Summer and Late Summer are two distinct seasons in Chinese medicine theory. Summer corresponds to the Fire element, the emotion of joy, and the organs of the Heart, Pericardium, Small Intestine and Triple Burner; while Late Summer corresponds to the Earth element, the emotion of worry or pensiveness, and the organs of the Spleen and Stomach. Summer is the time at which Yang is at it’s peak. The days are the longest, it is bright and hot, with lots of activity. The fiery nature of the summer creates susceptibility to heat conditions. Late summer, or Harvest season, which occurs in August and through most of September (until the autumn equinox), are often especially hot and damp, and the earthy nature of late summer creates susceptibility to hot and damp conditions.
Diseases that occur in the summer and late summer include: summer-heat and summer-heat-dampness. These yang pathogenic factors occur only in the summer and are characterized by sweltering heat from the sun affecting the internal Qi of the body.
The symptoms of a summer-heat attack are high fever, irritability, burning sensation of the skin, and a rapid and forceful pulse. Summer-heat consumes the body fluids and causes excess yang to rise up the head, causing dizziness and vertigo, excessive sweating, great thirst, constipation and concentrated urine (from dehydration).
When there is high humidity combined with heat, summer-heat-dampness can attack. The symptoms of summer-heat-dampness are feeling of heaviness of the head or entire body, fever, nausea, vomiting, loose stools or diarrhea, bloating, a feeling of fullness in the chest or stomach with no desire to eat, concentrated urine, irritability, a slippery and rapid pulse, and a yellow and sticky tongue coating.
Summer-heat diseases can lead to sunstroke. Sunstroke manifests mildly with dizziness and vomiting, and manifests severely with unconsciousness, cold sweats, cold extremities, and forceful deficient pulses.
To avoid these diseases one should live by the season. In the summer it is important to stay cool, well hydrated, eat seasonal foods, spend time outdoors, to spend time with friends and loved ones, and to stay active.
- Stay cool, with light colored, airy clothing, covering the skin. Wear broad-rimmed hats to keep in the shade.
- Keep hydrated with plenty of water, electrolytes, fresh fruits and raw vegetables. Avoid dehydrating beverages, such as coffee and alcohol.
- Avoiding hot-natured and dampening foods is beneficial. Alcohol is a hot and damp substance, so should especially be avoided on very hot and humid days. Greasy and oily foods are best to avoid due their dampening nature.
- Excessive sugar creates dampness in the body. While sweet is the taste of the earth element, and therefore late summer, it is best taken in small quantities. Fruit or squash (yellow/orange are the colors of late summer) are the best sources of a sweet taste.
- The taste of the fire element, and the summer, is bitter. Eat bitter foods in the form of fresh greens, such as romaine lettuces, endive, arugula, chard, watercress, radicchio, mustard greens, spinach, and beet greens.
- Red is the color of summer, so red foods such as tomatoes and red bell peppers are also good choices.
- The summer is the time to eat more raw, light, and fresh foods that can be harder on the body in cooler seasons. Enjoy the abundance of the summer and late summer harvests and eat fresh foods whenever possible. Cucumbers are delicious and cooling, with both sweet and bitter taste. Eat cucumbers on their own, chopped into a salad, sliced in your water, or piled on a fresh veggie sandwich! Mung beans are a cooling, easy to digest bean that also drains dampness. It is your perfect summer bean. In China, mung bean popsicles are popular during the summer. Melons and berries are cooling, fresh, seasonal choices to keep you hydrated and healthy.
- Spend time outdoors as much as possible. Enjoy the warm temperatures and all the beauty nature has to offer.
- Staying active is important this time of year especially, due to the Yang energy. Hiking, climbing, running, walking, fishing, and all other outdoor activities are important to the health of your body, mind and spirit. Cardiovascular exercise is especially important during the summer due to the relationship of the heart and it’s role in blood circulation.
- Spending time with loved ones brings joy! Nurture your joy in summer, the emotion of the summer.
- In late summer, worry is the emotion. Because the season’s bounty is so important to nourishment during the fall and winter, this makes a lot of sense, particularly in ancient times.
- To nourish the spleen and stomach in late summer, it is especially important to slowly and calmly eat, mindfully cutting and chewing each bite. Eating reasonable portions and taking a walk after meals to aid in digestion is beneficial to the health of the late summer organs.
While much of Chinese medicine advice on how to support your health through the seasons is common sense, many tips are very helpful. As we have become more disconnected from nature in our modern time, much becomes less common sense.
I hope you have a healthy, joyful, and active summer, with plenty of time spent outdoors with family and friends.