One thing I’ve noticed since moving to Kentucky is how vastly the temperature will shift within a single day. One moment it will be cool, damp, and cloudy with mist or rain, and a few hours later it will be hot and thick with humidity, then arid later. That’s a lot of adjustment for the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates body temperature) and the body in general. A healthy body temperature is 98.6 degrees, but in Chinese medicine, each internal organ also has a temperature that it prefers in order to function optimally. For example, the spleen prefers warmth and dryness, while the heart doesn’t do well with heat and dryness, but rather performs better with some coolness and moisture.
And just like temperature, each internal organ relates to a specific season. We are entering early summer, which corresponds to the heart. The heart is red and naturally is associated with the element of fire. Because of its natural endowment of fire, it doesn’t need a whole lot of additional heat. Still, fire prevails and is very strong in early summer. It causes the water in the ground to steam up and produce dampness. During this time, the warmth in the body or Yang Qi floats to the exterior of the body because of its attraction to the yang quality of hot weather. In western medicine, we might liken this to the process of convection, by which the body cools itself by pushing the blood and core warmth out to the surface of the body, warming the surrounding air causing it to rise and thereby allowing cooler air to move against the skin’s surface.
If most of the core warmth moves to the surface of the body, this leaves little Yang Qi or warmth to circulate in the core of the body. The core of the body houses the spleen and stomach. When it is very hot out, the Yang Qi is relatively weak inside the core, making a person increasingly susceptible to cold damage from food. Remember that the spleen prefers some warmth and dryness. Instinctively, when we are hot and uncomfortable, our desire is to reach for an icy beverage, a cold beer, ice cream, a shake, juice, or an ice-cold smoothie.
Reaching for these beverages, especially if one already has a weak spleen or yang, leads to internal cold damage. This internal cold damage results in body aches, minor chills with some heat, a lack of desire to eat, nausea, abdominal discomfort, and maybe runny stools or even diarrhea.
Many of these symptoms can be confused with the flu, when in fact it is an external attack of dampness and summer heat with internal cold damage. A person can avoid these uncomfortable symptoms by cooling off with foods that are inherently cool in nature instead of slamming down a bunch of ice-cold foods and beverages. Here are some foods that are naturally cool in temperature, and even if cooked, will help you stay comfortable despite the heat.
Lentils Mung beans
Bean Sprouts Cucumber
Oranges Snow Peas
Mint Mint tea