Guest post by Kath Bartlett, Doctoral Fellow, LAc
You may love that glass of iced tea or soda on a hot day. However, Chinese medicine disagrees with this choice.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is preventative care oriented. By engaging in a healthy lifestyle we can prevent disease processes from occurring and minimize their consequences when they do. Diet, exercise and reducing stress, not over-working and getting proper rest/sleep are the main components of lifestyle considerations for westerners.
Acupuncturists strongly advise our patients to drink room temperature beverages, such as lemon water to aid digestion.
Warm versus cold
Why room temperature? Because Traditional Chinese Medicine sees digestion as a warm process. It takes heat to break down the food in the stomach and intestines and extract the nutrients we need.
Putting cold foods and beverages into the stomach weakens digestive function (Spleen Qi, in TCM speak). When digestive function (Spleen Qi) is weak, nutrients that the body requires to make strong Qi (energy) and Blood (nutrition for the cells, organs, muscles, skin and tissues) do not get extracted.
Fluids are also not transformed well, setting up the processes for inflammation, edema, phlegm (allergies and sinusitis) and damp/oozing/blistering skin conditions (acne, hives and rashes).
When the weather gets warm (actually, all times of year) start drinking room temperature water with lemon for a little flavor. I recommend filtered water.
In his book, Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Dr. Elson Haas gets into the detail of filtered water. Carbon filtration and reverse osmosis are important. Use only glass containers for storing water as the polyurethane will leak into the water, especially if there are any scratches in the container.
The same goes for food storage. Use glass or stainless steel containers, no aluminum because it leaches. Especially, throw away any plastic containers that are stained or scratched. They are also leaching. When drinking lemon water, don’t use a plastic cup as the acid in the lemon will cause the polyurethane to leach.
May take some getting used to
At first, drinking room temperature beverages takes some acclimating. Remember that of all the countries in the world, we are the only ones who regularly drink iced beverages. If you encounter iced beverages when you travel, the establishments are catering to American tastes. Within a month or two, you will become accustomed to room temperature beverages.
After a while, you’ll find that cold or iced beverages are too cold. At restaurants, tell the server to bring the drink without ice and to add a slice of lemon to the water. If you get an iced drink, send it back or just take the ice out with a spoon and put it in an empty dish. I’ve been doing this for years. It’s no big deal.
And while you’re making such an effort to drink healthy, avoid caffeinated drinks including coffee, sodas and tea (and yes, the decaffeinated beverages are a misnomer. They still have caffeine).
Avoid drinks with chemicals such as soft drinks, sports drinks and so on. A reliable rule of thumb is if you don’t understand a word in the ingredient list, don’t put it in your body.
The same holds true for foods (chemicals are not food) and anything you apply to your body surface, such as shampoo, lotion (including tanning lotions), cosmetics and shaving cream. Remember the skin is the largest organ of your body. Chinese medicine includes the skin as part of the Lung system. Chemicals get absorbed through the skin directly into the bloodstream through the capillaries and microvessels that circulate in the skin.
Many people get rashes due to chemical irritants and exposure because the immune system (also included in the TCM Lung system) is not able to mount an effective response against them.
Clear, pure water is cleansing
So drink clear, pure water. A little lemon adds flavor and is cleansing. Many fasters do a 30-day master cleanse elimination diet for detoxification. Foods are gradually eliminated, beginning with drugs, alcohol, caffeine, sodas, then meats, carbs, fruits and veg until 3 days of juice fasting remains. During this time, a beverage of lemon water, maple syrup and cayenne pepper is sipped throughout the day. Lemon for cleansing, syrup for energy, and cayenne for warming and moving the blood. Foods are then gradually added back in, in reverse order, beginning with fruits and vegetable. Each new food is added one at a time, several hours apart, checking for any negative reactions in the body that would suggest a food sensitivity or allergy.
Many people like to begin their day with lemon water prior to breakfast. Rise, drink a glass of lemon water, followed by meditation, yoga, qi gong, tai qi or another light exercise, and then eat breakfast. This is a gentle way to begin the day and make the transition from sleep/dreams to waking/life.
Caution about fasting
And by the way, fasting should only be done by those with a strong constitution. Those who are weak, ill, infirm or hypoglycemic should not engage in fasting as the body cannot afford to go without regular nutrition throughout the day. Check with a health care practitioner prior to beginning a fast to be sure it is safe for you. TCM does not recommend fasting as we feel the Spleen needs regular meals and that fasting puts too much strain on the body. However, I can see the benefit of an elimination fast for those seeking to identify food sensitivities, if the patient has a strong and robust constitution.
Kath Bartlett, Doctoral Fellow, is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Herbalist, board certified in Oriental Medicine, NCCAOM. She practices at Bartlett Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in Scarborough, Maine. Bartlett is a certified NAET (Nambudrpad’s Allergy Elimination Technique) practitioner.