Running into a house that is 40 degrees colder than the outside temperature will shock the system even further, so set your house temperature so it’s not so extreme a swing from the outdoors–better for you and the environment.  If this isn’t an option, cover up a little more in doors. If you stay outdoors, cover up with a hat and light shirt.

Hydrate with water

I know, duh, right?  However, you’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t reach for water during the heat. Drink plenty of cool or room temperature water, which can readily absorbed by your system.  Try to avoid cold or iced water. Excessively cold or iced drinks will chill your delicate tissues throat and Stomach too rapidly, and contracts the pores.   Your body will have to generate more heat to warm the water for absorption…thus heating you up more.  Truly water is the only drink we truly need. Make sure it’s filtered or from a good source. Avoid sugary or syrupy drinks that will dehydrate you further.  Add in cucumbers, a little lemon, rosemary and mint to help replenish Yin and refresh electrolytes.

To Sweat or Not To Sweat

Most hot climates use a fair amount of pungents to help the body sweat and move excess heat out of the core.  Think of Indian and Thai food. If you aren’t sweating use mild pungent foods gently to start sweat: cayenne, cinnamon, curry, pepper.  A little goes a long way.  If you are very thin and dehydrated, don’t go overboard. If you already sweat a lot (as in cases of menopause or hot flash) or have lost Blood, DO NOT induce more sweating.  You are losing too much Yin and fluids and we need to hydrate and maintain moisture. The ideal therapy would not be to drain out more fluids, which might mean you need to skip your hot yoga class.  Read more on pungents here.

Eat this…

All food that we eat creates a post-metabolic phenomenon in the body.  They heat or cool, move the Qi up or down and effect specific organs.  To treat Summer Heat we include more foods from the cold and cooling category while removing heat creating foods unless we use a little spice to sweat.  Eating a bit raw food, which is cooling in nature, unless you have a very weak digestive system.   However, eating foods at room temperature or slightly cooked will be easier for the digestive system to handle in this scenario.

  • All sea vegetables (sea weeds)
  • All micro algaes (spirulina, chlorella, etc)
  • All cereal grass greens (wheat and barley grass)
  • Flowers: chamomile, hibiscus, lavender, nasturtium, rose, and violet
  • Culinary Herbs: all mints, wintergreen,
  • Vegetables: all lettuces, cucumbers, green beans, peas, summer squash, sprouts, lotus root, rhubarb
  • Fruits: apples, blackberries, cantaloupe,  grapefruit, mulberries, lemon, lime, melons, pineapple, papaya, strawberry, watermelon,
  • Grains and legumes: mung beans, millet, amaranth, barley and soy beans
  • Other: aloe vera juice, salt and trace minerals

Not that…

What’s missing from the above list?  Animal protein, greasy, rich and fried foods. All animal flesh is warming to hot in nature, therefore best reduced or avoided in treating heat.  Heavy, greasy or fried foods will weigh down your system making you slow and sluggish and stagnate the Qi.  Watch out for too many nuts and seeds as they are dense and heavy–just a sprinkle here and there.  If you’ve been out in the heat too much pass on the burger and head to the salad greens and melons.  Excess sweets, meats and oils will stagnate the qi in the body. Basically, they are like an anchor in hot weather…tugging the energy down–ooff.

Get Amma, Acupuncture or herbal and nutritional help

Treatments are specifically focused to what the client has going on–in this case, release heat.  Points, therapy techniques and recommendations will focus on helping the body’s qi move properly to adapt to the heat and to release excess from the system—ahhh…  We also have some fantastic little formulas like Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan,  that treat summer heat invasion beautifully.  If you are prone to summer heat, stock up now.

Keep cool this summer!