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 The weaker the Fire energy in one's life, the more one will tend to be cold, withdrawn and introverted.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.
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.