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HEAL

Summer heat remedies from Traditional Chinese Medicine

While most of us welcome the warmth of summer, hot weather is not for everyone. In fact, when heat and humidity ramp up, I notice a shift in the symptoms that my patients describe. 

They report seemingly mysterious fevers, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, dizziness and a heaviness of the head (or the whole body). Some also have respiratory symptoms that seem like a cold or the flu, and many say that their symptoms occur randomly and are unexpected.

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, dampness and summer heat.

Summer heat is characterized by sweltering heat outside, which then attacks the individual's inside. In humid climates like Minnesota, heat combines with dampness and creates this telltale pattern of symptoms: fever, heaviness in the head and body, nausea, diarrhea, stuffiness of the chest, dizziness and 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, which is a mild diuretic. Eat down into that as far as you can.
  • 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. The dried version can be found 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 that goes along with 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.

If heat is still a problem, take cooling baths and rest. Then get back out to swimming in the lake or pool, eating popsicles and reading a book in the shade. Enjoy summer while you can!

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