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We’ve probably all heard motherly advice at some point reminding us to bundle up in cold weather, so we don’t “catch a cold”, or hear grandpa accurately predict a storm when his hip starts aching. Or how about getting a case of the winter weather blues? Even in the western world, we recognize a relationship with nature in terms of environmental conditions. Changes in temperature, sunlight, barometric pressure, and humidity all play a role in this relationship.
When it comes to the weather and our health, many in the west automatically think of how season changes and extreme weather can aggravate symptoms of asthma and allergies, but weather-related health concerns go far beyond seasonal allergies and asthma. Changes in barometric pressure can affect joints (like Grandpa’s hip), and cause headaches.
Headaches can also be caused by heat and dehydration, so summer adventurers beware (bring lots of water!). High humidity can intensify heat too as it limits our ability to cool down through sweating, potentially leading to hyperthermia and heatstroke.
Cold weather can tighten muscles causing body pain. It also constricts blood vessels leading to an increase in blood pressure and increased risks of heart attack and stroke. While blood pressure tends to be higher in the winter, any temperature extreme, hot or cold, can affect heart function.
Sunlight is another aspect of weather that has a lot of influence on our health. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often associated with the colder, darker fall and winter months. The reduced sunlight alters our melatonin and serotonin levels, potentially leaving us with disruptions in sleep and mood.
Ancient Chinese Medical texts describe a similar relationship between humans and their environment, though the wording and understanding of the nature of the environmental conditions differ slightly.
In TCM there are 5 main “climates” or environmental influences related to our health.
These are: COLD, HEAT, WIND, DAMP, DRYNESS
(summer heat associated with late summer, is actually considered the 6th climate)
These potential causes of illness described in Chinese Medicine sound like weather patterns themselves and are considered external influences in origin but can penetrate to have effects on the body and create what we can think of as internal weather. We can also be more prone to their influence based on our constitution and lifestyle, (and can even manifest these ‘climates’ internally without external exposure).
Any extremes with these various conditions can allow pathogens to enter, if our self-protective energy and efforts are weak, and leave us vulnerable to infections, such as with colds/flu.
They can also go deeper in the body to directly affect the organs, with symptoms presenting throughout the body in the respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, nervous, Musculoskeletal systems, and skin.
The wind is understood as the biggest troublemaker as it often combines with other influences to wreak havoc in the body. It can affect the joints, bring on skin rashes, or cause a spell of dizziness, among other issues. Cold can kill the digestive fire; combine that with a damp invasion and you can experience bloating and/or nausea. Heat and dryness, on the other hand, can injure the blood and yin fluids of the body causing symptoms such as fever, restlessness, scanty painful urination, brittle hair, and excessive thirst.
Chinese medicine takes a more preventative approach to these issues by addressing imbalances before they express more severe symptoms. There is also a focus on the integrity of the defensive energy of the body as well as the body’s ability to handle transitions with stability. Knowing our bodies will be continuously exposed to the challenge of seasonal weather changes and potential extremes of climate conditions, we can prepare accordingly.
Don’t wait for an internal weather emergency to call for an appointment, get in asap to strengthen your resilience to external weather conditions, balance out your internal climates and assist you in transitioning season to season with ease and well-being!
Ressource to expand on climates: https://tcmwiki.com/wiki/six-climatic-factors
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Yes, but…. there are a few things to consider when relying on our ‘natural propensity towards health’. The most important of which is entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, a disorderly force we must contend with. It runs counter to the organizational efforts of nature, but also works in balance with them, in yet another dynamic expression of yin and yang.
Entropy is played out in living systems as the natural deterioration of the body. As we age past mid-life our body tissues and physiological systems gradually lose their vibrance. Structure and function suffer, as entropy takes over in the process of decay necessary to the cycle of life. So, where we are in the stages of development/decline in life is a big determining factor for the ability to self-heal.
How much entropy are we up against? Imbalances have a much better chance of resolving themselves while we are young and more in the yang (growth) phase of our life versus the yin (decline) phase. The severity of disease or injury also dictates the level of counter-entropy efforts needed.
Regardless of age, however, and even the severity of our condition, we can still tap into our innate healing energy under certain conditions. And yes, some of those conditions can be practically effortless, depending on how you look at it.
One condition is: to stop doing the things that are pushing your body into a state of entropy. Don’t keep eating toxic food, don’t keep putting yourself in overly stressful situations (as much as you can control it), in other words: don’t keep banging your head against the wall.
The other condition is that your Qi must be strong. In TCM terms, Qi is that natural healing force. It is that spark of life that organizes chaos into form and function. Qi can be supported by even minimal efforts such as adequate sleep, meditation, or simply sitting quietly in a restful but conscious state.
While some of us call it Qi, others think of it as the inborn system of self-preservation. Zhigou Wang, a biomedicine researcher from China, breaks down the ways the human body resists entropy into 4 processes: self-organization, self-defense, self-healing, and anti-wear and tear.
Self-organization can be witnessed in the miracle of development, the way a single cell matures into a full-grown organism. Scientists at Tufts University looked at this miracle in the early stages of tadpole development. In doing so they documented a perfect physical representation of the organizing power of Qi: patterns of visible bioelectrical signals outlining and directing the development of the embryo.
Self-defense includes our immune system, inflammatory response, endogenous antioxidants, stress response, autophagy, and apoptosis (the destruction and removal of sick cells).
Self-healing includes compensatory mechanisms like the increase in heart rate that occurs to compensate for slow circulation due to heart damage. This is also the category of cell/tissue renewal. Think of a wound healing or a broken bone that seems to magically repair itself over time. When a large number of cells are destroyed, surrounding cells replicate to make new ones. Self-healing also happens on a molecular level with DNA repair. There is a natural editing process at work correcting damaged or mutated DNA. Finally, anti-wear and tear is simply the daily process of upkeep necessary to mend minor internal injuries that arise from continued use of the body’s tissues.
And while these self-preservation mechanisms can help to slow or even reverse the degradation of our living system, there are no guarantees (well, except eventual death).
Effortless repair and renewal do happen, even in seemingly miraculous ways, but every little effort to support this process gives us a better shot at healing and a better chance at enjoying the best quality of life. Acupuncture is one of the best tools for supporting all aspects of this self-preservation system. It has been shown to strengthen immunity and regulate inflammation, aid in tissue renewal, and even DNA repair. It does this because it supports the driving force of this self-preservation system, that spark of life, that intelligent bio-electrical energy that organizes and directs our growth and healing: or as practitioners of Chinese medicine have called it for millennia: Qi.
Yes, it takes effort to call and make an appointment but once you are on the table you can relax and allow your acupuncturist to support your own effortless healing abilities. The gentle placement of needles at various acupuncture points will free up the flow of your own qi-driven self-preservation system.
A study published by the National Institutes of Health evaluated the efficacy of acupuncture for stimulating or regulating the immune system by comparing the results from several studies that each used different methods of acupuncture. Through the use of electroacupuncture, moxibustion, herbs and acupuncture, the studies concluded Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be helpful for the immune system. The combined studies demonstrated that moxibustion helped repair the gut mucosa of rats suffering from ulcerative colitis, electroacupuncture can increase the number of T cells in the body and that general acupuncture can decrease inflammation, which plays a vital role in the immune system.
Your immune system is what keeps you healthy and helps you ward off pathogens like the flu or a cold. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time worrying about our immune system until we’re sick. Then we reach for the over-the-counter medications to help relieve our symptoms. By looking to TCM instead, we can be proactive about supporting our immune systems in a safe and natural way.
According to TCM, the body is protected by something known as the Wei Qi (pronounced “way chee”). The Wei Qi, or defensive Qi, is comparable to the immune system in conventional medicine. It acts as the first line of defense when the body is under attack from external pathogens. If the Wei Qi is strong, then the body is capable of fighting off bacteria and viruses. Extreme stress, lack of sleep and a poor diet can all play into how strong the body’s Wei Qi is and how well it performs.
There are multiple tools in the TCM practitioner’s tool box that can assist in keeping the immune system strong and healthy, including acupuncture, moxibustion, electroacupuncture, herbs, cupping and nutrition.
Each of these tools has a similar effect on the body. TCM can regulate immune function, while also treating the underlying causes of the disease. This is done by reducing the symptoms, speeding up the healing, decreasing excess phlegm, decreasing inflammation and boosting the immune-mediated cells in the body that help ward off invasions.
Studies show regular acupuncture treatments can actually increase the number of T cells the body produces. T cells destroy harmful bacteria and viruses in the body. Acupuncture needles stimulate the brain into thinking an invader (virus or bacteria) has entered the body. The brain signals the increased release of T cells and white blood cells to fight off the intruder. The amazing part is the increased cellular response lasts for several days after the acupuncture treatment.
RECEIVING REGULAR ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENTS CAN ACTUALLY PREVENT THE BODY FROM GETTING SICK.