How Climate Affects Your Health

My knee says a storm is coming...

The word “holistic” is used extensively to describe complementary forms of health care. But what does holistic really mean?

My definition of a holistic system of medicine is one that considers a person’s health in the context of the whole life of the patient. This includes the patient’s given constitutional tendencies, lifestyle choices (e.g., exercise, sleep patterns, etc.), the foods that a person consumes (including drugs and alcohol), emotional life, social life, and the external physical environment in which the patient lives—including climate and weather.

Chinese medicine was developed from the belief that we are deeply connected to, inseparable even, from our environment. It is helpful to understand how different external environments can influence the internal environment of our bodies.

In my last article, I discussed the various functions of qi. One of those functions is to protect against “invasion” from pathogenic influences. If our qi is strong enough, we can be exposed to harsh environments and not be too negatively impacted. If our protective qi is not strong enough, then environmental pathogens can penetrate into the body. When your mother told you to “bundle up” before you went into the cold or wind, she was telling you the same thing. Specifically, in Chinese medicine, when you catch a cold or the flu, it is said that the wind has invaded the body. When this happens, it often carries with it other environmental energies, such as heat, cold, or dampness. Wind invasions are characterized by sudden onset, aversion to drafts, and symptoms that change rapidly or move around, like the wind. If the wind has carried heat into the body, we say that a person has a “wind-heat” invasion. In addition to symptoms of wind, their symptoms will also be heat-related, manifesting in a fever, sweating, a red and irritated sore throat, strong thirst, or a fast pulse. A “wind-cold” invasion reflects symptoms of wind, plus cold symptoms such as chills, fear of cold, tightness in neck and shoulders (because cold makes the body contract and causes pain), headache, and a lack of sweating and thirst.

While some symptoms are caused by invasion from the outside environment, other diseases are created by internal factors, namely, the emotions.The Chinese name five destructive emotions: worry, anger, fear, sadness and over-joy (mania). A relaxed, emotionally-balanced state is ideal. Each emotion affects a specific organ and the body's qi in a predictable way. Other factors include a weak constitution, excessive sexual activity, traumatic injury, and poor dietary habits. The amount of sexual activity that is considered “healthy” varies from person to person, but is related to a person’s age, inherent constitutional strength and the state of qi or health. Generally, the younger and healthier a person is, the more sexual activity he or she can have without negatively impacting health. Even diseases that have been caused from emotional or other factors will often have symptoms or characteristics that mimic environmental energies. For example, the symptoms of neurological disease—tremors, for example—often mimic the shaking movements of wind, while oozing sores, yeast overgrowth, excessive nasal mucus or other discharges reflect the energy of wet or damp weather.

Why do some people have symptoms that worsen with cold weather, while others suffer more in hot weather?

People with imbalances that reflect environmental energies often have symptoms that worsen when the weather is similar to their internal imbalance. People with internal heat (from internal or external causes) have symptoms that worsen in hot weather and feel better in cold weather. Those with internal cold will have symptoms that worsen in cold weather and feel better in hot weather. We all know people who seem to be able to predict that a storm is coming from the way their arthritic joints feel. This can be explained because the arthritis may have a “damp” component, worsening as the humidity increases with the approach of damp weather.

An acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist will analyze a patient’s symptoms, then use herbs or stimulate acupuncture points that have functions such as clearing heat, dispersing wind, or draining dampness in order to bring the patient’s energy back into balance. Also, by learning the specific energetics of food, we can eat in a way which brings us back toward balance, instead of adding to our imbalance. Some foods create heat (e.g., meats, spices, and greasy foods), some cool the body (e.g., raw vegetables and most fruits) and other foods (e.g., dairy products and sugar) generate dampness. Your licensed acupuncturist can help you understand your symptoms and give you personalized dietary recommendations.

Be well!

Scott Evans

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