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Chinese Medicine and the Seasons: Summer

summerThe warm days of Summer are an invitation to joy and happiness.

A time to make the most of the simple pleasures in life, of being outside, enjoying the sun’s rays and the long days.

It is not surprising that Summer in Chinese medicine is associated with the Fire element, the most Yang time of the year, where light, life force and activity are at their peak. In our body, Summer and Fire is associated with the Heart and the Small Intestine.

In Chinese medicine the Heart governs not only blood circulation, but also many aspect of our mind or “spirit”: things such as thought processes, memory and emotional well being are all attributed to the Heart.

The emotion associated with the Heart is Joy, and this is the perfect time to cultivate our joyful nature, to be outgoing and expressing ourselves, and also perhaps a time to let go of our emotional hurts to make place for happiness. When the Heart energy is balanced, the mind is calm, thoughts are clear, our awareness of the world around us is heightened and our sleep is deep and restorative.

Signs that the Heart energy is imbalanced are a lack of joy or depression, nervousness, overwhelming thoughts or emotions, irregular heart beat and insomnia.

To balance our Heart energy and stay healthy during the Summer, Chinese medicine advice is to:

  • Wake up early and go to bed late
  • Rest at midday
  • Drink plenty of water and eat food with cooling properties (see list below)
  • Add pungent flavour to your diet
  • Refrain from anger (anger increases heat in the body)

There is one thing to watch out for during the season of the Fire element: Heat and dryness.

fire-609439_1280While sun rays can nourish our Yang and bump up our Vitamin D level, they can also inflict nasty sunburns or even worse: heat stroke!

Summer heat is a term used in Chinese medicine to describe a very mild form of heat exhaustion. It manifests with sudden fever, nausea, dizziness, heaviness of the head and body, diarrhoea and sometimes stuffiness of the chest. If you suffer any of these symptoms, a cool shower together with drinking plenty of fluid and rest is your first line of action. Cooling your body from the inside with some of the food listed below, as well as daily acupuncture treatments, should restore you in no time!

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However if you have severe symptoms such as fainting, throbbing headaches, confusion and rapid heart rate, seek medical advice IMMEDIATELY as these are signs of heat stroke, which can be life threatening.

In summer, nature provides us with a bounty of fresh vegetables and fruits, and this is the season to indulge in them.

water carafeIt is important to choose foods with cooling and hydrating properties, to balance the heat in our body and nourish our Yin.

It is best to avoid foods that are hot in nature such as spices, red meats and meat in general, as well as fried foods and dairy. Be wary of your choice of beverages: sugary and caffeinated drinks might feel refreshing, but they are the opposite of what your body needs. They may even cause more de-hydration due to their diuretic effect. Alcohol of course does the same, so if you are enjoying pimm’s and cocktails this summer, think of replenishing your body by drinking plenty of water, all day and in between drinks!

Here is a list of food and drinks you should include in your diet this summer:

  • fresh fruit and vegSalads and raw vegetables, especially cucumber, watercress, spinach, celery, fennel, tomato
  • Other vegetables such as : courgette, asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, corn, peas
  • Fruits, especially watermelon, citrus, cantaloupe, apricot, peaches
  • Mung beans, millet and barley
  • Seaweed
  • Seafood such as oysters, clams and crab (prawns and mussels are considered warm in nature)
  • Fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, cilantro and mint
  • Drinks: lemon water, coconut water, green tea, peppermint tea

Remember, a good rule of thumb with food is everything in moderation. So while these foods are best suited to summer, too much raw or cooling food can also be detrimental as it will slow down your digestive system and cause bloating or diarrhoea. Listen to your body and mostly, enjoy the wealth of fresh produces that summer has to offer and ditch the processed food! You will not only feel fantastic, but also detox your system at the same time.

We hope you will find these tips helpful, and may the best time of the year bring you joy, balance and happiness!