Global warming isn’t restricted to the outer environment. It’s happening inside of us, too. Our blood and internal organs are heating up, thanks to the epidemic we know today as inflammation.
This month, we will greet the summer – hello heat! Unless we adjust our diets and other behaviors, we can easily elevate our body heat and keep it high through the summer, which might lead to health issues in the fall.
Inflammation is the basis for a whole range of illnesses, including arthritis, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, circulatory disorders, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It also deforms our organs, including our livers, digestive organs, hearts, nervous system, and brain. One of the keys to keep inflammation at bay is keeping our body temperatures down. And the way to do that is with good quality plant foods and behaviors that promote circulation.
Why The Heat Gets Turned Up
The spring often brings our underlying physical and emotional conditions to the surface so that they can be dealt with and healed. A physical or emotional issue can lurk within, and go unnoticed, during the fall and winter, but the spring – with all its rising energy — pushes those conditions out and into the open. Summer can bring the condition to a more acute or fiery state, which is when treatment often succeeds rapidly.
In my own healing practice, I am seeing more and more inflammatory conditions turn up. The foods and behaviors that we used to keep the body warm and contracted in winter and early spring are no longer appropriate. We must cool down now. Otherwise, inflammation rises to a fire state and brings forth symptoms.
Inflammation: A Fire Within
Inflammation is an immune reaction caused when our defenses recognize a threat to our health. In fact, it’s a good thing. Immune cells recognize that an unwanted guest – a virus, bacteria, or some form of poison – has invaded your biological house and is preparing to create havoc in the form of some kind of disease. The cells that recognized the invader signal the overall system to go into action. Pretty soon a whole army shows up to destroy the problem.
During the battle, the physical signs of inflammation appear throughout the body – elevated temperature, either as fever or as heat in various parts of the body; redness, swelling, blocked circulation, overall fatigue and, sometimes, localized pain.
These things happen because, as the immune system attacks the bad guys, it’s also releasing various forms of artillery that are either changing healthy cells, or killing them. It’s war. And like any war, there is collateral damage.
When the threat is neutralized, the system shuts down and rests. Problem solved. With the end of hostilities, the overall body cools.
We run into trouble when disease-causing agents build up and remain in place for an extended period of time. Over the years, poisons accumulate in the system. The immune system battles them for as long as it can, until the toxins overrun the system and bring about some form of disease.
When the immune system has to endure a long, extended battle, cells, tissues, and organs become deformed. Most of those cells die. Some of them form scar tissue, which can block circulation and deform organs, including the coronary arteries, liver, and brain. Still other cells can mutate and become cancerous.
Animal studies haves shown that as body temperature goes down, longevity is extended. In fact, traditional Asian medicine – especially Chinese medicine – has long maintained that cooling the body increases vitality and extends life. Heat, especially in the liver, said the Chinese, causes the creation of wind, or disruption throughout the system, and thus gives rise to illness. As it turns out, Western medicine has proven the Chinese correct.
Treating Inflammation Means Treating The Liver
Body heat is regulated by the liver. More important, most of the chemicals that create inflammation are produced by the liver. Chief among these culprits are cholesterol, especially the toxic form of it, known as LDL cholesterol. The liver also produces a substance called fibrinogen, which makes your blood sticky and thick, and thus prevents it from flowing through your vessels. The liver makes growth factors, or hormones, that trigger additional inflammation, stimulate the creation of new tissue, and block blood from flowing. Finally, the liver can produce excessive amounts of blood fats, known as triglycerides, which further block circulation.
We tend to think of the heart as the source of good circulation, but it’s the liver that does even more to regulate the flow of blood and lymph in your system.
So the first thing we’ve got to do when treating inflammation is take good care of the liver.
The liver gets blocked by scar tissue that’s produced by inflammation that occurs within the organ. Inflammation increases the production of free radicals, or highly reactive oxygen molecules that break down cells and create scar tissue throughout the organ. The good news is that, given the right conditions, the liver can heal itself and restore its normal functioning capacity.
The crucial step we all must take right now is to use food and behaviors to cool the system. Here’s what we can do.
Turning The Heat Down
- Change the cooking. As the weather heats up, the body, in its wisdom, craves lighter food and cooking. Steam, boil, or lightly sauté. Cook for shorter periods – blanch and parboil. Regularly cook foods in more water to make them soft and moist. Eat salads, raw vegetables, and drink vegetable juices.
- Drastically reduce animal foods. Animal foods heat the body. Many contain saturated fat, which leads to LDL cholesterol and more inflammation. The first step, therefore, in lowering inflammation and body temperature is to sharply reduce all animal foods. If you are ill, or suffering from some form of inflammatory disorder, stop animal food entirely for the remainder of the spring and summer.
The only exception should be for white fish, which can be steamed or boiled and eaten with lots of vegetables.
- Make vegetables your primary source of nutrition. If possible, eat four daily servings of green and leafy vegetables; two servings of sweet or white vegetables; and one serving of roots. Complement these vegetables with regular salads. Whenever you eat salad, choose the darkest green and most colorful vegetables possible. These are the ones with the highest nutrition and antioxidant content.
Green and leafy should be emphasized now, in part because of their high antioxidant content, which cool the body and restore the health of the liver, and their energetic properties, which tend to open and release. (The DNA in green and leafy vegetables directs the energy of these foods up and out. It does the same inside your body.)
Try to vary your greens among the following: broccoli, kale, Chinese cabbage, green cabbage, collard greens, watercress, sprouts, endive, escarole, frisee, mesclun greens, scallions, Brussels sprouts, and any green vegetable that local farmers produce.
Sweet vegetables to emphasize include squash, corn, onions, parsnips, zucchini, and asparagus. Occasionally eat beets.
White vegetables drain the liver of blocked energy and toxins and keep it circulating. Daikon radish, cauliflower, onions, turnips, and small amounts of garlic (once or twice a week) all break up fatty deposits, and move and cleanse the liver.
- Reduce the quantity of grain you eat; add more water when cooking grains; and choose lighter grains.
Reduce grain at any single meal, and eat more grains in the morning and afternoon, when the digestive organs are still active and stronger.
According to Chinese medicine, the body goes through a daily cycle, or rhythm, in which individual organs are most active during specific hours of each day. Not only is each organ more active during a specific set of hours each day, but it is also supported by more life force, or chi, during those hours.
For example, the large intestine is most active, and most supported, between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. The stomach is most supported and active from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. The spleen, which the Chinese refer to as the governor of digestion, is most active from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The small intestine is most active from 1 p. m. to 3 p.m.
After 3 p.m., the digestive organs are winding down, assimilating, and preparing to eliminate the day’s food. To make things easier on the digestive tract, we naturally desire lighter food and cooking as the day wears on. This is reflected in the practice of traditional people, who tended to eat their big meal at mid-day or early afternoon, after which they rested. Enjoy larger, heavier meals early, and lighter meals later, and see if this doesn’t enhance your digestion, energy, and overall vitality.
Boil and steam grains. Don’t pressure cook – it’s way too contracting and will only cause circulation to become stagnant and blocked.
Choose lighter grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, corn, and medium and long grain brown rice. Add corn to rice or quinoa to lighten and sweeten either grain.
- Use beans and bean products as your primary source of protein. Beans provide about 24 to 28 percent protein. They are also rich in complex carbohydrates, potassium, and many vitamins and minerals. They are also rich, luscious, relaxing, and satisfying foods.
- Add liver cleansing foods, including teas and juices, to cool the liver, release toxins, and enhance its function. Include any of the following: shiitake mushrooms; shiitake tea (boil a mushroom or two and steep for ten minutes); sprouts; carrot juice (add celery to give it a slight bitter edge that will strengthen its medicinal quality); pomegranate juice, and cranberry juice.
- Eat more fruit, especially strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries. Also eat watermelon, pears and apples, both red and green, and pomegranate. Drink cool lemon water, which will help cleanse the liver of toxins.
Soften, Open, And Stretch
Among the most effective ways to reduce fibrinogen and improve circulation is to exercise, especially walk, stretch, do yoga, Chi Gong, or ballroom dancing. When you walk, stroll. When you do yoga or Chi Gong, allow yourself to feel the grace of the movement. Play a game that causes you to sweat. But if you have a heart condition, don’t engage in competitive sports. Competition can cause you to push yourself too hard and increase the risk of a heart attack.
Find the places in your body where you are particularly tense. These are the areas where circulation may be blocked or restricted. Get massage or acupuncture to open these blocked areas. Take cool or luke warm baths with lavender oil to relax the tissues and open the tight areas. At night, put a light film of sesame oil on the low back or other tight areas of the body and allow the sesame oil to relax the tissues overnight.
Inflammation is the underlying source of most of the illnesses we face today. But we can control and reduce the condition. And in the process, we can cooling the system. Once that happens, your body knows what to do to restore your circulation and your health.