An External Cause of Disease
that can become Internalised

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First, It can be Beautiful!

But, it is an External Cause of Disease

After Wind, Cold is the second most common of what are called the 'external' causes of disease - at least in 'Northern' Climates.

It is called an 'external pathogenic factor'. That means that it is said to invade from the outside, and that the body tries to keep it at a distance from the essential Energy Organs of the body, the 'zang-fu'.

It does this by putting or keeping the symptoms in the acupuncture channels - usually the limbs and joints - away from the vital organs in the torso.

Cold can, however, penetrate those vital inner organs when the body's defence system is damaged, perhaps by accident, ill-advised treatment, medication or ignorance: OR when your body is too weak to 'contain' the pathogenic factor in a 'safe' place - ie on the outside, or as far from the centre as possible.

If the body cannot defend itself, Cold may attack the surface areas of the body, its muscles and sinews, commonly the shoulders and neck. 

It can also invade, depending where there is weakness, directly into some of the body's organ energies: for example, the Stomach (causing stomach pain and vomiting); the womb, (causing acutely painful periods); or the Intestines (diarrhoea and abdominal pain).

Of course, once it's reached inside like this, it has become Internal Cold, about which read more below.

What are Typical 'Full-Cold' Symptoms?

If you think about what it is like to get suddenly intensely cold, you'll recognize some of the symptoms in the list.

Often you don't want to move much - except to shiver - and you like or crave warmth.

Mentally, it often makes you fearful and tense.

If you also have Qi stagnation, the Cold and Qi stagnation will reinforce one another.

Depending on other factors you could also have sneezing or shivering, for instance if Wind invades at the same time.

People with strong constitutions can become intensely restless and terrified that they are about to die.

Cold symptoms

  • Your body tightens up
  • Tension
  • Lack of thirst
  • Dislike of cold
  • Preference for warmth
  • Shivering
  • Pain, often in one place and dull or stabbing
  • Watery discharges eg from the nose; pale urine; runny feces; clear or white vaginal discharges
  • Cold arms and legs, particularly hands/feet
  • Preference for warm coverings and drinks
  • Tongue: thick white coating over a pale tongue body
  • Pulse: slow (in extreme cases, can be very slow)

Unexpected sources of Cold

Both Wind and Cold can invade quickly where your defensive-qi (this is roughly the equivalent of your immune system from the Western medical perspective) cannot prevent it.

Their penetration into the body can be stopped if caught early on.

Do not overlook it as a cause of disease: it can arrive unexpectedly, such as

  • when a woman in labour, sweating and heaving, asks for cool air to be fanned on her
  • on a hot evening when you're hot and let yourself get cooled too fast by a breeze or by air-conditioning
  • as cramps or spasms when you get up in the night to go to the lavatory or, to cool down in bed, stick a leg out of the bed into cool air.

If appropriate action is taken immediately, such as covering up, or wrapping up well or taking a hot bath, the body may expel or overcome it.

If it lingers, however, it can lead to a long-term invasion and increasing bouts of severe pain for many years, culminating in the diagnosis perhaps of arthritis and the prescription of anti-inflammatory medications, steroids and painkillers.

By then, it will have become internal cold.

It might even turn to Heat! ...

By then the body may have even changed it into 'Heat' symptoms, (masking the original cause) in a desperate attempt to contain or combat it. You might recognize this in the 'burning' skin around an arthritic joint.

With the correct treatment, if that Heat can be expelled, it is possible that the patient will then experience a period of coldness again, at which time treatment appropriate would be needed, the opposite of the treatment for symptoms of Heat.

Read about the other external causes of disease:

Internal Cold

Internal cold has two forms, Full and Empty. Full cold occurs when a strong invading force, the External Cold, meets a strong immune system. Symptoms are intense but short-lived.

The reason Full Cold is short-lived is that it is exhausting but, if your body can repel it, it does.

If not, it becomes Empty Cold, meaning that your body's energies were insufficient to repel it, so it lingers.

How it lingers depends on various factors. In energetic young people, they might find they just wear more clothes than their friends, they always have cold hands and/or feet, they like a scarf to keep their necks warm, and their noses easily run in cold air or wind.

You may dismiss these symptoms as being unimportant. In themselves they are, but they are signs that your body has never quite got itself better, and must now live in a lower energy-state.

From now on, you may find that you can't risk exposing your limbs for too long out of bed on a warm night in case they cramp.

Women with Empty Cold may find that their periods are painful, with stabbing pains often in one particular place, with cramps and bleeding that contains clots.

Where Empty Cold remains, there is often lumbar pain, worse in or when cold, of course.

In fact, Empty Cold reduces the Yang energy of one or more of your Zangfu Energy Organs, making you more susceptible to health problems 'governed' by them.

For instance, if your Lung Yang energy is deficient because of Empty Cold, you will catch more colds than others, and those colds will tend to go to your chest. 

If your Spleen Yang is weak, then you will tend to get runny stools and often get mild pain in your abdomen. You may also have a tendency to catarrh or sinus problems.

Underlying both of these will be a weakness in your Kidney Yang Qi.

Summarizing Cold

Your body tries to keep Cold out. The strength of your symptoms is a sign of the strength of your constitutional defence force - your immunity we might say from the Western perspective.

Cold contracts, slows and tightens. If your body can turn it into a fever and burn it out, you may emerge stronger than before.

Often, however, people prevent the body from acting to push the Cold out - often by taking medicines that prevent or reduce acute fever, or by refusing to rest when the body is throwing everything into the battle. 

If Cold lingers on, then eventually your pulse will become slower and weaker, you'll be more susceptible to cold environments and you'll produce signs of Cold that worsen over the years.

What if you Already have Internal Cold?

What if you already have internal cold and find yourself subject to another attack of external cold?

Supposing your body reacts to it eventually with a process culminating in fever, or what seems like heat, be grateful! Don't suppress it with medications or painkillers or you'll just push it further in.

As you recover, don't overstrain yourself by rushing back to full exercise and work regimes. Why? Because you'll use up your yang energy before it has reasserted itself and recovered its strength.

Of course, especially, don't get cold!

As internal cold lingers on it has a knock-on effect on other parts of your life, including your personality. You may become more fearful, or timid, less certain of yourself, and more prone to anxiety. That makes you more susceptible to Qi stagnation.

So one thing leads to another. Better catch it early if you can!

If you can't shift it, you need treatment. People trained in Chinese medicine theory know how to help. But one treatment or course of herbs won't be enough - be warned!

By the Way!...

Cold isn't all bad. Why do so many people take a cold bath in the morning, or a cold shower after a hot shower? Or what about those who roll about in snow after a sauna?

I remember reading research - conducted I think in Sweden - in which they measured the immune system of thousands of people who regularly took cold baths against the immune systems of those who didn't. Those who took cold baths had better immune systems.

However, when you're ill - when cold has already invaded, as described above - don't take a cold bath or shower, let alone roll in the snow! That's not the appropriate treatment protocol!

When you're ill, different rules apply to when you're well.

And! ... Cold Conditions can be Fun!

Did you know?

There's a right and a wrong way to take a cold shower! It's not difficult when you know how, and it's very invigorating. Your body will like it, even if when you start doing it, your mind rebels!

Read about the right way to take a cold shower!

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