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Roots of Disharmony: Causes of Disease in Chinese Medicine

Ancient Chinese Medicine did not recognize viruses or bacteria as triggers of di


sease or disorders. Of course, since Chinese medicine is a very pragmatic medici
ne, if the Chinese had know of viruses and bacteria it would have become part of
the diagnostic system.
Instead, Chinese traditional medicine recognizes influences, which cause disharm
ony in yin/yang, the Essential Substances, the Organ Systems, and the Channels.
The Six Pernicious Influences Heat, Cold, Wind, Dampness, Dryness and Summer Hea
t are External climatic forces that can invade the body and create disharmony in
the mind/body/spirit. For example, if you are exposed to excess Heat or Cold or
Wind for a long time, or if you are exposed to such Influences when your body i
s already weak, you may develop an illness. This illness, triggered by External
Influences, can migrate inward and become more serious as a slight cold may beco
me pneumonia. This happens when the External Pernicious Influences overpower the
bodys natural protection against disease.
Cold When hypothermia hits a skier or a mountain climber, muscle
motion becomes slow and awkward, fatigue sets in, the body shuts
same effect that the Cold Pernicious Influence has it saps the
akes movements cumbersome. The tongue becomes pale; the pulse is
may develop a fear of cold and feel like sleeping in a curled up
is yin and when it invades the body it chills all or part of it.
its eased by warmth.

control fades,
down. Thats the
bodys energy and m
slow. A person
position. Cold
If theres pain,

When External Cold attacks the body, acute illness may develop, along with chill
s, fever and body aches. When the External C old moves inward and becomes an Int
erior disharmony it is associated with a chronic condition that produces a pale
face, lethargy an d grogginess, a craving for heat and sleeping for longer than
usual periods of time.
Summer Heat disorders feel like you ve been playing tennis for two hours in the
blazing sun. You re weary and at the same time, strangely cranked up. You cant st
op talking about the game, but your words stick in your mouth. You dont feel like
yourself again until you cool down and quench your thirst.
Heat disorders cause overactive yang functions or insufficient yin functions. Th
ey are generally associated with bodily heat, a red face, hyperactivity and talk
ativeness, fever, and thirst for cold liquids and a rapid pulse. Symptoms includ
e carbuncles and boils, dry mouth and thirst. Confused speech and delirium arise
when Heat attacks the Shen.
Dampness: Think about what happens to your backyard when it rains for two days i
t becomes soggy and water collects in stagnant pools. That is how Dampness affec
ts the body. Damp pain is heavy and expansive. Dampness blocks the flow of life
energy and causes a stuffy chest and abdomen. When External Dampness invades, it
enters the Channels and causes stiff joints and heavy limbs. When Dampness inva
des the Spleen, it can cause upset stomach, nausea, a lack of appetite, a swolle
n abdomen and diarrhea. Interior Dampness caused by either the penetration of Ex
ternal Dampness to the Interior or by a breakdown in the Spleens transformation o
f fluids is associated with mucous, which in Chinese medicine is more than simpl
y bodily secretions. It is produced when the Spleen or Kidney is beset with dish
armony and can cause obstructions and produce tumors, coughing, and if it invade
s the Shen, can lead to erratic behavior and insanity. Once Dampness has taken r
oot, it is hard to displace.
Dryness is a frequent partner with Heat; just think about the cracked bottom of
a dried up riverbed. But where Heat creates redness and warmth, Dryness creates

evaporation and dehydration. External Dryness invading the body may create respi
ratory problems such as asthmatic breathing and a dry cough, acute pain and feve
r.
Summer Heat feels like the humid, oppressive weather that creates the Dog Days o
f August. It attacks the body after exposure to extreme heat and causes a sudden
high fever and total lethargy. It is always an External influence and often ari
ses along with Dampness.
Wind animates the body, stirring it from repose into motion just as wind moves t
he leaves of a tree. When Wind enters the body, it is usually joined to another
influence such as Cold. If the body is infiltrated by Wind, the first symptoms u
sually appear on the skin, in the lungs, or on the face. Tics, twitches, fear of
drafts, headaches and a stuffed-up nose are symptoms. When External Wind invade
s the body more deeply, it can cause seizures, ringing in the ears and dizziness
.