By Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.
Cardiovascular diseases in the form of heart attacks and strokes are two of the top five leading causes of death in the U.S. Assessing how these conditions can be rooted in inflammation is therefore critical. In this article we will examine how any form of chronic inflammation is a stress on the heart and can potentially lead to cardiovascular disease.
In Chinese Medicine, the pathology of Heat is a primary factor of disease in the same way that inflammation is associated with many health problems according to Western medicine.
Pathological heat can be clearly identified because of either an acute infection or inflammation or chronic inflammation in the form of common problems such as allergies, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, gastritis, and intestinal issues including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or colitis. Furthermore, chronic infections such as Lyme disease, Hepatitis, Epstein Barr and mycoplasma can all involve pathological heat according to Chinese Medicine.
Inflammatory heat can go unnoticed for months and years brewing slowly in the body like fermentation in a barrel. Heat can combine with Dampness (called Damp Heat) and lurk in latency for a long time before it rears a host of symptoms and pathology.
According to Chinese Medicine, Dampness is a fungal terrain and the root of many chronic health problems that today we associate with inflammation. Damp Heat is commonly created by a diet of processed foods, high in carbohydrates and toxic chemicals. Sugar in any form can induce inflammation as it feeds yeast to support a damp terrain and creates heat through its acidic nature.
Sugar is the perfect Damp Heat toxic bomb for the body. This point is well established medically with the way sugar feeds cancer cells so efficiently.
A Damp Heat fungal terrain can also be attributed to the use of antibiotics, oral corticosteroids and estrogen based drugs such as hormone replacement and birth control pills. It seems practical to say the incredible increase in pharmaceutical drug consumption is a huge factor for creating the toxic Damp Heat environment within the body that Chinese Medicine associates with the creation of chronic degenerative disease, including cardiovascular disorders. (If you'd like to learn more about Dampness and Heat pathologies according to Chinese Medicine, you can read my article here.)
It's Just About Summertime
Summer is the season when the sun kisses our palate with an abundance of fruit. However, even this natural sugar can induce serious health problems if there is a Damp Heat problem. Year round consumption of fruit sugar is a key trigger for a Damp Heat toxic environment in the body.
Historically, fruit was eaten seasonally when it was available, especially in the Summer, when the increase in ingested fruit sugar triggers the body to store fat for Winter energy. But today, with year round access to a variety of fruits, the body's gene stimulation to store fat is a year round event as well. Sugar in all forms, from fruit to breads, cookies, chips, pies, cakes, Big Gulps, ice cream, and let's not forget frozen yogurt, all contribute to obesity as the body is overwhelmed with sugar.
Blood sugar problems such as diabetes and obesity often go hand-in-hand.
The Critical Link Between Obesity and Chronic Inflammation
Medical science now recognizes that excess body fat causes continuous low levels of chronic inflammation in the body. The cause is due to inflammatory cells called cytokines that are released by fat cells. The more excess fat is held by the tissues, the greater the systemic inflammation with these cytokines wreaking havoc all over the body as they distribute through the blood and lymphatic circulation. The process of systemic inflammation can therefore be stimulated simply by being overweight.
In Chinese Medicine, obesity is considered a condition of excess Dampness, which is why it's important to reduce foods that create Dampness in order to lose weight and thereby reduce inflammation in the body.
Dairy or carbohydrate-based food are the big Damp producers. Grains, starchy vegetables, fruit (especially tropical fruits and melons with high glycemic load) and nuts are some of the key foods that create Dampness. If a person has a very swollen tongue or thick tongue coating, this indicates a body burdened by Dampness, which means it is imperative to limit these food groups until the tongue body and coating normalize. The clearing process can take months for some individuals heavily burdened by the condition of Dampness.
The other consideration in examining the roots of chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease relates to excess Heat in the body.
People with excess heat can be overweight or excessively skinny. Heat can dry up one's Yin fluids so people who are skinny can be types with excess heat as the heat burns up the body's reserves.
The key indicator of a person with excessive Heat is that they will tend to have a very red tongue body and if it has sections that are bluish, then Blood Stasis has developed as well. Blood that gets too hot thickens and becomes sluggish, and therefore impacts the cardiovascular system. Reducing foods and exposure to toxic environments that cause excessive Heat in the body is required. This can relate to ending a bad marriage or any toxic relationship as well.
Pathological Heat can be generated from over exposure to "dirty electricity" in the form of electromagnetic waves (EMFs) or "dirty" chemicals in the form of anything chemically toxic, be it natural or man-made. Pathological Heat is induced in the body by many common chemicals found in our daily lives. Chemicals ranging from medications, to pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products, facial makeup and hair spray have been associated with many types of inflammatory diseases and cancers.
Many individuals involved in the devastation of war have been exposed to man-made chemicals that have created many forms of chronic degenerative disease never seen before. In the Iraq and Gulf wars and as recent as 2015 in Syria, the United states employed nuclear waste material in the form of DU (depleted uranium) weaponry. This highly radioactive material was the pathological factor of Heat that caused numerous birth defects, Gulf War syndrome, and many cases of cancer among soldiers and civilians who were exposed to these toxic gases.
The herbicide, Agent Orange, used by the U.S. in the Vietnam War is another example of chemically induced toxic heat that continues to cause many health disorders decades later. Agent Orange was used extensively to burn the dense foliage off of the jungles of Vietnam. Even today medical doctors suggest that the toxic effects of Agent Orange are being felt as some Vietnamese people suffer from an unrecognized syndrome similar to leprosy with their body disintegrating as it eats away at itself. The Guardian reported back in 2003 that 650,000 Vietnamese people suffer from an array of baffling chronic diseases which can be attributed to the toxic exposure to Agent Orange.
How to Cool the Body on a Daily Basis
Limiting our exposure to EMFs and toxic chemicals in any form can have a big impact on preserving our health. Other measures to reduce internal Heat in the body can be even more basic than this.
It's not just what we eat, but how we cook that influences the temperature of our body. If you ingest a lot of moist or hydrating food created from steaming, soup, broth and juices, your body will tend to cool down.
In the Summer, people tend to barbecue on a regular basis, but this is the type of cooking that induces a lot of Heat. In addition, meat, especially beef, lamb, bison and wild game are very hot natured foods. Barbecuing beef and bison burgers will therefore induce a lot of internal Heat. Add to this meal some alcoholic cocktails followed perhaps with coffee, a sugary dessert and a cigarette and this smoking hot combination will inflame any body burdened with excessive Heat.
Roasting is another cooking method that dries up the Yin of the food and induces a lot of Heat. So take it easy with roasting, baking and barbecuing if you are trying to lower your internal heat and reduce systemic inflammation.
Heat and Cardiovascular Disease
Arterial plaque, or a condition called atherosclerosis, is a product of excessive heat in the blood system.
A theory that is accepted by many medical professionals is based on the idea that cholesterol levels increase in the body to plug up bleeding arterial vessels that are inflamed. Bad cholesterol is essentially a bandaid for wounding in the vessels. An elevation of LDL can therefore suggest there is a constant wounding in the vessels stimulating the calcification of cholesterol to patch it up.
According to Chinese Medicine, blood circulation through the vessels is controlled by the Heart and Percardium. The Heart relates to self-love and life's passions and the Pericardium serves as the Heart protector, which stores the unresolved traumas of our lives. From a philosophical point of view, this "wounding of the blood vessels" can be rooted in the process of "self-wounding" resulting from a negative self image, self-hatred, or a lack of forgiveness or acceptance. High LDL cholesterol and rigid arterial calcification can therefore reflect a self wounding process that results from these types of unresolved psychological and emotional factors.
Pathological internal Heat can be created in many ways and stress is a tremendous factor. Simply cultivating a life of peacefulness in one's relationships, environment and in one's heart goes a long way to keeping you cool and unimpaired by the blistering heat found in our every day world.
Practicing daily Meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi are very useful tools to return a body and mind from the chaotic state of excess heat to a calm and cool state of peace.
What you cultivate is what you become.
Are you cultivating a chronic state of stress with constant high levels of cortisol flowing through the body or are you cultivating relaxation, ease and strength within a state of calm?
The good news is that it's your choice.
May you have a Cool Summer!
Salvador Cefalu, 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, 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.