A Damp Summer

June 2010

It’s the end of the June already, but summer seems to play the game of hide and seek with us. It’s here for a day and gone for a week. Most days we are stuck with the rain and grayness of the winter. A girl friend that caught a cold told me “I really felt like wearing my leather jacket today, but it’s the end of June, so I put on my summer clothes instead… It’s so cold…” Remember the warm winter we had? And the nasty flu going around after that? This summer doesn’t seem to be like the usual summer, so how do you take care of yourself to avoid feeling under the weather?

In Chinese Medicine, we believe that weather has an important impact on people’s health. There are six climatic changes in nature: Wind, Cold, Summer Heat, Dampness, Dryness, and Fire. Any factor that becomes excessive turns into a pathogenic factor, meaning something that causes illness in people. Say that in Vancouver, summer time usually is dryer and sunnier. But this year, because of the excessive amount of rainy days, the dampness in the environment is excessive and it becomes the pathogenic factor that affects our health in a negative way.

Do you feel heavy, tired easily, lethargic, more pain in the joints and muscle, or less enthusiastic? Let me tell you some characteristics of the pathogenic factor Dampness, you will understand why you feel this way.

The first characteristic of Dampness is heaviness. If you are affected by it, you tend to feel heaviness in the head, in the arms and even in the whole body. People often say that they feel “lazy, don’t feel like moving around, the mind is kind of foggy, can’t think clearly”.

Dampness blocks the Qi flow. Think about cloudy rainy weather when there’s high humidity and low pressure, everything is still and heavy, no movement. When this Dampness gets inside your body, it blocks the normal Qi circulation. We say in Chinese Medicine that blockage of Qi flow leads to pain. For people who already experience pain, Dampness can make the pain worse. Also when there is no flow, there will be stagnation. For people who tend to have mood issues, this stagnation can manifest as depression.

When Dampness affects your body, it will gradually consume your Qi. When you have less Qi, the inner environment becomes more stagnant. Just like when there’s no wind to blow away clouds, the clouds start to accumulate even more. When your Qi gets low, your body’s function slows down. Your weakest point of your body is usually the first place to show symptoms. If your digestive system is the weakest point, you may experience symptoms like bloatedness, loose stool, and poor appetite. If your lungs are the problematic system, you may experience more stuffiness and heaviness in the chest, more phlegm, more allergy like symptoms, easily catching cold. If your heart is not in a good condition, you may experience more chest tightness, palpitation and fatigue.

When those symptoms occur, we can use acupuncture and herbal medicine to deal with the Dampness and help body to recover. There are specific acupuncture points to drain Dampness, or to strengthen body’s Qi to get rid of Dampness. Certain medicinal herbs also have the function of getting rid of internal dampness by different ways. “Pine Knot” (Pinus tabulaeformis Carr & P. masssoniana Lamb) is a very good herb to deal with dampness and relieve the arthritic pain; aromatic herbs like cardamom fruit are good at breaking through the stagnation caused by dampness to benefit digestion; Barley can induce urination to guide the dampness to leave the body.

Now, the important question is how you can prevent the Dampness from affecting your health. The following tips will help:

  1. If you feel cold but think you’ll warm up later, follow your feeling and dress in layers. You can always take off clothes if it gets warmer later. If you let your body gets exposed to cold and dampness, your body’s immunity will get affected and you will get cold or flu more easily.
  2. Bring your rain gear along with you; keep Dampness out as much as you can. Your body is able to adjust to the external environment, yet it takes Qi to do it. And your body works hard to produce the Qi. If you have a wheelbarrow to haul 200 lb of dirt to your garden, why would you carry with your hands?
  3. Eat less dampness-producing food. Certain foods have the heavy, gluey quality, which tend to block Qi. Diary, sugar, gluten, fat and excessive amount of meat, too much cold liquid (excessive amount of juice) are foods to avoid in damp weather.
  4. If you live in damp place like a basement, using a fireplace or a radiator heater can help. But if you already have illness related with Dampness like arthritis, chronic fatigue, chronic diarrhea, you should consider changing your living environment. It’s difficult for your body to heal if it is exposed to the very pathogenic factor that tends to make the condition worse.
  5. Regular hot baths are helpful on rainy days. Appropriate amounts of exercise help Qi flow and are essential for maintaining a strong body so that you can adjust to external weather change better. Avoid excessive amount of exercise because it drains the body’s energy and the body can actually become more susceptible to Dampness. Listen to your body: if you feel exhausted and have difficulty recovering after exercise, then it means that you’ve overdone it.
  6. If you feel heavy and tired easily, dab some essential oil such as orange, neroli, grapefruit, lime under your nose from time to time to help to break the stagnation and facilitate Qi flow.

I hope you take good care of yourself and have a healthy summer. If you do feel under the weather, give me a call; I am here to help boost your body’s Qi to make you feel better.