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May 11, 2011

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Chill out with 'cold' TCM foods

THE arrival of summer is important in traditional Chinese medicine as it is the time to release excessive heat in the body. Eating "cold" foods can help improve energy flow and reduce irritability. Zhang Qian reports.

Summer has arrived, according to the Chinese solar calendar, and now is the time to adjust your diet and schedule to ensure you stay healthy.

For all things TCM, there is a season. Spring is for sprouting, summer for growing, autumn for reaping and winter for storing. And with summer, the universe enters the "prosperous" season.

"Huang Di Nei Jing" ("Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor") says the energy of the sky merges with the energy of the Earth during the summer, thus yang ("hot") energy grows rapidly in the universe while yin ("cold") energy diminishes.

To coordinate with the universe, everyone should adapt their schedule by getting up early and going to bed late, which helps yang energy grow in the summer, according to Dr Zhang Zhenxian, physician at Yueyang Hospital.

Releasing excessive heat and blockage of blood and energy are the main principles of summer health maintenance in TCM.

Only by releasing heat in summer will you be able to absorb reinforcing therapy in autumn and winter, the seasons for reaping and storing energy.

Eating yin or "cold" energy, foods and sweating can help release blockages and improve energy flow. Do not avoid the sun in the early summer (use sun block), but drink enough water to make up for the loss of fluids.

Weak people and those with heart conditions should avoid sunstroke.

The heart in TCM refers not only to the organ that pumps blood but also the blood vessels and the brain.

The energy in the heart grows quickly in summer and may become too "prosperous," resulting in irritation and impatience. This increases the heart rate and puts more stress on the heart. It also aggravates hypertension and other conditions.

"Keeping calm and staying in a good mood is the priority for heart patients in summer," says Dr Zhou Duan, director of the TCM Internal Medicine Department at Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM. "A bland diet may also help."

People with hypertension should keep checking their blood pressure and take their medication on time.

"Cold" or "neutral" herbs and foods are recommended in the season as qing bu (clear reinforcement) is the dominant strategy for reinforcement in summer. These foods usually help clear up internal pathogenic heat and dampness, while reinforcing healthy energy.

North American ginseng ("cold") and white ginseng ("neutral") are recommended. You can chew dried chips or make tea or soup. Try making congee with white ginseng, chrysanthemum, ebony, maidong (dwarf lily turf root), shihu (dendrobe) or wu wei zi (shizandra).

Ginseng leaves can help dispel pathogenic heat and promote creation of body fluids that are quickly consumed in hot days. American ginseng with royal jelly and Qingshu Yiqi Wan (Clear Summer-heat and Reinforce Energy Pill) made of herbs like ginseng and shizandra can help reinforce energy in summer.

"Cold" energy foods like fuling (tuckahoe, a root), lotus roots, lily roots, jujube and gouqi (wolfberry) can nourish the heart, according to Dr Zhou.

Other yin foods like bitter melon, mung beans, white fungus and watermelon can help dispel excessive heat and relieve feelings of irritability.

"Clear reinforcement" is suitable for most people except for those who are weak and often suffer pathogenic cold problems like diarrhea. And of course, don't overdo it.

Sitting quietly, closing your eyes, and clearing your mind are also beneficial in the season as they can help balance your mood and adjust the internal yin-yang balance.

You should also be on the alert for digestive problems as the spleen and stomach are more vulnerable in hot weather.

Dr Zhou warns against eating cold foods like ice cream as they can stimulate a weak digestive system and cause indigestion, stomach ache and diarrhea.

Do not eat food as soon as it is taken out of the refrigerator; let it warm to room temperature and don't eat too much at one time, says Dr Zhou.


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