As temperatures continue to rise and hold at a steady Sizzle, many are searching for more natural ways to cool off than dunking their feet in chlorine-filled pools or becoming evening regulars at their local ice cream shop. Besides walking around all day with a rag wrapped around your neck that’s been soaked in cool water, what other safe methods do you have available to keep you both comfortable and healthy during the hottest months of the year?
One of the fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory is that the external climate can and does, very much, influence our health. “Summer-heat” is considered one of six external causes of disease, along with wind, cold, damp, dryness and fire. The heat of summer can penetrate the body and cause symptoms such as thirst, excessive sweating, prostration, dark urine and irritability. And for those of us who already suffer from excessive Internal Heat, summer is a strong aggravator of existing symptoms, and will only add fuel to the fire. Fortunately, we can use simple foods and drinks to combat the problem and minimize its effects.
CAUSES OF INTERNAL HEAT
Internal Heat can be due to a variety of causes: constitutional, lifestyle-generated and age-related (menopause).
Constitution: Our constitution is largely hereditary, since we are each born with varying degrees of vigour, strength, and “heat.” We are familiar with this from personal experience or observation: ruddy-cheeked, robust people with a strong voice and plenty of energy who walk around in T-shirts when most of us put on a sweater, may have some Internal Heat. They may sweat easily and when they develop health problems, these tend also to be hot. For instance, a common cold in such cases will always manifest with an acute, strong onset and very high fever, whereas “cold” people cannot remember the last time they had a high temperature. As well, hot people are more likely to develop conditions such as rosacea, characterized by easy and severe facial flushing.
Constitutional heat patterns affect the Stomach and Large Intestine in particular, as well as their associated meridians. So, in addition to hot digestive problems such as heartburn and excessive appetite, we may also find things like recurrent mastitis or breast abscess, as the breasts are traversed by the Stomach channel.
Dandelion leaves are a prime remedy for the breasts as well as the stomach itself, as they can strongly cool and detoxify those areas. They can be boiled as tea, used in a poultice or, of course, eaten raw or steamed. In general, cooked bitter greens, salads and fruit should be eaten more often in summer by those of hot constitution, while barbecued meats and deep-fried or spicy foods should be avoided. Alcohol is hot overall, but red wine is especially so – much better to opt for a mojito, at least the lime and mint will add a cooling dimension! Finally, watermelon is especially indicated as a primary medicinal food in the treatment of Summer-heat.
THE ROLE OF LIFESTYLE
Lifestyle generated heat, caused by stress and emotional constraint, tends to affect the Heart and Liver. In fact, while many people worry about the effect of environmental toxins on their liver, emotional toxins such as resentment, frustration, hostility, excessive judgment and constant rushing have an equally deleterious effect on this important organ. As the Liver becomes energetically congested, over time this stagnation will heat up and produce Fire that transmits to the Heart to cause mental-emotional symptoms, or to the head causing migraines, ear infections, or eye problems and irritability.
When Summer-heat combines with this background heat, all symptoms may flare. The best home remedies are leaf and flower teas: crysanthemum, honeysuckle, rosebud, green and mint teas, which should be drunk cool. In the lobby of the Dragon City mall in Toronto’s Chinatown there is a stand that sells “Five Flower Tea” throughout the summer to help keep you cool. On the other hand, the warming spices of “Chai” are best avoided during this season.
CAUSES AND REMEDIES FOR MENOPAUSAL HEAT
The most common manifestation of age-related heat is menopause. However, strictly speaking, it is incorrect to attribute it to age as though it were an inevitable development. It is only when the water element of the body has become depleted that heat may develop at menopause. Water, of course, will put out fire, but when it has been consumed by many years of overwork, when it is constitutionally low to begin with, or when it has been dried up by an artificial and chemicalized diet, it cannot do so.
At menopause, Kidney water naturally declines further, and thus heat and fire are free to rage unopposed, as in the hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and general discomfort that many women experience. Does drinking plenty of water help? Not so much. Of course, when we are hot and thirsty, we should drink, but a high consumption of water usually has a diuretic effect, good for cleansing, but not for hydration.
Herbs and foods that help Kidney water are often salty: turtle shell, clams and shellfish, salty black soybeans (of which the black bean sauce of Chinese food is made), and kidney beans. In fact, tofu with black bean sauce is the perfect, and cooling, Kidney water tonic, but skip the garlic. Traditionally, when Chinese herbs are used to boost the kidney, they are mixed with salt. A small amount of salt is used to retain fluids in the body and rebalance electrolytes. This is why in cases of severe diarrhea, a patient is never given straight water, but rather water with sugar and salt. In fact, a combination of sweet, salty and sour offers the best hydration, as in mango or cantaloupe mixed with lime juice and a little salt. Delicious, cooling and fully thirst quenching.
However, be sure t Avoid refined white salt because it contains heavy metals. Instead, use Himalayan Crystal Salt or unrefined sea salt, as these contain a full complement of trace minerals and have no chemicals added. As to eating shellfish, some women may find that this increases their heat, so experimenting with recommended foods is important.)
If menopause symptoms are severe, food and drink alone will probably not cure them, but they will help turn down the thermostat a notch or two.
SUMMER DAMP HEAT
To make matters worse, in Southern Ontario heat combines with stifling humidity and pollution to produce Damp-Heat. This will invade the body and produce additional symptoms of heaviness, listlessness, tight-band headaches, diarrhea and loss of appetite. In such cases, raw and cold foods are actually contra-indicated, as they can put an additional burden on the digestive system.
Bland foods such as beans and barley, and lightly cooked vegetables are best. A porridge made of 1 part rice, 1 part pearl barley, 1 part mung, adzuki beans or lotus seeds and 10 parts water, slow simmered for 2-3 hours, is ideal. Traditionally it is sweetened with a little bit of rock sugar, available as “Rock Candy” in Asian grocers (crystallized sugar cane water that remains from the sugar making process). It’s not too sweet, slightly cooling and very beneficial to gently boost the qi. In contrast, brown sugar is warming and most appropriate for winter. The same can be said for brown rice, or whole grains in general. White rice, with its neutral thermal property, is best for the hot days of summer.
Alternatively, mung beans can be boiled alone in plenty of water (1-6 ratio) for four hours, and the liquid drunk at room temperature throughout the day. A slow cooker is ideal for this, as it doesn’t require attendance or heat up the whole house. Mung beans are very beneficial to sufferers of damp, weepy skin diseases or rashes that flare in hot, humid conditions. Drinking 3-4 cups per day can make a big difference in symptoms. They are particularly detoxifying, and are used to antidote drug and other poisons. We might theorize that they would do the same for the poisons of pollution. Mung beans are also highly regarded in Ayurvedic medicine, which uses them with white basmati rice as a 2 -3 week cleanse. Finally, Asian grocers sell various combinations of instant mung bean, adzuki bean or barley powders which are great for camping, but really quite sweet. Diluting them with extra water or tea may help.
Lastly, any exercise should be mild, done in the shade in the evening or early morning, and not lead to too much sweating. That pretty much rules out jogging on city streets in the midday smog and heat, which doesn’t sound like the most refreshing activity anyway! Remember to stick to your gut and check in often; if it feels significantly uncomfortable or hurts more than you think it should, stop doing it and return to the basicsl