Have you been feeling unusually cold lately? Feeling like the change of season is getting you down? Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is great for that! They can not only help you feel less cold, but also help you have less symptoms from the ailments that coldness exacerbates. I’d like to share a few jewels of information with you.
In Chinese medicine, temperature is very important. We categorize disease first by temperature. If a disease is ‘hot’ in nature, substances are moving too fast (think of lava). If a disease is ‘cold’ in nature, they are moving too slow. An example is high blood pressure as a hot condition. Your blood is pumping vigorously and quickly to compensate for the narrower vessels. Numbness or peripheral neuropathy is an example of cold, because the blood is moving too slow and cannot reach the extremities before it needs to continue its loop to become oxygenated again. These are simply our ways of using analogies to describe the nature of the disease.
When people actually feel cold, this is a cold condition, obviously. So how can acupuncture help, you ask? Acupuncture is simply the insertion of a metal conductor (a needle) into the skin at certain areas (acupuncture points) that affect certain parts of either the nervous system, endocrine system or circulatory system. To ‘warm up’ the body means choosing points that stimulate the increase in blood flow. There are specific points, such as a point about two inches below your belly button, called Guan Yuan or Origin Pass, which are the best points to warm the entire body. Using a technique called Moxibustion, which is the act of burning the herb Mugwort over acupuncture points, you can actually help stimulate the point even more than with just needling. There are many things that can stimulate points more dramatically, such as electrical stimulation or cupping, but if there is a cold condition, using Moxibustion actually helps the body to stimulate the temperature gauge better. When burning Mugwort, we use pressed Mugwort, which is sticky, and either stick a glob atop the needle and burn it (sounds scary, but feels very good!), or use Mugwort rolled into a stick like a cigar and wave it a few inches above the skin. Just like absorbing vitamin D from the sun, or Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) when you’re in a bath, mugwort essential oils are the powerhouse of Moxibustion. The heat opens the pores and the skin absorbs the oils (if you do this long enough you can start to see the oils on your skin), eliciting an effect of ‘speeding up’ the blood. The product? You feel warming sensations, digestion speeds up, pain decreases and mood can lighten up.
Chinese medicine has plenty to offer for cold conditions. Again, using the analogy of hot moving substances like lava, cold congeals like ice, and many imbalances can cause cold conditions. Memory problems, stomach aches, bloating, general digestive issues, body aches and pains, menstrual cramps, lumps or cysts and fatigue can all be from a sluggish and cold condition. Exercise and movement always create heat. So one of the best things you could do to warm up is exercise. However, if someone has a cold condition, most times they are deficient, meaning their body doesn’t have enough energy to warm itself up. Therefore, over-exercise in the winter can cause more deficiency. Moderate, gentle exercise is good enough to keep the heart rate up without being exhausted after.
Herbal therapy is generously used in Chinese medicine. With herbal therapy, we use food parts mostly, including any items you can find easily at a grocery store or right in your pantry. Warming foods include spices such as cinnamon, clove, vanilla, cilantro and cardamom. Other foods that are warming include kale, leeks, onions, pepper, squash, sweet potato, blackberry, cherry, peach, quinoa, black beans, goats milk, salmon and wild boar. Foods to stay away from that are quite cooling are artichoke, asparagus, eggplant, broccoli, celery, cucumber, spinach, mint, avocado, blueberry, orange, pear, strawberry, lima beans, pork, duck, tomato, banana, kiwi, melons and watermelon. These foods can perpetuate a feeling of cold. It’s not to say you cannot eat these foods in the winter; simply limit them or pair them with the warm foods.
The most important rule in holistic medicine is that nothing stays the same. With the change of your condition and status—even improvement of your health—your diet and lifestyle routine must be altered too. In the summertime, we need more cooling foods and less warming foods. The prescription also must be custom tailored to each person. What is the best way to see if you have a hot or cold condition? Check your tongue, of course! The tongue is the only muscle in the body we can see, so it tells us a ton about what conditions might be present. This ancient method of diagnosis still has quite a bit of validity. So, check your tongue in the mirror. If it is very red, you have more inflammation, a heat condition. If it is pale red, you might tend towards a cold condition. If it is very pale, almost whitish, you definitely have a cold condition! If you have a thick yellow or white tongue coat, this indicates the presence of immune deficiency or phlegm (Chinese medical diagnosis). Check your friends’ tongues to compare!
You can’t change the seasons, but you can change yourself —Unknown
Dr. Christina Fick (DAOM)