Category Archives: environmental factors

Climate, Health and TCM II

Dry arid environments in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) were considered to be damaging to the health of the airways, skin and colon, these 3 organs were grouped together in TCM because they were all considered to be organs of excretion. Two of these ofcourse have ongoing continuous contact to the air around us and if we suffer from a condition such as eczema with asthma for instance the dryness of the air can have a profound effect on the way we feel.

Dry air can come from air conditioning indoors and drought outdoors, dusty and smoky places tend to dry the air too. Our airways are not suited to such conditions because an important part of what protects our lungs is the moist lining of the nose, pharynx and trachea- our whole windpipe. If the lining dries up then dust, pollen, germs and soot do not get trapped in the sticky moist airways mucosa (skin that is naturally moist like inside your mouth).

Smoking is a common cause of airway dryness too and also has the effect of suppressing the fine hairs (cilia) lining your windpipe that normally help brush trapped airborn particles backwards out of your lungs. Dryness in TCM when applied to it’s effects on the colon explains alot of constipation. Dryness is said to help dissipate chi, like water leaving through our breath, we lose far more water through our lungs than through our bladders.

Coldness in TCM is said to make your energy sink, it can really stiffen you up particularly in your joints, most of our joints are not very well padded at all so if it is cold outside our knees and spine lose mobility particularly as we get older. Bones are easier to break  in cold weather and the action of the kidneys and bladder were considered impaired in the cold too, it always seems harder to withhold yourself from urinating when you are cold and we then even feel colder once we do so because something warm (urine) has left  the body. Our procreative potentials were regarded as the domain of our kidney chi, this is why TCM explains the feeling of sudden heat loss after sexual climax.

The action of the adrenal glands in TCM were considered to be part of your kidney energy or chi because they are physically attached to the top of the kidney,  in Western Medicine (WM) the adrenals are considered to be a part of the endocrine system because they secrete hormones, the most well known of which is adrenaline. It is considered in TCM that too much coldness exhausts your adrenals faster and lowers the libido too. Coldness is considered in TCM to be strongly related to the emotion of fear and is often one of the last things a person feels before they die.

TCM explains health concepts as a series of relationships, it is a science of pattern identification where all things can be considered as connected through a web of influence between diet, rest, stress, environment.

Climate and Health in TCM

As the experts debate the climates’ present and future trends locally and globally, the question of what it all means for human health crops up.  Tropical disease can creep into sub tropical zones with a rise of mean temperature and extreme weather conditions can cause quite acute health concerns for us but day to day how do seasonal weather changes affect us?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) weather conditions have been considered relevant to human health for many centuries, not just in broad terms for everybody but for individuals too. This is obvious to some extent in the preferences that we as indivuals have for hot or cold, humid or dry and moving (wind) or still air. In TCM wind is referred as the “spear-head of all disease”, in TCM theory the wind is believed to cause colds and flu’s which somewhat stands to reason when we think about how viruses, bacteria, spores, pollens and particle pollution are swept up into the air by wind and are therefore much easier for us to breath in.

Wind was also thought to make people and even animals more aggressive, unpredictable and impatient, this is because wind is considered to be a “Yang” (male-like) force so something already quite Yang like a  man, a child or a dog becomes too Yang and over excited whereas women tend to like the wind more because they are usually not as Yang to begin with.

Ask any primary school teacher what they think of windy days and you will see them roll there eyes and tell you how unruly the kids can get on those days. My father when he was a boy living on a farm would set rabbit snares of a night time with his brothers and they always would catch more rabbits on a windy night because the rabbits seemed to run around more. Dogs seem to yap more too. In the Sahara being constantly buffetted by the Sirroc (strong seasonal winds) for days on end are said to at times drive men mad.

Women in TCM are generally considered to be more adversely effected by stints of damp weather rather than the wind*(unless a woman’s energy type is considered to be more “wooden”), digestive concerns tend to be more prevalent during rainy spells. An extreme example of too much rain is severe gastric and cholera in flood conditions.

Women in many cultures are considered to be more lunar and water like (emotional) than men are, the length of the lunar year is even the same length as the menstrual cycle. Women tend to suffer from fluid retention more than men do and feel less energised when it is wet than men do. Dampness tends to slow people in their thinking as well as their actions, even flies are easier to swat when there is high humidity in the air. As we age our climate preferences become stronger because our resistance to what doesn’t agree with us lessens.

You may have heard about a well known health study that concluded “feeling cold” doesn’t “give you a cold” Adding wind to the equation may have changed the conclusion.

Occupational Health

It is relatively easier to spot potential safety hazards in a place like a building site than say a shopping centre for instance. On a construction site you might be hit by a falling object, become a falling object yourself, get injured by malfunctioning equipment,  have years of breathing in demolition dust or have something non-lethal like industrial deafness. Many die and are seriously injured every year in construction accidents.

The truth is that potential occupational health and safety hazards exist in all work places. Take sick -building- syndrome (SBS) for instance, a big part of SBS is inefficient and contaminated air conditioning systems, after about 20 years they  become very difficult if not impossible to keep bacteria and virus free. Buildings are literally constructed around air conditioning systems, to fully replace such a system can be enormously expensive which can make it completely impractical even if it is possible.

The main air con shafts that movie stars crawl through in action flicks divide into many narrower ribbed ducted tributaries that service smaller spaces- quite impossible to get in there and clean. Nowhere is this more serious than in our hospitals, infection control gets progressively more difficult mainly for this reason. Health ministers are either averse to publicly acknowledge this or more worryingly, they might not even know.

How many of us work in air conditioned buildings?

Some OH&S statistics are quite shocking and surprising, did you know nurses are more likely to get assaulted than police in their place of work?, particularly in casualty units on Friday and Saturday nights by drunk patients. Then their are stress issues affecting your health at work, during the implementation phase of the GST workers at the Taxation Office took record levels of stress leave because of the changes. More soldiers have died from suicide after returning from Afghanistan than who actually died in the field fighting because of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Occupational health and safety hazards take many forms.

I ponderered on numerous occassions what the healthiest occupation might be and I thought that being a Yoga teacher would go close, doing Yoga all day- what could be healthier than that? I thought that right up until I treated a Yoga teacher who told me that the yoga was fine but going around to each student trying to correct their technique was often quite difficult because of the awkward postures she would often find herself in doing this, especially in beginners classes.

If you do any job long enough and apply yourself to it, in some way it can undermine your health.

We have come a long way since child miners died of black lung and asbestos workers were expected to toil without protective gear but our new jobs have new OH&S challenges and we cannot rely on the workers compensation system to protect our interests like we used to. Changes to the Work Cover act several years ago has made compensation for work place injury and illness much harder than it once was, we really do have to take care of ourselves in the work place.

The importance of circulation.

The circulation of blood and lymph around your body is of paramount importance for your health, you don’t just get inconveniently cold hands and feet through poor circulation it is more involved than that.

The circulatory system is described in anatomy (structure) and physiology (function) textbooks as being a transportation system. Your bright red blood (arterial) transports oxygen, sugars and proteins to your cells and your dark red blood (venous) takes away the carbon dioxide and other cellular wastes. If you are more at home with engines it is a bit like how your fuel and exhaust system operates, any interruption to the smooth flow of fuel and waste gases causes performance problems.

So central to how we operate is circulation that all the things that make us ill or kill us do so partly or fully via the circulatory system and it is not just cell food and waste that gets ferried through our inner “canals” it is our hormones too. We all make jokes about our hormones (and those of other people) but they are really no laughing matter because without them we couldn’t grow, reproduce, have sex or many other important and interesting things.

Pretty well everything works better if you have good circulation, at the “big” end of your circulatory system  the heart pumps your blood through your blood vessels and the rising and falling pressure in your chest when you are breathing is what pumps (at a much slower rate) the lymph around your body. Lymph is partly identical to blood but is straw coloured and clear (not unlike urine) and blood is red and is thicker, both are very important to our survival as is the “tubing” that channels it, our lymphatic and blood vessels.

At the “small” end of the circulatory system are our capillaries, many so fine and narrow that microscopic red blood cells can only float up them in single file. If our largest arteries and veins (eg aorta and vena cava) are the super highways of the body the capillary beds are the lanes, driveways and internal roads of our homes, factories and shops, all the little things that make the big things work.

All of the advice and explanations that are offered in these pages relates to and affects the circulation. If you have a reasonably good imagination and reasoning powers it is easy to get an idea how things like smoking, dehydration, poor diet, flabby muscles, droopy posture and lazy lungs might not help you have good circulation.

This article relates to most of the other blogs written in bodywork, even those offering Chinese medicine perspectives on human emotion because our emotions and thoughts can effect our circulation too. If you are often angry and have a bad heart it is like you have one foot in a coffin and the other one on a banana skin, it is a dangerous luxury to have both.

If you think that you may have a circulatory disease don’t self diagnose see a doctor and think of all those tiny rivers inside of us as a beautiful wilderness that is worth protecting.


The act of breathing is something that most of us don’t usually give a second thought to because we don’t need to think about it in order to do it. Respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer and emphysema have received much recent attention in the media through anti smoking campaigns but there is more to healthy lungs than abstaining from smoking.

Occupational breathing hazards in mining,  spray painting, construction, demolitions, agriculture and even cleaning can harm your airways too as can living in heavy traffic zones,  infact a government study found several years ago that more people died from the effects of air pollution annually (2006) in Australia than from road accidents. Australia is not a place that really springs to mind for most when air pollution is discussed.

Orthostatic pneumonia (not viral) is a common cause of death for invalids on full bed rest, when a person needs to spend most of their time lying down in bed the lungs do not work very efficiently, eventually they weaken and lose their ability to clear themselves especially if there are colds and flu about. Respiratory tract infections by themselves can be a real nuisance for the young and strong too, they always seem to happen when we least have time for them and costs the ecomony at large big-time.

No discussion about breathing would be complete without talking about asthma, the use ( and sometimes abuse) of asthma medication has been on a steady rise for some time now. There are strong allergy links for many who have asthma, climate is often a factor (cold and dry in particular), stress can bring  attacks on very quickly and being unfit with a lousy diet never helps either.

With so many things that can impair our breathing it is fortunate that there are many things that we can do to help protect our precious airways. A good place to start is good posture, ask any one to take a deep breath and the first thing they do is stand or sit up straight, it is impossible to fill your lungs without straightening the spine, if slouching is your normal posture you are doing your lungs no favours.

Cardio vascular exercise  helps your lungs, mucous secretions can settle in our lungs over time, cardio vascular exercise helps clear them and aids the cilia (fine hairs lining your airways) to sweep out dust and other particles that you accidently breath in. More specifically for asthmatics, training your breathing with the Buteyko method of breathing exercises has performed quite creditably in medically supervised trials in Australian and British hospitals in recent years. Test subjects found that they could reduce their dependance on medication and  they even looked calmer and more energised doing the Buteyko exercises.

Air filters and de-ionizers can clean up room air quite well and for people who have to live and work in excessively dry air environments may find air humidifyers useful, the lining on our airways is moist for a reason , it helps to trap air borne dust and bacteria, dry air can make us more susceptible to colds and flu.

If you are in some doubt about what hinders your breathing an allergy test might be worth having.