Is Fire Accelerating Your Aging? A Look at How Heat is Impacting Your Body and Mind

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

With Summer upon us, the energy of the Fire element is quickly heating up.

Fire energy relates to the Heart and cardiovascular system so it's important to know how to protect these systems from excessive Fire. Excessive Fire energy causes inflammation and when chronic or lingering for a long time, can particularly damage areas in which it occurs.

Fire is created not only from the sun's radiation but also via electromagnetic radiation from electronic equipment which most of us are exposed to daily in the form of Wifi signals, electrical power lines throughout our homes, cell phones and a host of other sources. The Fire energy of radiation in any form leads to oxidative stress which creates degeneration on the cellular level.

To be clear, oxidation is a natural part of physiological function. Problems occur when oxidative stress is too great for the body to manage leading to the accelerated breakdown of cellular structures on all levels and thus premature aging.

 

Fire Energy and Pathology

In Chinese Medicine, the primary organ of Fire energy is the Heart which relates to the mind and our desires. 

In today's modern society, mental and visual overstimulation tend to create excess Fire energy in the Heart, which can be at the root of many cases of nervousness and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). With today's common problem of screen addiction, it's not surprising to see more and more children or young adults on medication to manage their ADHD or anxiety.

In addition, since the element of Fire relates to one's desires and passions in life and the emotion of joy, if we are overly driven by these attributes, we may find ourselves with a Heart Fire based emotional problem.

Essentially, any situation that overstimulates the mind or emotions - be it a trauma or too many responsibilities in one's life - may create too much Fire in the Heart and potentially lead to the emotional problems of nervousness, anxiety and in extreme cases mania. These are all indications of Fire out of balance in the body.

Sometimes the Fire energy gets burned out or it can be smothered by an excess of dampness in the body leading to a state called Phlegm Misting the Heart.

In these cases, the person will exhibit a state of indifference and apathy towards life. The weaker the Fire energy in one's life, the more one will tend to be cold, withdrawn and introverted.

On the flip side, the strong Fire type personality is very outgoing and if the Fire energy becomes excessive, it can lead to hyperactivity and even overbearing or obnoxious behavior. This is why some people who have too much Heart Fire can become intense and obnoxious upon drinking too much alcohol or spicy stimulants like coffee.

Stress in general produces Fire in the body and comes in many forms be it physical, emotional or mental. Thus, Fire energy is ubiquitous and a natural part of life. 

What's important for graceful aging is to learn how to manage this powerful energy in your life in order to support a healthy body and mind, and to cultivate feelings of contentment and peace.

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Living Excessively Causes Fire to Flare Up

The body's structure is Yin, which represents substance in the form of skin, flesh, fluids and blood. Yang on the other hand represents function and movement.

Youthfulness is a state of abundant Yin which provides insulation to protect the body from Fire, which is very Yang.

However, as we age, Yin declines and the body becomes more vulnerable to the Fire energy. This appears as drying up of tissues causing wrinkles and other symptoms of dryness.

Any form of inflammation indicates that Yin needs to be supported and Yang Fire needs to be cooled.  

Since function and movement are Yang, one way to prevent excess Fire from building up is to avoid excessive activity, especially during the warmer Summer months.

Young people can better handle activity during the hot weather but as we get older it's important not to overheat ourselves, especially during the warmer parts of the day. It is especially important as we age to not dehydrate ourselves with excessive sweating as well.

Keep in mind, if you are drinking what seems to be sufficient amounts of water but still feel overheated or experiencing signs of dehydration such as a headache or dizziness, try adding some sea salt to your water as the minerals in the sea salt will help you rehydrate quickly.

Another common excess that creates too much Fire is overeating.

Overeating creates oxidative stress on the body especially the overconsumption of 'hot natured' foods like lamb and beef or beverages such as coffee and alcohol.  With this said, Chinese Medicine recommends the decrease consumption of these types of foods during the summer months. Furthermore, sugar creates acid in the body which generates heat. The summer is replete with fresh fruit as it's a way nature provides for hydration during hot weather. Keep in mind, however, that when over consumed, these concentrated sweet foods create damp heat in the body which essentially is a toxic fungal terrain.

Excess Fire burns out your Qi, leading to fatigue.

Oxidative stress damages the mitochondria within the cells. Mitochondria are the cell's powerhouse structures that create energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). As free radicals break down these cellular components, the body's energy production declines.

In Chinese Medicine, we say "heat destroys the Qi" and when we are not producing adequate Qi the body doesn't have sufficient energy to function optimally. Some common signs of Qi Deficiency are lethargy, low immunity, hyper-sensitivity to Wind and Cold, low libido and a weakened digestive system.

 

*Nutritional Supplements Can Help Manage Excessive Fire and Increase Your Energy

Modern nutritional science is making rapid breakthroughs in understanding how to protect and rebuild mitochondria to enhance cellular energy. A number of amino acids have been found for this purpose. 

As suggested previously, when there's too much Yang Fire, we need to support the body with cooling Yin substances. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are considered Yin substances because they build structure. Many amino acids have also been found to have profound effects in reducing the damage of excessive free-radical activity (Yang Fire).

Considered the mother of all antioxidants, glutathione (GSH) is a peptide made of three amino acids. It is so important that cellular levels of GSH are considered a biomarker of longevity. The problem is that glutathione is not effectively absorbed directly through the digestive tract.  However, since it is manufactured in the body, it can be supported with certain food substances, especially those in the cruciferous vegetable family due to their sulfur amino acid content.

N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) is a precursor to GSH and has interestingly been found to help reduce neurocognitive problems such as bio-polar disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), addictions and even schizophrenia.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid is one of the important antioxidants that's been found to increase GSH levels and to be neuroprotective. Alpha-Lipoic Acid has been used successfully to help prevent neurotoxicity induced by chemotherapy which can lead to symptoms such as peripheral neuropathy, possibly by preventing mitochondrial destruction. 

CoQ10, or in its reduced form Ubiquinol, is especially useful in protecting the cardiovascular system from the Fire of oxidative stress, as well as enhancing mitochondrial function to boost Qi (energy) throughout the body, specifically for the heart muscle. 

Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a compound formed from the amino acid L-Carnitine. Acetyl-L-Carnitine has been found to cross the blood-brain barrier and protect the brain's neurons against oxidative stress. It also supports mitochondrial function systemically and specifically beneficial for strengthening brain function in terms of memory recall. For this reason, Acetyl-L-Carnitine is one of the important supplements being used to support individuals with Alzheimer's.

Astaxanthin is another wonder antioxidant in terms of supporting healthy aging as it has been found to reduce oxidation of the cardiovascular system including the prevention of LDL from oxidizing which leads to atherosclerosis. Astaxanthin also protects mitochondria from free-radical damage which is likely the reason it is known to increase energy and stamina.

Astaxanthin provides important cosmetic benefits as well. Known for its carotenoid content that create the pink pigmentation in flamingos and salmon, Astaxanthin has been found to support skin health through multiple mechanisms. Astaxanthin has potent anti-inflammatory effects through its suppression of inflammatory cytokines which are created in response to the sun's UV radiation. It also directly benefits skin health by supporting the skin's moisture barrier to reduce skin dehydration and by increasing collagen production.

In fact, Astaxanthin has been found to reduce wrinkles, improve skin elasticity and skin texture as well.

PQQ (pyrroloquinoline quinone). PQQ is one of my favorite new daily supplements as it can activate genes that promote the formation of new mitochondria for increased cellular energy production. Recent studies have shown that 20 mg per day of PQQ has demonstrated the beneficial effects of increased blood flow in the brain and enhanced cognitive function. Trials showed increased mental function after 3 months of daily supplementation with PQQ with increased blood flow to the right prefrontal cortex of the brain involved in higher level cognitive functions.

PQQ also helps reduce neurotoxicity likely through enhancing blood flow, and protects neurons from damage due to excess sugar in the blood which has been attributed to the creation of the tau proteins and amyloid brain plaques associated with dementia and Alzheimer's.

Vinpocetine is the last antioxidant I want to discuss because of its neurological and vascular protection for the brain and heart. This powerful supplement is popular in Europe and has been found to improve cognitive function as well as short and long term memory by supporting the production of ATP, improving cerebral blood flow and glucose uptake in the brain. Vinpocetine also enhances the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline to stabilize mood, decrease depression and increase the sense of pleasure in ones life.

With these benefits we can ascertain that Vinpocetine is best for cases of depression and mental lethargy when Heart Fire needs to be sparked.

 

Taming Your Fire to Support Graceful Longevity

The last point I want to discuss is about how modern society is based on cultivating too much Fire in our life.

As I mentioned earlier, screen addiction is a big problem for most individuals young and old. The more staring we do at our devices, be it the phone, TV or computer screen, the more the Heart gets over-stimulated.

Furthermore, the more active we live, the more Fire energy builds up in the body. Waking up some days it certainly seems we are part of the human race and this race just never seems to end. That's Fire energy and it is very damaging to our health on all levels.

It's true as it's been said that we should try to return to being a human being rather than a human doing.

I like to look at the idea of longevity in terms of quality over quantity. With that said, ask yourself, "Do I feel a sense of contentment with my life?" This is an important question to ponder. You may have a bucket list that seems endless with things you want to do and experience. However, it may be time in your life to try and cultivate less Fire by moving toward calmness and peacefulness to cool down your inner Fire. Perhaps rather than focusing on checking off all those things you want to experience in life, take time each day to be in gratitude for your life as it is.

A simple exercise you can practice is to write down a list of all things in your life for which you're grateful. Doing this will help you be more present in the moment and thus nourish your Yin, helping you cultivate both inner peace and graceful longevity.

*The information in this article is presented for educational purposes only so please ask your healthcare practitioner for guidance in what supplementation may be best for your specific needs.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

Cultivating Self-Love and Overcoming Addictions: A Five Element Perspective

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

There are five basic elements categorized in Chinese Medicine: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element has its own characteristic features and goes through a generation cycle through which it transforms into another element.

Five Elements

The Five Elements begin with Wood because Wood represents growth and new beginnings. The season of Wood is Spring as new growth begins to sprout forth.

The active energy provided by Wood creates Fire and Fire is about maturity and relates to the season of Summer, the hottest time of the year. 

Fire creates ash as it burns and this ash creates the next element, Earth. Earth is about harvest and corresponds to a period known as Late Summer. Earth also corresponds to a 16 day transitional period that occurs during each seasonal transition. 

The minerals found in the earth are metallic, so the Earth element creates the element of Metal. Metal is about decline, corresponding to the season of Autumn, a time when nature transitions toward a state of dormancy. 

As Fall enters full dormancy, we enter the Winter season, which relates to the element of Water. Water relates to going within, introversion and introspection. Winter is the gestational period that supports the consolidation of energy back into our Kidneys for physical rejuvenation and inner transformation. Through this process, we can blossom forth a resurgence of new growth energy that ensues in the springtime as the 5 Element cycle starts again.

The Summer's Fire Energy can set Addictions Blazing --

 Since we are in the season of Summer, the element of Fire is in its full effect potentially overheating our body, especially our blood.  Hot blood creates an over-stimulated emotional state. If we add hot natured food to our diet such as coffee, alcohol and hot spices such as garlic, rosemary, basil, ginger, peppers and onions, the internal fire can really get out of control during this season causing inflammation, high blood pressure, skin rashes and emotional disorders such as anxiety, irritability and outbursts of rage. 

If we don't make an effort to keep the body cool and calm, patterns of ADDICTION can become more of a problem during this time of year too as the Heart Fire starts to blaze and a person will crave substances such as sugar, medications, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs such as marijuana to numb out.  

One of the very interesting aspects about the Heart is that it is the organ related to us having emotional control in our lives. If we are stuck in patterns of addiction, then our Heart Fire is overwhelming the function of our Earth. The Earth relates to the Spleen and the Mind so one's mental control becomes overwhelmed by their emotions if the Heart Blood gets too hot. The Earth/Spleen energy also relates to the Pancreas so we can see as the emotions get over aroused with Heart Fire, a person will crave sweets and damp-inducing comfort foods to numb out and placate one's restless emotions. Even fruit, which is very high in sugar and prevalent during the Summer when eaten in excess will create a lot of dampness which further compromises a person's mental capacity to control their heart's emotional fire. In addition, as dampness accumulates in the body, it creates a sluggish circulation of Qi energy and a person will reach out for stimulants to get their energy moving which can perpetuate the state of internal heat that is driving  the emotional imbalance and the addictive behavior.  Internal dampness relates to the popular topic of CANDIDA which underlies many health problems from the head to the toes.

Managing the internal fire driven by addictions is a very important issue underlying all Chronic Degenerative Disorders --

Whether the addiction is substance related or other such as an addiction to work, exercise or masturbation, these habits induce a smoldering of internal heat that grows and grows deep in the body. This is a dangerous condition that we call "Latent Heat or Latent Fire"  that becomes suppressed so a person may not be aware of it because they are not symptomatic. However, over time as this suppressed heat that is trapped in the body slowly burns out the body's resources to stay repressed, various symptoms of disease will start to manifest. These diseases are all related to inflammation from this latent heat escaping anywhere in the body and is the underlying cause of chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune disorders and cancer. 

Breaking the Addiction cycle is about CHOICE --

The more severe the addiction, the more involved a person's treatment may need to be. However, it's ultimately about choice. We've all seen people with longterm addictions to cigarettes who stopped smoking on a dime when they made up their mind to do so for whatever reason. Chinese Medicine is a powerful ally to support a person to clear the fire in the blood in order to reduce the restless emotions and the addictive cravings. Cultivating a daily routine of calming practices such as taking nature walks and doing Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga and Meditation are very important especially during the summer season to help calm the emotions so one can regain mental control of their lives and break the addiction cycle.

From a dietary perspective, eat more of a vegetarian diet during the hot summer months and follow a diet that is cooling and alkalizing for the body. And always remember, those morning protein smoothies that include everything but the kitchen sink, well, they induce a lot of dampness and heat in the body so try to simplify your morning smoothie and have a nice green vegetable based juice instead to alkalize your body.

Green juices have a bitter, cooling nature that effectively drain and clear out the heat in the blood, calm the heart and mind and help you to once again gain mental control over your emotions. 

Calming the Heart supports cultivating Self-Love --

As the blood becomes more alkaline, the Heart energy calms down and this allows the Kidney Jing, also called Essence, to be conserved. Conserving one's Kidney Essence relates to cultivating Self-Love because the Kidney energy relates to one's relationship with oneself.  

Essentially, through the process of calming the Heart, a person becomes more Spiritually oriented as one's desires of the heart begin to settle down and become less important in one's life. This process of detaching from one's desires allows one's sense of Self-Love to grow and expand.

If you find yourself this summer getting a bit overwhelmed, frazzled and feeling "out of control", remember, you have a choice to be calm, to cultivate detachment and embrace yourself with more love as you sit back and sip your tall glass of green vegetable juice. 

Start your day this way and you'll really enjoy your summer with a happy calm heart!


Salvador Cefalu, L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, CA, 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