September is when children start school, and when it becomes obvious how they have changed over the previous year. Some of the different problems that children run into as they grow and develop fall under a category of problems collectively referred to in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as “Rising Heat” conditions.
TCM is all about patterns of function. The medical language is full of metaphors and terms that are used to describe what is going on in the body and how that affects how a person feels. Herbs are applied to change the dynamics to help a person regain balance in regards to body function.
The human body runs on heat energy just like all mammals. Food or calories are converted to heat which drives bodily functions. In modern societies where food is in overabundance, it is possible to create too much heat in the body which can cause problems. The human body should dissipate that extra heat energy. Depending on the age and development of the person, excess heat can manifest in different ways and is easily seen in school children of similar age.
In infants the body directs all extra energy to growth and development. In TCM the energetic system that controls that growth has a channel that runs up the side of the body to the ear. Excess energy (in the form of too much food introduced too soon) is diverted to growth and rises up to the ear creating an environment that can lead to ear infections. Food does not cause infections, however the wrong foods are seen as providing the environment where an infection can thrive.
In children, the body is trying to move as well as grow. The child is trying out muscles and is excited to run and move. Any extra energy in the system is sent to this system making a child restless and hyperactive. Candy, calorie dense fast food and a lack of cooling vegetables and fruits commonly compound this situation.
As a child moves into the teen years, many things change. Hormones start to kick in. The teen is now focused on taking in information and sorting through who they are and what do they want to do. This is a process of internalizing rather than the hyperactivity of the younger kids (although we still see some aspects of it depending on maturity). The result is that heat is held in and has to find its own way out. For the teen who is focused on absorbing the world around them, the stomach is seen as important. The control channel for the stomach rises to the face. This results in an environment that encourages facial acne. For the teen that is sorting things out, the TCM concept of the small intestine is more important and results in more acne on the shoulders. Chinese medicine recognizes that acne is a bacterial infection, but like ear infections, the metaphor is that rising heat is forced to exit through the skin (red swellings) and creates the proper environment for common bacteria to thrive.
In adults rising heat varies with the disposition of the person. Some are “hyperactive” and may crave fast cars, dangerous sports or stimulant drugs. In other people the heat and energy is blocked, creating a greater chance of obesity. Still some others become red faced angry people.
In all of these cases the person has the problem due to too much energy or heat in the system. The best answer to all of problems caused by rising heat is to increase the amount of cooling fruits and vegetables and heat dispersing herbs. It is important to decrease the calorie dense, greasy, sugary foods. Increasing aerobic exercise can also help the body to learn to redirect and disperse excess energy in a healthy way. Herbal medicines can be prescribed to cool the excess heat and redirect that heat in more positive ways. If food and exercise modifications are not enough to control the situation, then a nationally board certified herbalist is the best source of advice on what herbal medicines would be best for the situation.