01 January 2007

Cooling “Summerheat-Dampness” – Food as medicine

If you live in Sydney, the recent hot and humid weather may have left you feeling heavy and lethargic.

You may have headaches, a fuzzy feeling in your head or a tight band across your forehead.  Some people get gastrointestinal upsets or they feel thirsty but don’t want to drink anything.

Does this sound familiar?  If so, you could be feeling the symptoms of “Summerheat-Dampness”.

As the weather gets hotter, your body can usually cool itself by sweating.  The pores in your skin open up and release sweat, which evaporates into the air and cools your skin.  However, when humid air surrounds your skin, not only does the sweat have trouble evaporating, but also the “Dampness” in the air can easily penetrate through your pores, according to Chinese medicine.

Dampness is heavy and sluggish in nature.  It impedes and slows the movement of energy and vital substances in your body.  As a result, your limbs and head feel heavy and tired.  You could have aching joints as the Dampness settles there, especially if you’ve been inactive for a while (for example, sitting or sleeping).

The Spleen-Pancreas energy is responsible for transforming and transporting fluid and nutrients around your body and is especially sensitive to Dampness.  If the digestive function of the Spleen-Pancreas is affected, you might feel abdominal pains, nausea, diarrhea or constipation.  If the Spleen-Pancreas can’t transform and transport fluids then you will feel thirsty because the fluid isn’t properly distributed, but you won’t feel like drinking because of the extra moisture lurking in your body.

Fortunately, writers and physicians of Chinese medicine have been observing and documenting the interactions between the body and the seasons for many thousands of years.  Following are some food remedies that you can easily make for yourself, and some tips on preventing further attacks of Summerheat-Dampness.  To help you find the ingredients in an Asian grocery, the Chinese names in the recipes are included in brackets.

In hot weather, it’s tempting to reach for refrigerated drinks and sit in air-conditioned spaces.  However, putting cold food and drinks into your body means you have to use your own vital energy to increase the temperature of the food.  Over time, this saps your energy and quells your “digestive fire,” leading to sluggish digestion and long-term problems such as fluid retention, skin problems and poor appetite.

In many tropical countries, the locals drink light teas to stay cool.  By choosing a cooling herb such as peppermint, the tea can induce a mild sweat and help your body to cool down.  Have food at room temperature or lightly steamed and avoid heavy, greasy, spicy or warming foods such as red meat, chilli, spices, dairy and deep fried food.

Rather than switching on the air-con, try putting your hands and feet in cool water and hold a damp washcloth to your forehead and the back of your neck.  Gentle movement of air will evaporate the water and cool you down.  However, avoid strong wind and air-conditioning, which can invade your open pores and lead to cold and flu symptoms.

Watermelon juice
Nature provides us with cooling watermelons right at the time that our bodies need them.  Scoop out the flesh of a watermelon and whiz it in a blender or put it through a juicer.  Watermelons should be kept in the fridge for freshness, but always try to avoid eating or drinking foods that are iced or that come directly from the fridge (see “Prevention” above).  Let the juice come to room temperature before drinking.

Mung bean congee
Congee is a kind of rice porridge that has its own healing properties. You can also add ingredients at different times of the year to promote good health and combat illness.

Congee is cooling, moistening and nourishing. It harmonises the digestion and strengthens the body’s energy (Qi).

The standard recipe is one part rice to six parts water, cooked at very low heat for four to six hours (a crock-pot is ideal).  To make mung bean congee, include 3 tablespoons of mung beans (Lu Dou) per cup of rice.  Optional extra: include a small handful of moisturising lily bulb (Bai He).  Add some grated fresh ginger towards the end of cooking if nausea is more severe.

Chrysanthemum tea
This tea is a favourite summertime drink in China.  It can be made in batches and stored in the fridge, but again, try to let it approach room temperature before drinking.

60 - 80 White Chrysanthemum Flowers (Ju Hua)
3 teaspoons Jasmine Green Tea
Rock sugar (Bing Tang) or honey to taste
4 litres water

2 teaspoons Bamboo Leaf (Dan Zhu Ye)
2 teaspoons Lotus Seed (He Zi)
5 pieces dried Licorice Root (Gan Cao – caution in high blood pressure)

Wash the herbs and put with tea into a cooking pot.  Add 4 litres of water and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add rock sugar or honey.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Store in refrigerator if not drinking immediately. Serve at room temperature - Enjoy!

If these recipes and preventive measures don’t resolve your symptoms, then please phone the Clinic for further advice or to make an appointment for an acupuncture treatment and herbal formula tailored to your unique condition.

This post is brought to you by Lois Nethery, Acupuncturist at Ocean Acupuncture in Curl Curl.

Ocean Acupuncture is a natural medicine centre of independent health practitioners. The views expressed in this blog are the author's only and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other Ocean Acupuncture practitioners.
The information presented in this blog, and on the Ocean Acupuncture website, is for interest and educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for health or medical information or advice. For health or medical advice, please consult your health professional.

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