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June 15, 2011

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Surviving the plum rains

THE current "plum rain" season is uncomfortably warm and humid and traditional Chinese medicine holds that "pathogenic" damp and heat can invade the body and cause illness. Zhang Qian offers TCM and common-sense tips.

The "plum rain" season sounds romantic but the heat and humidity make a perfect environment for growth of bacteria and mold and it's important to ensure personal health and food safety.

The plum rains, or huang mei, that arrived last week usually last for around three weeks south of the Yangtze River, including Shanghai. The rain arrived early this year. This is traditionally the season when plums ripen, hence the name.

Traditional Chinese medicine holds that "pathogenic damp energy" and "pathogenic heat" are abundant at this time of year and can invade the body and cause illness and problems.

The TCM system identifies various invisible "pathogenic energies" that include dryness, wind, cold, heat and fire. All these can invade the body or be present because of energy imbalances.

"Invading pathogenic dampness and heat burden the heart, damage the digestive system and the respiratory system. The digestive system, which operates best in a 'dry' (energy) environment, is usually the first to react in hot muggy weather," says Dr Zhou Duan, director of the TCM Internal Medicine Department of Shanghai's Longhua Hospital.

TCM recommends foods that "dispel" pathogenic damp. They include yams, pearl barley, white gourd, tomatoes, dried purple seaweed and kelp, among many others. It recommends avoiding yang ("hot" energy) foods such as beef, pork and mutton and greasy foods (the grease promotes internal dampness), and eating more yin ("cold" energy) foods, such as fresh water fish.

It's important in this season, and in summer heat, to avoid icy drinks and cold food because they are high in yin energy and can hurt the digestive system, according to Dr Zhou.

Much TCM wisdom is common sense, such as drinking plenty of water to replace fluid lost through perspiration.

Keep the indoor environment comfortable by using an air-conditioner to reduce stifling humidity and lower the temperature, but ensure it's not too cold.

Airing rooms may not be helpful since the outdoor air may be even hotter and damper, especially at midday and afternoon. Opening windows in the evening when the air is cooler and dryer may help.

With germs multiplying quickly and "pathogenic energy" disrupting the internal energy balance, it's important to select food carefully and ensure that the food and its preparation are hygienic.

Eat food that is completely cooked, promptly store leftovers in the refrigerator and cook again before eating.

As usual, washing food and cutting boards carefully and washing hands are essential.

Many people lose their appetite in muggy weather. Some suffer abdominal distension and diarrhea, which causes fluid loss and exhaustion. Many people feel lethargic.

Low atmospheric pressure can cause difficulties for people with heart conditions, high blood pressure and respiratory problems such as asthma.

Heavy perspiration and fluid loss can cause blood to thicken. In extreme cases this can lead to seizures. Drinking plenty of water and stay hydrated. Easy physical exercise increases oxygen in the blood and to the muscles. Wet or damp clothes should be changed after sweating.

Some TCM patent medicine may be helpful in relieving discomfort. Huoxiang Zhengqi (Ageratum Healthy Energy) solution containing herbs such as ageratum and orange peel can help relieving digestive problem. Ren Dan (Panacea), Qing Liang You (Cooling Essential Balm) and Feng You Jing (Medicated Cooling Oil) all can help relieve discomfort in the season.

Many people say they feel hot and stifled and some have difficulty breathing.

With an average temperature of around 30 degrees centigrade, relative humidity of 80-85 percent and little wind, Shanghai in the plum rains is not kind to the human body, which usually prefers an environment of 22 degrees centigrade and 60 percent humidity.


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