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Summer-Heat: Chinese Medicine and Seasonal Exposure

Exposure to the elements can be a significant contributing factor in illness and imbalance, but isn't one we often think about in modern times because we are indoors so much. Most of us are outdoors just minutes per day as we move between our car and various buildings with controlled environments. Air conditioning, central heating, and devices that control humidity help us modify our interior spaces, significantly neutralizing extremes in temperature and moisture. While inside we are also protected from major weather events like blizzards and hurricanes. During earlier times in human history, however, we spent much more time outdoors, and protecting ourselves from exposure was a daily concern. It is during this time that Chinese medicine was developed, so there is more of an understanding in this field about how environmental factors can contribute to illness and disease.

Summer Sun

Summer-heat is a seasonal condition that is caused by exposure to excessive heat and humidity. In western medicine this condition is called heat-exhaustion or, if more severe, heat-stroke. We are particularly susceptible to this and other types of exposure in modern times for three main reasons. One is that we spend so much time in controlled environments that we are actually less acclimated to the outdoors. Our bodies just aren't as practiced at neutralizing the effects of the elements, whatever they are. Another reason is that we don't know to prepare. For our ancestors, exposure was a real concern and they were faced with it on a much more regular basis. We, on the other hand, have become spoiled by easy access to artificial environments and can easily escape. Thinking about exposure is usually outside the scope of our day-to-day consciousness so we are less likely to do the things we need to do to protect ourselves. The third reason is that we have lost a lot of the general collective knowledge and awareness of what the early symptoms of exposure are so we are less likely to see the warning signs. Unless you were in the scouts or are trained in first aid, odds are you just don't know.

Summer-heat affects our bodies by causing them to overheat and dry out. The first signs of overheating are sweating and clammy, pale skin as our bodies attempt to release excess heat to help regulate our internal temperature. The heat makes our mouths dry and increases our thirst, causing us to crave the cooling fluids that we need. As our bodies dehydrate our blood volume actually decreases, leading to low blood pressure. Low blood pressure plus low blood volume means headaches and dizziness because we literally lack enough blood to nourish the uppermost reaches of our bodies. The effort to eliminate extreme amounts of heat through copious sweating saps our energy, causing fatigue and physical weakness. If a person with these symptoms does not rest, drink fluids, and remove themselves from the sun and heat, the condition may progress to the next level: poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dark urine. Though rare, this condition can even become so extreme that it is life-threatening.

The best treatment for summer-heat is prevention: dress lightly when it is hot out, don't exercise in the late afternoon when the temperature peaks, avoid extremes of heat and sun, and and stay hydrated. If you or someone you know starts to have early symptoms of summer-heat, lie them down in a cool and dark place and give them plenty of fluids. Fluids that contain electrolytes, like coconut water or sports drinks, are best at replacing both the water and salts that are lost to sweating. If symptoms progress to the next level, medical attention may be necessary. In western medicine the most common treatment would be re-hydration with fluids and electrolytes through an IV drip. In Chinese medicine acupuncture and herbs are used to reduce internal heat, promote moisture in the body, and give relief from symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Traditional southern remedies like iced honeysuckle flower tea re-hydrate us and cool us from the inside out. In Chinese medicine honeysuckle flower is considered to be so effective an herb for eliminating heat from the body that it is prescribed not just for summer-heat, but also for fevers, sore throats, inflamed sores, intestinal abscesses, and infectious dysentery. Watermelon is another important Chinese herb for summer-heat. The sugars in this fruit boost energy and the juiciness replenishes fluids. Watermelon is also loaded with electrolytes, especially the pulp that is closest to the rind, and promotes urination. This combination stimulates the urinary system to eliminate heat from the interior of the body out via the kidneys and bladder. Stay cool!

"I actually studied acupuncture myself, so I know a lot about the system and have been to a lot of practitioners. I have had a really good experience with Dr. Nancy and would recommend her to anyone. I really like that the treatment is individualized, and that she talks to you every time and doesn't make you feel like you are on an assembly line. Her needle treatments are individualized and powerful. And if she gives you herbs, they are included in the cost of treatment, which is really nice." ~Amy M.
Dr. Nancy Hyton
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
By Appointment M to F, 9:30 to 6:00
26 Fairfax Avenue, West Asheville, NC 28806
Text or Call (828) 606-6791
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