It feels like this winter has been forever-lasting. It. Is. So. COLD. Thankfully, the days have been getting longer and, more often than not, we are waking to a shining sun. Even so, it’s important to stay bundled up with the daily below-freezing temperatures (the shorts and sandals will have to wait a little longer!). Whenever I’m faced with brutal winds outdoors, I remember the lessons on TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) during our naturopathic medicine program, and the recommendation to wear scarves in the winter to prevent “Wind-Cold Invasion” through the nape of the neck. Sound bizarre? Let me explain.
According to TCM, there are internal and external causes of disease. “Wind” and “Cold” fall under exterior (a.k.a. environmental) pathogenic factors, as do “Summer-Heat”, “Dampness”, “Dryness”, and “Fire”. Giovanni Maciocia, in The Foundations of Chinese Medicine (2006) states that the body can normally protect itself against these exterior pathogenic factors, and “[t]he weather becomes a cause of disease only when the equilibrium between the body and the environment breaks down.” The Defensive Qi (Wei Qi) of the body may be temporarily weaker than the environmental pathogen – due to overwork, poor diet, emotional stress, etc. – leading to Wind-Cold Invasion. Alternatively, Wei Qi may be functioning optimally, but strong and/or frequent changes in the environment (i.e. rapidly rising and dropping temperatures) may overwhelm the body and cause illness.
Wind often attacks the top part of the body, and can get stuck in the throat, causing an itchy sensation (that “tickle” at the back of your throat, indicating the beginnings of the common cold/flu). If Cold is present (i.e. in wintertime), then Wind can whisk it into the Lungs (the first line of defence against exterior pathogenic factors) and lead to sweating, a runny nose, itchy throat, and headaches. Sometimes, Wind-Cold skips the Lungs and invades other organ channels directly – causing Painful Obstruction Syndrome (Bi Syndrome), which is intense pain, often in a single joint, worse with cold exposure and better with applied heat. Just as it can affect joints, Cold can also attack muscles and sinews, and manifest as extremely stiff neck and shoulder muscles.
Treatment typically starts with prevention: dressing warmly, maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet, properly managing emotional stress, etc. Acupuncture and warm diaphoretic (sweat-inducing) herbs (e.g. ginger, cayenne, garlic, elderberry, peppermint) can also help to expel the Wind and Cold that have invaded the body, and restore the proper function of the Lungs.
While we wait for that sweet breath of Spring to save us, remember to protect yourself against Wind-Cold and bundle up!