Cloudy With a Chance of Aches and Pains

I love the early days of autumn! It’s still hot during the daytime, but the nights are beginning to cool off. The oppressive humidity of July and early August is gone, and in its place are dry, sharp days with a deep blue sky and nights with a cool edge that is perfect for sleeping. While the end of summer dishes up perfect weather, there is one downside, and it’s that you can feel a hint of winter coming. The cooler nights and darker mornings are enough to trigger mild depression and low energy in some weather-sensitive people.

While seasonal transitions are stressful on your body, the transition from summer to fall can be one of the most difficult.  While an increase in light and warmth is a welcome change in the spring, moving into the dark days of fall and winter can be a tough transition. And while you might not think that what’s going on outdoors as stressful, the reality is that we are all affected by the weather and seasonal changes to some degree.

In my practice, I see many patients who are deeply affected by the weather.  They may be suffering from arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, sinus issues, headaches, or allergies. Changes in barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, or precipitation all have the ability to aggravate their symptoms.

Weather, health, and Chinese medicineIn Chinese medicine, if you have any kind of symptoms that fluctuate with the weather, it is considered to be an external issue—meaning that what’s bothering you is coming from the outside or is affecting your body at a superficial level. Colds, flu, and allergies are categorized as external conditions, but so is your arthritic knee or sinus headache that’s triggered by a change in barometric pressure. In contrast, internal conditions are those symptoms and illnesses that are triggered by imbalances deep within your body. Autoimmune illnesses, hormonal issues, and digestive problems almost always come under the heading of internal disease.

The nature of your symptoms are a little bit like bad weather affecting your body and give us practitioners key information about how best to help you. For example, if your arthritic knees blow up during the hot and humid weather, it’s likely that your diagnosis is related to heat and dampness. However, if you’re more achy when the weather gets cold, your symptoms would be classified as cold (and most likely damp, too). Pathogens that may affect your symptoms include:

-Heat. You may feel hot overall, your symptoms are worse in the heat, and your joints or headache may also feel hot. Often migraines, arthritis, and inflammation fall into this category.

-Cold. If you’re symptoms are worse in the cold weather, chances are good that there is an element of cold to your diagnosis. Cold contracts and feels stiff and achy.

-Dampness. This is your body’s inability to metabolize water well. It may manifest as swelling, heaviness, or edema. Almost all joint pain has some dampness associated with it, and symptoms are worse when the weather is humid or damp. You can have damp plus cold, in which the cold rainy weather aggravates your symptoms, or damp plus heat, in which the hot and humid weather lights things up.

-Wind. In almost every case, the wind is not your friend. When you have an external wind pathogen, your symptoms may come and go, move around, and even be itchy. Wind is also the pathogen behind most colds and flu.

In Chinese medicine, dealing with external conditions takes a dual approach. Your practitioner will work to strengthen your exterior. This is a little like bumping up immunity, but in Chinese medicine, immunity is more like a protective bubble that keeps external pathogens like heat, cold, or damp from making you sick. The second order of business is to deal directly with what pathogens are involved in your symptoms—clearing heat, drying dampness, warming cold, or extinguishing wind. This is done through a combination of acupuncture, herbs, diet, and even lifestyle tweaks.

If you struggle with external pathogens, there are couple of things you can do for yourself to help minimize symptoms including:

-Eat to reduce inflammation. Keep your sugar consumption to a minimum, avoid packaged foods, and choose lots of vegetables and fruits as well as healthy plant-based fats (nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil, and avocadoes).

-Also, eat to ease your particular pathogen. You’ll need a little help from your practitioner here, but in general, look for warm foods (like ginger, garlic, horseradish, and cinnamon) to help with cold pathogens, choose cooling foods (mint, bananas, cucumbers, and melons) for hot conditions, and drying foods (barley, celery, mushrooms, and onions) to drain dampness.

-Pay attention to not only the weather, but your physical reaction to it. If you’re feeling achy on a cold rainy day, use a heating pad to warm your body up. If the heat and humidity is aggravating a health condition, turn on the air conditioning—it will cool things off and dry out the air.

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