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Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Managing the heat of summer with Traditional Chinese Medicine

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By Megan Odell, LAc, MS

Most of us in Minnesota welcome the heat as a time to get creative about staying cool – lake swimming, popsicles, complaining about another dramatic weather system. But hot weather can bring with it a series of symptoms.

Although this summer hasn’t been the hottest, July’s humid foray into the 90s brought with it a shift in patient complaints at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing clinic.

Suddenly I had more people complaining of seemingly mysterious fevers, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, dizziness and a heaviness of the head (or the whole body). Some also had respiratory issues that led them to believe they had caught a cold or flu, but most complained that their symptoms were “random” and seemed strange and unexpected to them.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) attributes these symptoms to an external cause called “Summer Heat.” Yes, that’s right. While Western medicine might ascribe the cause of a sickness or disease to a virus or bacteria, TCM attributes the causes of some disease to the external factors, or pathogens, of “Wind,” “Cold,” “Heat,” and “Dampness” – and we also have “Summer Heat.”

Summer Heat is characterized by sweltering heat outside, which then attacks the individual’s inside. In humid climates like Minnesota, the heat combines with dampness and creates the tell-tale pattern of symptoms I saw last week:

  • fever
  • heaviness in the head and body
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • stuffiness of the chest
  • dizziness
  • irritability.

This pattern can affect everyone but seems most prevalent in children, the elderly and 20-something apartment dwellers without air conditioning.

So what do you do if you experience these symptoms? First, make sure that you’re not suffering from other symptoms that might indicate you are actually suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke (fainting, dark-colored urine, rapid heart rate, confusion, throbbing headache, red and dry skin). Seek immediate medical attention if these occur.

Assuming that your situation is not this extreme, TCM focuses on cooling your body and expelling the pathogen. This can be done with acupuncture, certainly, but three of your best weapons are at the grocery store:

  • Watermelon: Enjoy the red flesh of the melon, but the most potent medicine can be found in the white part of the rind. Eat down into that as far as you can. This is a mild diuretic.
  • Mung Beans: These small green legumes originated in India, but are now grown all over Asia and in hot, dry parts of Europe and the United States. They can be found dried at most co-ops and natural food stores. Boil a cup of dried mung beans in about three cups of water. Drink the liquid. This is also a mild diuretic.
  • Electrolytes: With the sweating of Summer Heat, be sure that you are replenishing your fluids and electrolytes. My personal favorite is coconut water, but other sources of electrolytes are Smart Water, Emergen-C, and sports drinks – each with their own pros and cons. Try them all and see which your body prefers.

And if heat is a problem, cool down! Take cooling baths. Rest. Then get back out there to your lake swimming, popsicles and complaining about the weather. Enjoy summer while you can!

Megan Odell, LAc, MS, is a licensed acupuncturist and offers services at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern.

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