Monday, August 12, 2013

The Six Evils of Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine views diseases as either internal or external. Internal causes are those that are related to our mental state and are classified as the "Seven Emotions" which are: joy; anger; anxiety; brooding; sorrow; fear and fright. The external causes of disease relate to your environment and are called the "Six Excesses" or “Six Evils”: wind; cold; heat; dryness; dampness; and summer heat. In today’s post, I will tell you about the Six Excesses or Evils. Of course, there are other factors that contribute to illness, such as diet, accidents and lifestyle choices but that is for another day...

As a Chinese Medicine practitioner, when a patient comes to see me, I use these patterns to help figure out what is causing their symptoms. I’m going to briefly discuss the Six Evils, but check back soon to read about the Seven Emotions.

The names of the Six Excesses (wind, cold, heat, dryness, dampness, summer heat) originated thousands of years ago and may sound primitive, but they do accurately describe many diseases and how the disorders behave in the body. For example, in nature, wind is often stirred up quickly, coming and going many times without warning. Similarly, symptoms of wind in the body are often characterized by coming and going, sometimes suddenly. Have you ever gotten a sudden headache that left as mysteriously as it showed up? That was an attack of wind. And, if you had that same headache plus  a red face and sweating, heat would describe those symptoms so we would know that your condition is one of wind-heat. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Let’s go through some of the common symptoms of each “excess”;

Wind: A case of Wind invasion includes symptoms like sneezing, headache, and congestion. Wind also makes it easier for other pathogenic factors (illnesses) to invade your body because, if you are already feeling a little sick and your immune system is low, you are more likely to be vulnerable to other problems.

Cold: Excesses of Cold can stagnate, slow and contract both your qi and blood. Think about how easily you start to shiver and tighten up when you feel cold. Cold excess manifests in symptoms such as chills, shivering, cold limbs, pallor, painful cramps or spasms.

Heat: Heat is the ‘evil’ that injures your body fluids, disturbs your mind and can damage your yin. Common heat symptoms are red face or eyes, thirst, fever, darker or more yellow excretions (yellow phlegm or dark urine), irritability, sweating and itching. Perhaps the term ‘hot-headed’ came from these observations?

Dryness: Problems with dryness have many similarities to heat; the two exist on a continuum. Dryness focuses on the consumption of fluids especially related to the lung. That is why most symptoms involve an organ or symptom being dry. For example; your dry cough, dry skin, dry tongue, chapped lips and constipation.

Dampness: The excess of Dampness is often caused by living or working in a damp environment. Another way to look at dampness is as a stagnation or disturbance of fluids in the body. Your symptoms include feelings of heaviness, edema, sluggishness, sticky phlegm, and cloudy urine.

Summer Heat: Is a solely external pathogen that only occurs when you are exposed to extreme and/or prolonged heat. The symptoms are what you would probably expect; excessive sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea. Think sunstroke.

Through thousands of years of observation and study, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have developed these six factors which are still highly applicable. The symptoms you are experiencing will determine which herbs and acupuncture points your Chinese Medicine practitioner will choose for you. For example, if you are having an excess of heat, cooling herbs would be appropriate; if you are damp, herbs that are drying in nature would be chosen. This same idea applies to acupuncture. If you are experiencing painful cramps caused by stagnation from cold, I might apply heat to the area and I would choose points to help improve the flow of qi and blood thus relieving your pain. Be sure to tell your acupuncturist about any of your “Evils”.

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