Key Learning Points
In Chinese medicine Heat is an External Cause of Disease, that becomes internalised. It can occur on its own, or when one of the other syndromes (eg Wind, Cold, Damp etc) turns into Heat in the interior of your body. Here it often combines with an pre-existing Yin deficiency if there is one.
With global warming and our propensity to sit on hot beaches, or to get tanned before we sit on warm beaches, this syndrome is becoming more common. That means we’ll probably see more people with heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stress in the workplace, heat stroke and general signs of heat intolerance.
In fact, for heatstroke and sunstroke we’ve got a special page.
As with Summer-Heat, one of the main ways the body has of clearing this syndrome is by purging. What does that mean?
Well, first a warning!
Suppression of this natural process is potentially dangerous from the point of view of Chinese medicine, and it needs careful treatment.
Purging means diarrhoea: the ‘shits’!
Holiday-makers returning from hot places who report that their offensive and urgent diarrhoea was successfully suppressed by Imodium (the brand name for Loperamide HCl and Simethicone) tend to worry practitioners of Chinese medicine.
This is not that we don’t want them to get better, but that the Heat that their bodies were purging, if suppressed by Imodium or similar, doesn’t just disappear. It goes somewhere else, sometimes into the Blood, meaning they get a rash, or into their Stomach, making them much hungrier and thirstier, indefinitely, probably with resultant weight-gain.
Or it goes and disturbs their Shen (roughly translatable as their personality), making them prone to signs of mental ‘inflammation’.
This causes a whole range of problems including mental instability, irritability and increasing intolerance. Few of these symptoms are attributed to the original hot beach. Indeed – in my experience – none of them are ever connected to that hot beach holiday!
But you need to get that Heat out of you or it can cause many kinds of long term problems.
Purging in this context does not mean that suggested by Wikipedia where purging is now often associated with Binge-eating and Bulaemia. (Of course, another meaning of purging is to eliminate political opposition or socially ‘undesirable’ elements. So purging here is more like that – getting rid of unwanted energies in your body!)
In the context of Chinese medicine, it means encouraging the body to eliminate unwanted matter, almost always by evacuating the bowels.
What is the benefit of purging? Purges clears out the offensive material taking heat with it. Your diarrhoea’s offensive smell comes from its heat. If you like, your body is doing its best to evacuate this, but not quite succeeding.
Purging, done right, helps it do the job better.
In effect, it means using methods in Chinese medicine/acupuncture that have a laxative effect. Various Chinese herbs have been found to do this but, as with everything in Chinese herbal medicine, they are seldom given alone. That’s because additional herbs are included to balance the primary herbs’ effects.
For instance a primary herb’s effect might be to clear the excess warmth, but at least one other herb would be added to tonify Qi. Then there would be another to balance the moisture levels in the body.
Why all this, you ask? Because in their absence a strong laxative effect can be weakening and drying.
Of course, with purging you’ll need to take in fluids and balance your sugar-salt balance, as Western medicine now appreciates.
(Here is a picture of the famous Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain. Well worth a visit! – Segovia has much more to offer than just an aqueduct. There’s a huge palace not far away and an old town and Disney-like castle you should not miss. Aqueducts brought water to the town from the nearby hills.)
The body has its own ways of clearing Heat and some of these are used by bulaemics, for instance vomiting. Diarrhoea – the hot smelly urgent kind – is another: the body knows how to do this!
Bleeding is another. Some children and teenagers (and others) get nose-bleeds for no obvious reason, though on questioning they may later admit to having felt recent dryness (a mild sign of Heat from lack of moisture) in their noses.
Some women get vaginal blood-spots or small haemorrhages at unexpected times of the month. Whilst these can be due to a variety of causes, if the blood is fresh and red, then one possible cause is Heat.
Unless they become frequent and heavy, they pose no great problem.
Of course if they do become frequent, persistent or heavy, the cause should be diagnosed and treated. Chinese medicine and acupuncture have an honourable reputation here.
Any prolonged or repeated exposure to hot conditions can produce this syndrome. For example, it can occur from
So, although technically an external cause of disease, this syndrome can be internalised or emerge from internal factors.
For a fuller understanding, read up on Internal or External.
Bakers often get this, perhaps because they work in warm kitchens and are always peering into hot ovens. I might expect people who work in fish-and-chip shops, or who make pizzas or kebabs, or work with meat turning over hot coals or fires to suffer too.
I might expect people who receive hot stone treatments too often also to be affected.
Although not specifically listed above, Heat does also affect the Mind, making people more impulsive, more prone to angry outbursts, more restless and often a bit manic.
You often notice this in children, whose small bodies are not sufficiently Yin to absorb Heat comfortably but whose Yang nature makes them quickly volatile when over-stimulated.
When someone is already Yin-deficient, as mentioned above, it can be hard to clear Heat. They have the worst of both worlds, being, like small children, unable to balance Yang effectively.
Sometimes they are also somewhat Yang deficient and often feel cold, which inclines them to seek warmth but this makes their Heat symptoms (eg rash or skin condition) worse.
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Can you do anything to reduce your susceptibility? What about heat illness prevention? This page contains plenty of suggestions for what to do. Here are more.
These three or four days are what your body needs to rest from the journey and begin to adapt to its new surroundings. Take more than three days if possible.
If you have been very stressed and exhausted by work, it may take you seven days to relax properly and start to benefit from your holiday. (Hint: see an acupuncturist before you go: they can usually help you relax even before you go!)
Also, during those first few days, bare your skin to the full sun only briefly daily, and never at midday. Use the shade. Gradually increase sun exposure. Use sensible skin protection. (You know all this!)
After that, well, don’t go crazy! Eat some of the wonderful foods that you find, but remember, better to eat cooked foods that are still hot. And be very careful with hand and utensil hygiene when eating or drinking.
Also avoid fluids and foods from opened bottles or street vendors.
If, in spite of all this, you get the runs, drink plenty of warm water, try using warm ginger tea to help regulate your digestion, and rest, but not in full sun. Often, fasting for a couple of days helps your body repair itself. Take a very weak mixture of warm water with a little salt and some sugar in it. Both that sugar and salt are purely for medicinal reasons: don’t think I’m encouraging you to eat spoonfuls of it! Wash fruit with soap and rinse it with clean water if you intend to eat its skin, and even if you don’t.
Read about the other external causes of disease:
Check my collection of books:
Too much food with the Salty taste in Chinese medicine will make you ill. But you need some! Which foods do they mean?
The spicy taste in Chinese medicine adds lightness and energy to your diet, helping your lungs work better. You need some, but not too much!
Foods classified as having a sweet taste in Chinese medicine are vital for health. But too little or too much ‘sweet’ food leads to disease.
Taste in Chinese medicine describes, like short-hand, what foods and herbs can do for your health. Discover the right balance!
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