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June 29, 2011

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Putting out the fire

AS summer officially arrives, so does summer sickness caused by internal "ascending fire," according to traditional Chinese medicine. Zhang Qian advises how to douse the flames, stay cool and feel better.

Surveying her favorite mouth-watering dishes, 26-year-old Shirley Xu just can't pick up her chopsticks. She has no appetite in this hot and damp weather.

Xu finds it difficult to breathe and she just doesn't want to eat.

"All the delicious foods just don't appeal to me; this happens in the summer when the weather gets hot," says Xu. "I don't push myself to eat and I'm kind of glad I don't have to keep myself from eating too much."

The official arrival of summer last week, xia zhi or the Summer Solstice, means you have to prepare the body for a new environment since rising yang, or heat, energy inside the body reflects rising heat in the universe.

Summer sickness

Jack Chen, a 24-year-old working at a bank, is the object of jokes by colleagues because he drinks "ladies'" flower tea every day.

"It is chrysanthemum tea, not for beauty, but to relieve my gum pain," says Chen.

The pain arose several days ago and has made it difficult for Chen to eat and get a good night's sleep.

"My mother says that it must be a symptom of shang huo, and forced me to drink chrysanthemum tea every day," says Chen, "I did, and I feel better now, though I am not sure whether it is because of the tea or just the passage of time."

Summer sickness caused by shang huo (ascending fire) is common, caused by accumulated "pathogenic heat," according to traditional Chinese medicine.

Problems have been reduced by widespread use of air-conditioning but it's still important to be alert, eat cooling foods, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables, and keep the body cool.

Drink lots of water to keep hydrated.

Summer sickness arrives in warm weather and departs when it cools down.

Symptoms include loss of appetite, listlessness, fatigue, dizziness, headaches and sometimes chest pains. "Ascending fire" may also cause sore gums, sore throat, mouth ulcers, nosebleeds and possibly acne.

Though loss of appetite may seem to be a good way to lose weight, doctors warn that irregular eating habits undermine the digestion and aggravate existing problems.

Lack of nutrition causes other problems, such as dizziness and fatigue.

"Summer sickness is more likely to affect vulnerable people, especially the elderly and children," says Dr Zhang Zhenxian, chief of the Special Needs Department of Yueyang Hospital.

Women, especially pregnant women, are more likely to suffer than men.

Summer sickness does not manifest itself in particular organ problems. People cannot adjust to the hot environment and as a result there is disordered energy in the body.

Doctors recommend yin, or cold energy, foods to dispel pathogenic heat and strengthen the stomach and spleen. These include lotus root, green beans, white gourd, yams, pearl barley, crucian carp, chrysanthemum, honeysuckle and bitter cucumber.

Foods cold in temperature and iced drinks may bring temporary relief from the heat but they may aggravate problems, according to Dr Zhang.

"Sweating is the major way for the human body to dispel internal heat," says Zhang, "Iced drinks prevent people from sweating, usually leading to accumulation of pathogenic internal heat."

Heat stroke

Though most people work in air-conditioned rooms, heat stroke can affect those who stay outdoors for long periods, as well as workers and people in crowded rooms or public places.

Apart from heat, contributing factors are long spells of intense work, lack of sleep, fatigue, alcohol, hunger, thirst and wearing clothes that are too tight.

Those who are most vulnerable are the elderly, those who are sick, cardiovascular patients, pregnant women and infants, according to Dr Chen Hao, associate chief physician of Emergency Unit of the Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM.

Dr Chen advises avoiding the most intense heat of the day and staying indoors from 11am to 3pm.

Those who go outdoors should wear hats or carry umbrellas and take water along. Loose-fitting clothes made of natural fibers that "breathe" are recommended.

It's important to stay hydrated and drink water often, not waiting for thirst.

If there's a lot of sweating, drink even more water.

It's better to avoid alcohol and coffee and instead drink slightly salted water or drinks containing sodium.

Smelling feng you jing (herbal oil of mint and camphor) and taking ren dan (TCM patent medicine made of ageratum, orange peel and mint) can help relieve discomfort in the sun.

Getting plenty of rest is important.

To dispel heat

Lotus root juice

Ingredients: Lotus root (500g), pear (500g), chufa (500g), sugar cane (500g) and sheng di (rhizome of rehmannia, 250g)

Preparation: Wash and blend in a juicer.

Benefits: Helps nourish the stomach, promotes formation of fluids, relieves thirst.

For sore throat

Gargle with salt water; make sure the throat gets a good coating.

For mouth ulcer

Honeysuckle and mung bean soup

Ingredients: Honeysuckle (20g), mung beans (20g)

Preparations: Make soup with honeysuckle, filter, add mung beans, and cook again. Sweeten.

Drink once or twice a day.


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