January has now passed, and it feels mild in Merritt this winter (I was living in Merritt when I wrote this). The low mountains to the north protect us from the cold wind, and the wide open space to the south lets in lots of sunshine, helping it to feel cozier here than it otherwise might. In ancient times, people didn’t have the wonderful home heating systems we have today or all the best clothing to protect their bodies from the cold. Cold has always caused humans much trouble.
1,800 years ago, a physician named Zhang ZhongJing wrote a masterpiece on this topic titled Shang Han Lun. It describes diseases generated when cold attacks the body from outside and complicated illnesses which can arise when cold disorders progress and transform. It provides herbal cures for each one – approximately 260 formulas in total. Zhang’s theory accounts for environmental influences and individual response types, and explains how disease tends to progress in stages from “exterior” to “interior” in the body, an enlightened theory foundational to Eastern medicine. He created a system for identifying and treating disease which has endured ever since.
Stage 1: coldness first attacks the exterior of the body: skin, muscles, joints, etc. Typical symptoms are fever and chills, neck stiffness/pain, headaches, body aches, coughing, phlegm – the initial stages of common colds. Eastern medicine uses a light perspiration treatment method during this phase.
Stage 2 involves coldness attacking the body more deeply, in the chest or abdominal cavity. We call this “half exterior, half interior”. Typical symptoms are different than in the first stage and require different treatment. Likewise in Stage 3, when coldness enters the interior of the body: the stomach, the bowels. There are six stages overall.
Zhang specified that coldness doesn’t only come from outside the body. It may be generated by circulation disorders within the body, such as poor digestion, blood stasis and phlegm fluid. Clinically, I mainly see two types. The first is coldness caused by low energy and is usually due to a weak digestive system. The body may easily feel cold, particularly in the hands, feet, and lower abdomen. I recommend taking medications and ingesting foods which, according to Eastern principles, have a warm or hot nature.
The second is coldness caused by imbalance, and is known as “hot in upper, cold in lower” – hot in the chest and head, cold in the hands, feet, and lower abdomen. Affected individuals tend to always feel cold and prefer warmth, and they may notice the upper/lower imbalance when they eat something with a hot nature. It is treated by drawing the heat from the chest and head down to the Dantien (root of energy in the body) so the lower region gets warm naturally.
The theory and formulas left to us by Zhang ZhongJing are indispensable to Eastern medicine today. In the future, if a strong flu befalls us, we may need Zhang’s knowledge to help ourselves. Recent reports on SARS have shown that taking Tamiflu and using Eastern medicine at the same time proves extremely effective.