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Health Care News & Updates          

November 3, 2009

Winter Health - Part 1

European and Oriental traditions have similar teachings about taking care of health in a cold climate. Our parents and grandparents often would simply say "it's common sense" and that's what they knew it as; they did not have the extensive information on health and lifestyle choices that has developed in the last few years. Even with variations from country to country and generation to generation there are similarities in the advice passed along and it has withstood both the test of time and of modern research.

Keeping warm and dry is one of these ideas. We normally want to be warm and dry, but often both kids and adults will allow themselves to become chilled for extended periods of time. Situations such as sitting near the draft from an air conditioner while working, or watching a football or hockey game without enough warm clothing can cause a drop in body temperature that may feel uncomfortable. But what is really happening when hands and feet are cold, muscles stay tense and shivering starts?

In Oriental cultures, as well as in their medical theories, excessive cold depletes energy and weakens the body. A weak body is not able to carry out normal functions or produce extra energy. Our brains use a lot of energy; one of the results of being chilled for too long is reduced thinking capacity! Fatigue is another common early response to being too cold. Oriental Medicine would say the Yang Qi becomes weak and/or blocked. If extreme, Yang collapses and the person dies.

In western medicine much research has been done for mountaineering and military activities in cold climates. We know that kidney function (which is where Yang is generated) is reduced when the body cools, and it is easy to become dehydrated. The Kidney and Heart work together in Oriental Medicine, and both Oriental and western medicine understand that circulation in the capillary beds is reduced. This is one reason thinking is difficult when hypothermia occurs, and has been the cause of many mountaineering accidents. In acupuncture theory, the brain is one of the things controlled by the Kidney System.

But long before you become cold enough to be hypothermic, body chemistry can change enough to affect how you feel and function. The traditional knowledge and scientific research on hypothermia simply illustrate the extreme of a gradual process caused by exposure to cold for too long. The conditions most likely to cause hypothermia are temperatures above freezing and wet or damp weather. This is often what we have to contend with here in Wisconsin, during much of the year.

If you are tired and stressed to start with, and are feeling even mildly uncomfortable from the cold on a regular basis, you could feel noticably better during these cold, damp months simply by warming up. It's easy. People who live at high altitudes keep their waist wrapped to keep heat in, and keep their neck and head covered. They can often be found without mittens, with open jackets, but will be wearing a warm wrap around their waist "to keep the kidneys warm". We can wear a '"kidney wrap", even indoors. A light scarf is enough and can be worn under or over a shirt or sweater. If you are easily chilled you can also use the disposable hand warmers that are sold in many sizes and forms. They last for anywhere from 6 to 20 hours and provide a constant source of comfortable warmth.

Another traditional practice is to drink hot teas or whatever was locally available. Brewing something hot to drink can seem like an endless process in some cold regions of the world, but it serves a valuable function by constantly warming those people up from the inside, again saving body energy for other work. Avoid cold soda, water or other drinks during the winter.

In both western and eastern cultures, grandmas and parents have been saying for a long time...."put your hat on!" and "wear a scarf!" and "you need a cup of tea" (or hot chocolate or a rum toddy.....) and now we know they are validated and supported by both our science and the rest of the grandmas, on the other side of the world.

Warm up, relax, stop shivering and save your energy for something you'd rather be doing!

And if you have Raynaud's syndrome, or other health concerns that are worse in our long Wisconsin winter, remember acupuncture works!
Susan Cushing
Asari Acupuncture LLC
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