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Latent heat occurs when your body fails to clear a ‘pathogenic factor’.
What does ‘pathogenic’ mean? It means illness-generating.
Warning! Some pages on this site are, we like to think, easy to read and assimilate. This isn’t one of them. You have to grasp a whole bundle of concepts to make sense of the idea. If you’re really interested in acupuncture but not ‘latent heat’, why not have a look at either 5 Elements or at acupuncture channels. They’re a bit easier!
In orthodox medicine pathogenic factors are viruses and bacteria, toxins and poisons, trauma and, to a certain extent and depending on whether your doctor agrees with the viewpoint, stress and emotional factors like grief and anger.
In Chinese Medicine theory there are many causes of disease, both external, like invasion by ‘wind-heat‘ or ‘wind-cold‘ (roughly equivalent to viruses and bacteria) and trauma, and internal (including emotional factors).
Using more expressions from Chinese Medicine, where your ‘Kidney qi‘ is plentiful, it will produce adequate ‘Defensive energy’. If your ‘Lung qi‘ is working properly it will ‘spread’ that Defensive qi properly over the surface of your body.
That more or less means that where your health’s constitution is strong, it will have the potential to defend itself. Then, if your metabolism is working properly, your body will deploy that defence where needed.
The Chinese terms like ‘Kidney Qi’ etc are fairly precise and help the acupuncturist decide exactly how to apply treatment. By the way, you could have weak Kidney Qi and yet have perfectly healthy kidneys! Kidney energy is only partly related to your kidney organs.
When attacked by a pathogenic factor a healthy body will vigorously defend itself, and after an acute episode it will eject the pathogenic factor from the body.
At that point, given rest and time to recuperate, the body returns to equilibrium and health.
However, what if your body’s defensive energy is not up to a strong defence?
Here the pathogenic factor penetrates beyond the initial defence line and provokes symptoms at a deeper level.
For example, someone catches a cold but instead of developing a fever, (for example with shivers, nose blocked with phlegm, sore throat etc) his body fails to keep the disease at that level but lets it sink in further. He starts wheezing asthmatically.
From the cold and throat, the first line of defence, the barrier has now moved inwards to the Lungs. This is harder to cure without treatment whereas had the ‘cold’ been kept in the nose and throat, normally the body would have repelled the invader after a few days.
However, sometimes the invader arrives and takes up residence without your immune system (your resident defence force) apparently knowing about it.
This is like members of a terrorist cell that enter a country and establish themselves as normal citizens. Living unobtrusively while they await the call to arms, they prepare for action. Because the country’s police and intelligence agencies are unaware of them, no alert is raised.
It’s also like a house where the occupants aren’t aware that they are harbouring an arsonist who, given the right stimulus, will set the place alight.
There are various ways this ‘invasion’ can happen.
As explained above, the first is when, for instance, a pathogenic factor like a ‘cold’ is caught but fails to materialise: there is an invasion of wind-heat or wind-cold that the body fails at the time to fight off with strong reactions like shivering and fever.
Another is when a series of emotional ‘blows’ are absorbed but not repulsed properly. For example, perhaps the individual has to live through quite impossible circumstances that build up an inner rage which, though controlled at the time, awaits a stimulus to release it.
Or perhaps a series of deaths casts the individual down badly. He continues as normal for a while until a new trigger of some kind releases them and they emerge as heat, inappropriate behaviour or illness.
Think of it like a compost heap which, long-forgotten, has dried out.
But now it’s summer, and given the right stimulus, it can easily ignite, burning up and potentially damaging surrounding tissues.
Sunlight concentrated through a small piece of broken glass, perhaps, or even just a stray match.
Immunisation is another source of this.
Ideally after an immunisation, since the body has been invaded by what seems – to the body – to be a toxin, there should be a reaction: a fever and/or a rash of some kind.
If no such reaction occurs, the invasive force has penetrated to a level beyond the reach of the normal defensive forces.
There is a danger that many babies – vaccinated against many diseases before age 2 – carry potential latent heat. Theory suggests this may lead to chronic disease.
Another source is what I’ll call residual heat. This affects older more often than younger people. All of us absorb foods that aren’t properly or fully digested. Normally we eliminate them via our stools or by urination or perspiration. All of us, over life, have accidents that cause minor damage.
Normally our bodies repair themselves but if our lifestyle is such that we absorb more than we expel, then ultimately we’ll be carrying around an extra load of pathogenic factors.
Why are they pathogenic? Because our bodies are organic, they gradually cook things. Things dry out or fester:
All these have the potential to erupt into inflammation and pain and other more serious complications, given the appropriate conditions.
Of course, in many older people such ‘appropriate conditions’ never actually do occur, so their systems carry an ever-increasing load of residual factors, their bodies dry out and can’t keep operating properly, their metabolisms slow down and they move around more and more slowly. (Eventually we all die!)
Related to residual heat are circumstances where the symptoms of a disease have been suppressed. This could be from treatment with medication, but the underlying disease has not been addressed or cured.
In such a case, the underlying disease may return, possibly in another form at a later time, given the right trigger.
And sometimes the appropriate conditions for latent heat to erupt do occur.
Why would Spring do this?
Because Spring is when temperatures are increasing, winds are increasing and our bodies are buffeted more by changing circumstances. These are signs of increasing Yang energy.
Bear in mind that, although China experienced terrible ongoing wars and disturbances which at times produced appalling hardships, their Daoist philosophy also gave them great respect for the changing climactic effects of the different seasons.
So in Spring, the Chinese argued, if there were sources of Latent heat ‘hiding’ in the body, then they might erupt when external climactic factors (ie hotter, or more yang) triggered them.
Normally a trigger would be another external invasion by wind-cold or wind-heat, or just heat. Also, after a winter’s rest, the defensive energy may have been partially replenished and so could begin to defend itself – to fight back.
But because it isn’t fully replenished by the rest or because suppressive treatment is applied, our Defensive-qi doesn’t mount a proper defensive action and can’t properly expel the sources of latent heat, which then exhaust it, leading to a new status quo and ongoing exhaustion.
However, in our experience, you don’t have to wait for Spring to set it off. It can occur at any time of year, sometimes from trying circumstances and even after a holiday when your defensive energy has recovered.
When this occurs, you may suddenly develop enormous tiredness as the latent heat sources rise up and absorb all your defensive energy, leaving very little for your career or life.
If you accept this line of reasoning you may realise that trying to suppress the symptoms again, perhaps with paracetamol or antibiotics, would be poor treatment.
Well, not just poor, but very counter-productive, because it would weaken your ‘yang’ response yet again, leading to the likelihood of renewed chronic disease and tiredness.
In Chinese medicine, the theory that is most appropriate for Latent Heat is that of the Four Levels of invasion of disease. Click on the link for much more about this, but briefly:
As you can see, as the disease penetrates deeper, the body mounts a defence at various levels. At the deepest level, the defence is on the mental level with continuing unresolved fever.
Taking immunisation, ideally the body defends itself at the Defensive-Qi level. Failing that, Chinese medicine considers that the vaccine toxin passes, unnoticed, to the deepest ie Blood level, where it may turn to Heat or Damp-Heat in due course. This might be much later in life when the originating cause has been long forgotten.
Latent heat arises when the body doesn’t expel a source of illness. This can arise from – for example:
Often the latent heat turns into a more visible form or heat, such as a rash. This, embarrassing and unpleasant though it may be, is much better on the outside of the body than festering inside.
Alternatively, the latent heat may affect us mentally causing psychological symptoms, anxiety, fears, sudden rages. It may trigger other destructive processes in the body. These are usually of a drying, thickening nature. They prevent proper circulation of blood. That prevents the normal functioning of the Spleen, Stomach and Lung energies. Th e result is compromises in movement, nerve impulses and/or mental acuity.
As you age, keep active, socially, mentally and physically and maintain an active interest in life.
TaiQi and Qigong provide much more than just gentle stretching movements to help mind and body maintain health. They help foster what the ancient Chinese called ‘Essence’.
This essence is the source of life: keep it healthy, use it sparingly and it will keep you fit into old age.
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