Summer is the best time to treat winter ailments

In traditional Chinese medicine, the hottest summer days are the optimal time to nourish yang energy for winter, thus preventing or easing chronic ailments.
Summer is the best time to treat winter ailments

An old man takes moxibustion treatment at a TCM hospital in Zibo, Shandong Province.

Strong sun and soaring summer heat ironically announce the approach of the peak period for the treatment of winter ailments, such as asthma, bronchitis, arthritis and rheumatism, according to traditional Chinese medicine.

Sanfu (three hot periods) — or the dog days of summer — refers to the 30 hottest days of the year, which usually range from mid-July to mid-August.

It is believed that in this period the yang (warm) energy in the universe reaches its peak, while the yin (cold) energy is at its lowest ebb. The same is believed to be true for the energy in the human body.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), these 30 days are the optimal time to nourish yang energy for winter, thus preventing or easing chronic ailments that are related to invasions of “pathogenic cold” in winter. These ailments include respiratory problems, arthritis, rheumatism and cold-related stomach problems.

Every summer, TCM hospitals open special clinics for dong bing xia zhi (treating winter ailments in the summertime), and they’re always crowded.

Treatments are mostly herbal packs placed directly on the skin as well as moxibustion, cupping and acupuncture. Because of the heat, pores open up in summer and thus it’s easier for the body to absorb the herbal essence used in many treatments, which enters the body’s energy channels to target organs or bodily systems.

People usually take several treatments during the dog days, although doctors emphasize that they must get treatment for at last three consecutive summers for the best results. This helps rebalance energy and dramatically improves health in winter.

Treating winter ailments in summer is based on the TCM theory of the correspondence between human beings and the universe. Seasonal changes directly influence the energy balance within the human body. Yang energy increases and inhibits pathogenic cold, and this type of energy peaks in the dog days.

“Cold-expelling” herbal therapies applied at this time of the year can help store up yang energy, thus helping prevent relapses in the winter.

Winter ailments, as the name suggests, are problems or illnesses that occur or worsen in winter, according to Dr Wang Zhenwei, deputy director of the Respiratory Department of Yueyang Hospital attached to the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

They are usually caused by the “invasion of pathogenic cold,” and patients are usually suffering from insufficient yang energy at the same time.

Treating winter ailments in the cold of winter is just like trying to dry wet clothes on a rainy day, but it’s much easier when there’s a lot of yang energy in the body and the universe.

Summer is the best time to treat winter ailments
Andy Boreham / SHINE

In futie treatment at Shanghai Yueyang Hospital, herbal medicines are applied to the skin at acupoints.

Futie, or herbal medicine applied to the skin at acupoints, is the most common treatment for winter ailments in the hot summer.

During the treatment for respiratory problems, tiny herbal cakes are placed on the acupuncture points of the back, covered by a plaster containing a positive electric current. The patient puts his or her left hand on another plaster with a negative current.

“The electricity helps the medicine pass through energy channels more quickly,” says Dr Wang. “Patients will feel as though ants were marching through the energy channels and the skin will turn red after a 20-minute treatment.”

The treatment is advised to be taken three times a week for five weeks during the 30 dog days of summer.

The herbs for respiratory ailments are generally bai jie zi (white mustard seed), yan hu suo (corydalis root), clove, cinnamon, bu gu zhi (fructus psoraleae), zi yuan (tatarian aster root) and ginger juice. Similar therapies involving other herbs are used to treat different ailments.

Other effective treatments include acupuncture, which involves the insertion of fine needles into related acupoints, as well as moxibustion with moxa burning above related acupoints, and cupping therapy that involves vacuum cups sucking the skin along related energy channels.

To ensure the best results, it is advised to avoid cold foods and cold temperatures after the treatment, lest “pathogenic coldness” invades again. That means keeping your air-conditioned room at a relatively warm temperature, and not exposing yourself directly to the cold wind. 

Summer is the best time to treat winter ailments
Andy Boreham / SHINE

A piece of cloth is often used to cover the futie to keep them warm.

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