Summertime Pokes, Foods and Theory
Summer and Diet
Summer in Chinese medicine is governed by the element of Fire and is associated with the organs: Heart, Pericardium, Small Intestine, and Triple Burner/Sanjiao. The optimal balance of yin and yang during this season is to refrain from too much heat, so that your body preserves fluids. You should also stay away from too much cold so as not to release weakened fluids (i.e. no AC blasting and not too many icy cold drinks). A simple way to go about this is to eat seasonal foods like melons, apples, limes and lemons, or tofu and a spring mix, plus teas that use flowers and leaves, additionally seek out natural cooling places.
A meal during summer that contains too many cold, raw foods or excessive dairy, greasy, animal products or alcohol can cause a diagnosis in Chinese medicine called Damp Retention. Especially in the summer we like to emphasize on eating foods that are sautéed or steamed on high heat for a short period of time, and have a low fat intake to ward off dampness. Ideally you would need to avoid dairy, sugar, deep fried, and junk foods but understandably we are not all perfect. I often tell patients to balance out the damp with bitter and pungent flavored foods, like fresh herbs (parsley, dill, basil), onions, and fresh ginger.
Oftentimes patients ask if they should be eating spicy foods on a hot day; in short the answer is yes, but in moderation. These foods come from warm weather growing seasons, hence why seasonal foods such as peppers, ginger, and horseradish are at the local farmers market during summer months. But spicy creates warmth in the body and also disperses fluids–think of a cartoon character getting red and sweaty from eating the hottest pepper ever. This dispersal causes a mirroring effect allowing the body to cool and be stable with the climate, but if you eat spicy food too much you can lose that dispersing factor and you’ll find yourself not able to stay warm.
More Heat, More Problems
Some of the major chief complaints we see in the clinic due to heat, as we move our bodies, are acute or chronic pains. In theory, if heat expands then there would be more cause for muscle and tendon strains and old pains being highlighted.
Our mental health sees some imbalances as well, with summer being such a Yang energy–outward and expanding–time, the most common conditions that arise are insomnia, anxiety and depression.
Recall the diet tips we mentioned earlier. As that damp is retained it can impair the digestive functions and clients can experience general fatigue but also loose bowels, nausea, fullness and edema.
Dehydration is also fairly common, if a patient works outside they tend towards fluid depletion, so we prescribe a fairly common herbal formula, Sheng Mai San Pulsegenic for generating body fluids and “restoring the pulse.” You can almost think of this as a sports drink formula.
Skin rashes are also common due to the nature of the season, whether as a result of acute exposure or chronic conditions that become prevalent because of the hot temperatures. Again, think of those damp (i.e, sweating) and heat situations that can cause skin to become irritated–compared to say, winter when skin issues can arise from dryness. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are extremely beneficial at reducing inflammation (“clearing heat”).
Lastly, during the summer season, we often talk about how this is a great time to use acupuncture as prevention for fall allergies, we simply call it boosting your immunity or maintenance for seasonal allergies.
Other methods to combat summer heat and balance the meridians governed by this season is a simple meditation or chant or singing. Yes! The heart is a fire element that is most dominant during the summer and reflected in the awareness of one’s spoken word, our speech. A simple mantra that is spoken to yourself out loud in a calm position or chant/ song to be sung out loud benefits the heart and mind, try it! But also try not to be so eager to do it in our community room with other people.
Enjoy this season and stay cool, not cold, just cool