Overcoming the Challenges to Healing: Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold

Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

In Part 2 of this series we covered the topic of Wind with its many manifestations and psychological correlations. Wind is also associated with other pathological factors including Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold, which will be introduced in this finale of our three-part series (you can see the first two articles here and here).

Examining a person's tongue is an easy way to get direct insight into the pathological patterns of Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold that may be the key challenges for overcoming a chronic degenerative disease. 

The simplified version of tongue diagnosis that I'm introducing will provide great insight into your health status in understanding the factors challenging your ability to heal. To begin, let's take a look at the tongue zones so we know where problems are occurring based on tongue assessment.

Different parts of the tongue reflect different internal organs and systems within the body. The center of the tongue for example reflects the Stomach behind which are the intestines. The sides of the tongue relate to the Liver. The tip of the tongue corresponds with the Heart system. When the tip of the tongue is red it often reflects mental over-activity, anxiety and potentially insomnia. Behind the tongue tip is the Lung zone and when heat is present you often see red dots in this area. The root of the tongue relates to the Kidneys, Bladder and genitals. 

Tongue diagnosis can get quiet complex, so for the purpose of this discussion we're going to look at the overall appearance of the tongue in exploring  the factors of Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold which underlie all chronic degenerative diseases.

DRYNESS

If there is simple Dryness due to dehydration, the tongue coating will look dry reflecting a deficiency of thin fluids. These fluids can be restored by simply increasing one's fluid consumption, especially water, and eating hydrating foods such as juicy fruits and vegetables such as celery. Be cautious when hydrating with electrolyte beverages such as coconut water because these elements can increase heat in the body and exacerbate an imbalance if there is already internal heat within the body.

A deeper or more severe level of dryness is indicated when there is no distinct coating on the surface of the tongue. In this case, the tongue body may look like raw meat. When the tongue coating is essentially missing, we call this a peeled tongue, which reflects dryness due to Yin deficiency. Yin refers to the body's substance so we can say this Yin deficiency is an aspect of a hormonal depletion and an actual deterioration of an organ or organs.

Hormonal (Yin) deficiency relates to the thick fluids of the body.

Imagine the thick fluid of oil in your car engine. If your car engine runs without enough oil, the engine will eventually overheat and burn out. In the same way, when the body is hormonally depleted, overheating will often occur. As the body overheats, calcium will be pulled out of the bones to cool down this heat by alkalizing the acid in the blood. This is the mechanism that drives osteopenia and osteoporosis especially in the time of peri-menopause and menopause when a women's hormonal status begins to decline.

When you drive yourself hard and overstimulate your adrenals, heat is generated in the body. If your  status of thick fluids is weakened due to aging, poor lifestyle habits such as insufficient sleep, over-dependency of stimulants or drugs, poor diet or simply being born constitutionally deficient, Yin deficiency problems  of overheating can occur at an early age. Emotionally this heat can show up as anxiety and attention deficit disorders, which we commonly see in many people today. 

Yin deficient dryness can manifest typical menopausal syndrome including hot flushing and dryness symptoms such as the thinning of the skin (collagen breakdown) and drying up of the body's mucosal tissues making the delicate tissues of the body more prone to irritation and inflammation.

In the upper body, dryness can lead to irritation of the eyes, sinus or the lungs. 

In the middle of the body, Yin deficiency dryness can cause mucosal degeneration in the Stomach causing weak digestion and even gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD). GERD often relates to a lack of proper HCL (hydrochloric acid) production due to stomach degeneration that occurs with aging. Yin deficiency dryness in the Large Intestine leads to chronic constipation and in the Small Intestine relates to the very common problem of  leaky gut syndrome caused by breakdown of the mucosal lining of the Small Intestine. Yin deficiency dryness that has lead to leaky gut syndrome causes un-digested proteins to escape the Small Intestine and leak into the bloodstream. These partially digested proteins are pro-inflammatory factors that create systemic problems of inflammation.

In the lower body, Yin deficiency dryness leads to conditions such as vaginal dryness and thinning of the bladder wall causing recurring cystitis (bladder inflammation).

For a chronic health problem, if your challenge to healing is a deep level of Yin deficiency, you must give yourself at least 6 months for sufficient healing to take place and it is usually longer for the body to repair itself after years of degeneration. The more severe the condition and the more depleted the patient, the more time will be required for the healing process.

Inflammation is the key issue when trying to resolve chronic degenerative diseases and the pathological factors of Heat, Cold and Dampness underlie many inflammatory problems.

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HEAT

Heat can manifest from dryness, but often heat is due to toxicity. In this scenario, the tongue coating can be normal but the tongue body is very red rather than the healthy pink of a normal tongue body color. When it becomes red there is too much heat in the corresponding organ associated with that zone of the tongue. Too much heat indicates an inflammatory state is actively occurring.

This type of Excess Heat is due to a toxic body in need of clearing and an alkalizing diet to cool down the acidic terrain.

Excess heat may also present with a yellow cast on the tongue coating. This is a more complex issue because this is a mix picture of Dampness combined with Heat. To keep our discussion simple, a thick tongue coating, either white or yellow, indicates that Dampness is present. This relates to a fungal (Candida) or parasitic issue in the body which we will explore next in our discussion on dampness.

Internal heat can be generated from many factors ranging from mental and emotional stress to an acidic or overly spicy diet as well as allergies and sensitivities to various substances one is exposed. Heat can also be generated from stagnation in the body. Chinese Medicine differentiates 5 types of stagnation which will be the topic of another article. These stagnations are based on Food, Qi, Blood, Fluid and Cold.

DAMPNESS

If the condition of dampness relates simply to a problem of fluid metabolism this is usually not too difficult to get under control. You can see this type of problem when the tongue is overly swollen and wet and often the sides of the tongue are pinched or scalloped. However, when dampness relates to a fungal problem in the body it can take months and even years for a person's health problem to be resolved. 

A damp, fungal problem will be indicated when the tongue coating is thick and white or even yellowish.

Fungal issues are difficult to resolve because they insidiously spread everywhere from head to toe. It takes a very strict diet regimen often requiring the elimination of grains, dairy, alcohol and most sugars to get an aggressive problem of dampness under control. Dampness causes swelling in the body and is associated with arthritis. One of my patients got rid of his Rheumatoid Arthritis condition simply by switching from a vegetarian diet to a Paleo diet. According to Chinese Medicine, over time grains can lead to an infestation of parasites and fungus. After being on a grain-based vegetarian diet for over 40 years, this patient was able to resolve the pathological dampness underlying his Rheumatoid Arthritis by eliminating grains over the period of just two years!

COLD

Internally, cold is generated by diet such as a lot of raw food, including smoothies and Western pharmaceutical drugs especially those which suppress inflammation, pain and the immune system or antibiotics. Western medicine relies heavily on anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications to relieve pain. The problem is that these drugs induce what Chinese Medicine describes as Cold, which is another pathological factor. 

Cold freezes pain and inflammation to bring temporary relief, but Cold also freezes the problem into the tissues and inhibits the circulation of Yang Qi and blood, both of which are needed for longterm healing. Yang Qi is metabolic energy that creates body warmth and supports healthy immunity. Once the Yang Qi is compromised, a person's healing capacity is weakened.

A person with Yang Qi insufficiency will show signs of fatigue, low metabolism, gets sick easily and tends to feel cold. This type of patient will usually present with a tongue that is pale (lacking warmth), swollen and very wet.

Cold leads to the stagnation of circulation and pain and can also be induced by working in a cold environment such as the fish department in a grocery store. I have seen in my clinical practice arthritis conditions develop over long term exposure to cold environments. 

A condition of cold with dampness will show a white pasty tongue coating and this is often the case with the use of medications especially antibiotics which lead to fungal problems. 

A tongue that is overly swollen and pale, shows a system that has fluid stagnation due to a lack of Yang Qi to properly stimulate the circulation for good fluid metabolism.

For any condition of cold, you need to focus on warming your core energy.

The factors of Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold must all be considered in the healing of chronic illness. Looking at your tongue can give you an idea of what is going on in your body.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder and Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Overcoming the Challenges to Healing

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

The purpose of this multi-part series is to present concepts established in Chinese Medicine that explain physiologically and philosophically the many challenges involved in a person's healing. My hope is to empower those  who may be struggling with healing through the insightful wisdom of Chinese Medicine with its history of more than 2500 years.

Chinese Medicine is rooted in ancient philosophy with a human being considered to be a microcosmic expression of the environment in which he or she is created. This philosophy is based on the theories of Yin and Yang and the 5 Elements which were established as an integrated theoretical system by the School of Naturalism during the 5th century B.C.;  the Warring States period in China's history. During this period, these concepts became fundamental elements of Daoist philosophy and Chinese Medicine.

This ancient wisdom can help us understand many of our modern day dilemmas regarding our physical and psychological health.

In a previous article, we examined an often overlooked issue -- scar tissue.

If there are scars with significant adhesions causing tightness and tenderness to the touch, this may be the first factor that needs to be treated and resolved in order to initiate the healing process. Scar tissue if problematic can block the flow of energy in an area of the body that relates to a person's health problem. (You can read the article here for insights on how scar tissue may be a major barrier to your healing.)

Conventional medicine and the use of medication is often the first resort for most chronic sufferers of disease.

While medication often provides quick relief, it usually does not provide a longterm solution to health problems. Most patients of chronic disease seek alternative healthcare to either reduce their need for medication or to get off medication altogether. While medication may bring quick short-term relief, healing chronic problems usually takes time for deep change to unfold on the physical and psychological levels. 

Lifestyle changes are essential to heal chronic diseases in particular, though the healing that comes from these changes takes time to unfold. 

Essentially, a chronically suffering individual must give the body and mind a chance to both integrate these changes in his or her life as well as time to allow deep internal transformation.

The development of a chronic disease does not occur overnight and the longer a condition has been around, the longer it's likely to take to resolve. Often the chronicity of a person's disorder is due to the very treatments used to control it. Western medicine is designed to control the disease process, not necessarily resolve it. This approach can create health complications with side effects that further complicate the disease process and make healing an even greater challenge.

Another barrier to healing we commonly see in our clinic is the simultaneous introduction of too many different healing modalities.

This shotgun approach can send mixed messages that confuse the body, potentially interfering with the healing process. One practitioner may be working to detoxify a patient while another is trying to strengthen and consolidate energy for healing and rejuvenation. These approaches do not necessarily work well together at the same time. If the various healing modalities with which the patient is working are not in alignment with one another, the effects of the various treatments can be counterproductive to achieve the desired result. 

It is therefore important to ensure that your healthcare practitioners' strategies are in alignment and clearly working towards your health goal.  

Some of the greatest barriers to healing a chronic health problem are rooted in a long history of emotional, medicinal, surgical and dietary complications. 

To understand these barriers, the following articles will survey the pathological factors that according to Chinese Medicine underlie chronic health disorders and impair the healing process. These factors include the pathological processes of WindDampness, Cold, Heat, food stagnation, Qi stagnation and blood stagnation. In addition, there may be factors of deficiency such as deficiency of Qi and deficiency of blood.

The material presented in this blog series will help you gain an understanding of these pathological factors  and help clarify, according to Chinese Medicine, why you may be suffering from a chronic health disorder.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder and Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Why Scar Tissue May Be the Cause of Your Suffering

Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Untreated wounds from past traumas, surgeries or injuries may be causing you more problems than you realize. To understand why, we have to look at the nature and cause of scar tissue.

When you cut or burn yourself,  the body forms a scar on the skin’s surface as the area begins to heal. In the same way, scar tissue forms internally when there’s an injury to the muscles, ligaments or tendons. 

The body forms scar tissue after surgery, radiation, or trauma in order to repair the area that has been injured. 

When left untreated, scar tissue can grow and inhibit the Qi (energy) and blood from flowing adequately through certain areas of the body, eventually causing pain and obstruction in the internal organs.

What's most interesting is that these effects can go unrecognized and may show up several years after a surgery or injury. 

Sometimes, this scar tissue can form an adhesion that binds two parts of tissue or organs together. Abdominal adhesions are a common complication of surgery, particularly abdominal or pelvic surgery. They have the potential to cause small bowel obstructions in adults, and are believed to contribute to the development of chronic pelvic pain.

Adhesions typically begin to form within the first few days after surgery, but they may not produce symptoms for months or even years. 

Pelvic adhesions can occur in any organ within the pelvis, such as the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, or bladder, and usually occur after surgery, such as after C-section or hysterectomy. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which results from an infection, frequently leads to adhesions in and around the fallopian tubes. Since a woman's eggs pass through her fallopian tubes into her uterus for reproduction, fallopian adhesions can lead to infertility and increased incidence of ectopic pregnancy.

During menstruation each month, a woman sheds endometrial tissue. Endometrial tissue can implant in areas where it does not belong, such as on the surface of the uterus,  ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel and the membrane lining of the pelvic cavity. Endometriosis is the abnormal growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus which is similar to that which lines the interior of the uterus. The severity of endometriosis is determined by the location, extent and depth of the endometrial implants, their size and presence in the ovaries, as well as the presence and severity of scar tissue.

Scar tissue can also form within the membranes that surround the heart, thus restricting heart function. Infections, such as rheumatic fever, may lead to adhesion formation on heart valves and can impede heart efficiency.

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, it is vital to treat scar tissue anywhere it has developed in the body. In fact, long-term health issues go unnoticed and the effects of treatments are impeded simply as a result of the presence of scar tissue in the body.

This is why it’s crucial to ask patients if they’ve had any surgeries or traumatic injuries and treat the area where scar tissue is forming prior to continuing with deeper treatments.

Even scar tissue from old piercings can be a problem, depending on where they're located on the body.

I once had a patient with a long history of recurrent digestive issues. Each time I would treat him, he would improve for about a week and then his abdominal cramping and diarrhea would return. One day as I was examining his abdomen I noticed a small scar around the area of his pelvis. He had never mentioned having any surgeries so I was quite surprised to see this. When I asked him about it, he let me know that he had been stabbed in that area during a fight when he was 18 years old (he was now in his 50s). Naturally, the area had started forming scar tissue after the injury and the removal of his stitches. 

I started to vigorously work on the area with acupuncture, moxibustion and topical treatments with essential oils. Within the next month, his digestion started to regulate and the lower abdominal pain disappeared. 

There are several other times where I’ve seen patients with chronic pain in an area of the body that clearly radiates as a result of the stagnation caused by scar tissue in another area. 

One of the most unusual cases Salvador has treated was a young, emaciated high school girl who came to our clinic wearing a feeding tube. She had not been able to eat anything for many months and had lost a considerable amount of weight and strength.

Once a vital athlete, this young woman came to the clinic looking like skin and bones, and a feeding tube was required for her to receive any form of nutrition since she would vomit anything she tried to eat and digest naturally. Her doctors were at a loss for the cause of this problem and upon finding no clinical reason for her disorder, she was referred for psychiatric evaluation. After ruling out anorexia and other psychiatric disorders, she came to our clinic hoping to find an answer to why she suddenly developed the inability to eat at the young age of 17 years.

During her first visit, Salvador learned she had received surgery for an intestinal obstruction as a very young child. Upon examining her abdomen, Salvador found two very deep, large scars along the upper part of her abdomen. He suspected these scars to be the cause of her problem, and her history confirmed this. She had become an athlete in high school and was doing  a lot of abdominal crunches to strengthen her core muscles. Over time, the scar tissue in her abdomen began binding up her small intestine. At some point the binding became so severe that it blocked her ability to ingest food entirely.

Within a few months of releasing the scar tissue with acupuncture, Salvador was able to get this young woman off the feeding tube. Within about a year, she was able to recover her strength so she could finish high school and resume the normal life she once enjoyed as a teenage girl who loved to sing and play sports.

The important takeaway is this -- your body is intimately interconnected, so any time you have discomfort in one part of the body it will affect other parts.

This is why it’s so important to maintain the free flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body. Releasing scar tissue ensures this free flow so that you can heal from any other issues that may be impeding your health and wellness.

Scar tissue is an important barrier to healing. Other barriers to healing will be explored in our Challenges to Healing series.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com