One of the central concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the intimate connection between the body and the environment. The organs, tissues, cells and meridian system are in dynamic equilibrium with each other and continuously adjusting to changes in the external surroundings. If the body cannot cope with fluctuations in the environment, internal balance is lost and disease may arise.
Seasonal shifts play a critical role in TCM theory. In the world around us, summer is distinguished by characteristics like high temperatures, elevated humidity levels, thriving flowers and trees, and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables to eat. These changes are reflected in both our physical and emotional bodies through energetic shifts.
TCM believes that living in alignment with the planet brings us closer to optimal health. Therefore, it can be helpful to adopt practices that support our bodies through these transitions. Summer is a wonderful time to explore Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques that can help us stay cool and balanced until autumn arrives.
Summer and Traditional Chinese Medicine
There are five seasons according to TCM: winter, spring, summer, late summer and fall. Each one has many associations, and based on this information, we can adapt our daily lifestyle in ways that are suited to the current season.
Summer is a season of yang. It is a time of bountiful energy focusing on expansion, growth, transformation, activity and creativity. The associations of this season include:
- Element: Fire
- Organs: Heart, Small Intestine
- Emotion: Joy
- Color: Red
- Taste: Bitter
- Sound: Laughing
Ancient Eastern medicine practitioners saw these associations as having a profound impact on our physical and mental well-being. Staying in harmony with the predictable seasonal patterns is believed to promote internal balance and reduce the risk of illnesses that tend to come up in the summer months.
The Fire Element
The element associated with summer is Fire. Fire gives light and energy and is symbolic of maximum activity or greatest yang.
During the summer months, all things are considered more outgoing or outward in nature. This season is seen as a prime time to concentrate on rebuilding the energy consumed during winter and spring. When the Fire element is in balance, it manifests as having an overflowing enthusiasm for life. We are drawn to action, play, socializing, brainstorming, completing projects and engaging in life wholeheartedly.
But as with all things in TCM, balance is essential. An excess of Fire can create hyperexcitability, insomnia and restlessness. We may become so busy that we neglect relaxation and meditative time. A deficiency of Fire can also have negative consequences. We may experience a lack of joy, exhaustion and a feeling of apathy.
The Heart and Small Intestine
The organs associated with summer and Fire are the Heart and Small Intestine. During this season, their energy is at its peak.
From the TCM perspective, the Heart has spiritual and emotional connections as well as mechanical functions. The Heart is home to our spirit (shen), and deficiency of Heart qi results in challenges to our mental health, cognitive abilities and emotions. Physically, the heart controls blood circulation. Poor blood circulation affects numerous areas of our health, so it is vital that this process operates well.
Signs of imbalance in the Heart include confusion, memory loss, insomnia, depression, mania, heartburn, irregular pulse, red complexion, lack of motivation or enthusiasm, and dryness of the throat.
The Small Intestine is the yang organ paired with the Heart’s yin. The small intestine’s physical function is to support digestion and elimination. In TCM, emphasis is placed on its role as an eliminator. The Small Intestine is said to separate the pure from the impure, in both a physical and metaphorical sense.
Signs of imbalance in the Small Intestine include abdominal pain, digestion issues, appetite disturbance and nausea. When there is imbalance in the gut, the Heart may also be impaired, and the mind may be ill at ease.
A Healthy Summer Diet, According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Chinese nutrition classifies foods according to their temperature, taste and ability to moisten and strengthen the body. In summer, TCM practitioners recommend increasing the intake of cooling, yin foods to disperse heat, reduce toxins and build up body fluids. Lighter foods are prioritized to avoid indigestion and maintain balance within the Small Intestine and Heart.
Most vegetables are considered cooling foods. Fish and other seafood are also cooling, while most meats are warming. Some of the best cooling foods are cucumbers, leafy greens, watercress, mung beans and watermelon.
Foods that add more heat to the system should be restricted. This includes heavy, greasy and fried foods, as well as excessive alcohol. Overconsumption of any foods, but especially these, can lead to digestive difficulties.
Chinese Herbs for the Summer Season
Herbal medicine is one of the most widely practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques. The following formulas may help alleviate common summer ailments and support good health during the warm season.
Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion — Bai Hu Tang, Ren Shen Bai Hu Tang
Heatstroke causes the body’s core temperature to rise, leading to rapid breathing, increased pulse, confusion, slurred speech, agitation and, in extreme cases, permanent damage to the body. Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heatstroke.
Dehydration – Zhu Ye Shi Gao Tang
The chances of dehydration increase significantly during summer due to high temperature and warm air that result in internal fluid loss. Consumption of water and other fluids, as well as foods with high water content, should be increased during summer to prevent dehydration.
Summer Heat Toxin – Yin Qiao San
In TCM, the pathogen Summer Heat is characterized by scorching heat outside, which then attacks the body’s internal system. Heat combined with Dampness creates a pattern of symptoms including fever, thirst, nausea, sweating, restlessness, dizziness and irritability.
Food Poisoning – Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San
Summertime is ideal for barbecues and picnics, events that bring food into the open where it can stay warm too long. Bacteria, including food-borne bacteria, thrive in warm and moist environments, leading to an increased risk of food poisoning.
Allergies – Sang Xing Tang, Cang Er San
Allergy season may begin in spring, but it lasts through summer. Allergy-triggering pollens from grasses and outdoor molds contribute most to summer symptoms. Seasonal fruits and vegetables can also be allergy-causing culprits.
Swimmer’s Ear – Long Dan Xie Gan Tang
Otitis externa or “swimmer’s ear” is an infection in the outer ear canal. When water is trapped in the ear canal after swimming, it creates a moist environment that fosters bacterial growth. Summer’s heat and humidity can further fuel bacterial proliferation.
Skin Concerns – Huang Lian Jie Du Tang, Huang Lian (powder)
Summer is rife with potential skin irritants, ranging from tick and mosquito bites, to sunburn, to rashes from poison oak and poison ivy. Some of these are simply short-term annoyances that are best avoided, while others can have serious long-term health consequences.
Make the Most of the Summer Season With TCM
Living in harmony with the seasons is a core aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine. A change in the season means a change within ourselves, and this means new ways to support our physical and mental health. Through gentle modifications of lifestyle and diet, we can better align with the natural qualities of summer and remain in a state of balance.
To receive the maximum benefit from any Chinese herb or formula, consult with a licensed practitioner or herbalist. A qualified practitioner can assess your symptoms and recommend a personalized regimen of KPC’s herbal supplements. Contact our team at 949-398-8158 for assistance finding a practitioner who carries KPC products near you.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. Before taking any herbs, make sure you ask your practitioner about the best herbal formulas for your body type and needs. Every patient may require different herbs based on their unique body chemistry.