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The Dog Days of Summer & Traditional Chinese Medicine

Are you a person that is often sick during the winter? In this heat, preparing your body for winter is most likely the last thing on your mind, but many patients find benefit in building up their immune system now, to prepare for winter. Sound crazy? Let’s start at the very beginning…

There is a saying in Chinese that the “dog days of summer” are the hottest days of the year. According to the ancient Chinese Lunar (Stem and Branch) Record Day Act determined annually after the summer solstice, the "dog days", although hot, humid, and known for causing various sicknesses, they are also viewed positively because they can provide many health benefits.

The “dog days of summer” 2016, a total of 40 days, began on July 17th (“into the Fu,”) and end on August 25th ("out of Fu"). "Fu," also known as "long summer", is one of the five seasons, according to the ancient Yin and Yang theory. These 5 seasons of spring, summer, long summer (Fu), autumn, and winter correlate to the elements, wood, fire, earth, metal, and water respectively. Although the cycle is often seen as generating, (metal generates water, water generates wood, wood generates fire, fire generates metal); this cycle can also be seen as a way to influence the other elements in a controlling fashion (metal controls wood, wood controls earth, earth controls water, water controls fire, fire controls metal). That is why there is another saying in Chinese medicine that the long summer is the best time to treat winter diseases.

When a patient comes into the office to be treated during these "Dog Days," their body is experiencing the hot weather outside, so their body’s heat (yang) is at its peak. The cold and dampness backlogged from the last winter will often be "floating on the skin," and that is why this is the best time to be treated with Chinese medicine to restore the body's yang, overcome and disperse the cold, and ultimately uproot the "evil," so sickness will not reappear during the next winter.

What type of patient can benefit?

Those people who are more susceptible to diseases during the winter are seen in Chinese medicine as having Yang constitutional deficiency, or in other words, the body has a harder time generating warmth. Common symptoms are: cold hands and feet, aversion to cold and wind, prefers warmth, easily tired, often sick, and may take more time than others to recover from an illness. In Chinese medicine, this lack of Yang, or lack of heat, can lower immune function, and then sickness is more likely to invade.

What should I do in addition to getting acupuncture?

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that "the summer is hot and damp, suitable for cleaning-up" the body. During the hot summer heat, we tend to crave cold treats like ice cream, ice water, and swimming in cold pools. While this may feel excellent momentarily, in the long run, the body can have a hard time adjusting. The cold often leads to what TCM practitioners call “dampness” which can negatively impact many systems including your body’s Yang (heat) reserve. We suggest you drink plenty of (room-temp) water, and include more “warming” foods such as beef, nuts, peppers, cherries, pumpkin, raspberry and spicy herbs into your diet. In addition, try to stay away from “cooling” foods such as melons and crabs.

A little Biomedical advice for you too!

Even though you are trying to build your Yang (heat) reserves for winter, you can still sweat a lot during these “dog days,” which can cause a huge loss of salt in the blood. This in turn decreases the formation of gastric juice due to the decreased acid chloride reserves in the blood and as a result absorption of iron, calcium and other important minerals is affected. So to help replenish moisture and salt, but not hurt your Yang further, we recommend warm (not hot) soups, teas and plenty of room-temp water. Soups contain large amounts of water and sodium, potassium, magnesium and other organic salts, and tea can be refreshing fluid, reduce fatigue.

The “dog days” of summer can be hard, but to beat the heat, use it to your advantage and build your body’s reserves of heat for the winter with a little acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. We think you’ll be barking happy you did!

Yau-Chin Yang and his associate Emily Johnston are licensed acupuncturists and are located in Newton, MA. They believe that acupuncture is a powerful tool for individuals to access their healing power within, enabling the body to relieve pain and promote wellbeing. Their individually customized treatments focus on what is most important to you, help you reach your goals, and get you back to your healthy self.

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