Summer Heat and Chinese Medicine

You probably think this is another column about weather. Well, you are partially correct, but it is really about a condition that Chinese medicine identifies and treats very successfully.

Now that we are at the beginning of the weekend of July 4th, and people are getting ready to set out for the famous Iowa City Jazz Fest where they will sit out in the sun for two days straight, I thought it was a good time to bring up this subject.

The diagnosis of Summer Heat is given when a patient presents with the following symptoms: feeling excessively hot, or chilled after exposure to excessive heat, stopping sweating, as well as thirst but not wanting to drink, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, dark colored urine or reduced urination……Sound familiar? Yes, this is very similar to what we call heat stroke or sun stroke.

On the symptoms are listed thus:

Fever, anhidrosis (lack of sweating), mild chilliness, heavy and painful sensation over the limbs, headache, dizziness, thirst and desire for a little drink, oppressive feeling over the chest, vomiting, nausea, yellow and greasy tongue coating and rapid and soft-floating pulse.

The good news is that we have some very effective treatments for this condition. The best are herbal but acupuncture can also really help.

I remember a few years back when I was in Hawaii, I was rooming with a friend who is from the mountains of Colorado. She and I played in the water and the sun for a few days, and then she started complaining of not feeling well. She was chilled and took to her bed under the covers, said that she had a headache that did not respond to tylenol or ibuprofen, and felt vaguely nauseated. She was thirsty but afraid that drinking water would make her vomit. I did not have any herbs with me, which are the preferred treatment for this condition, but I did have some acupuncture needles, both gold and stainless, so I did one of the treatments I know to reduce excess heat in the body with the combination of gold and stainless needles. She immediately felt better. We realized then that she was suffering from a case of Summer Heat. It seemed so obvious later, but as each day went by and she felt a little bad and getting worse, we didn’t see it because it was a gradual process. More commonly a person will be out all day in the heat and suddenly get very sick. We realized that since she is from a cool, dry climate in Boulder, she was very vulnerable to the heat and increased humidity of the island.

This week I have seen two patients in the clinic that had the symptoms of Summer Heat. They both had diarrhea, sweating, fever, and chills, nausea, and extreme thirst that had reduced to not much thirst, and reduced urine output. They were feeling terrible and did not realize it was probably a case of getting too much heat exposure. It is not surprising to see this condition in teenagers when they are detasseling corn in the summer, and I remember getting it during my childhood after being at the pool too long. We also see it in people who have been inside a lot, and suddenly spend a day outside in high heat and humidity, such as what happens at the Jazz Fest.

One of the great Chinese herbal remedies for this, Kang Ning Wan, which is also known as ‘Pill Curing,’  or ‘Curing Pills’ comes in convenient pill form, and can be kept on hand for any time you get too hot and end up feeling nauseated.  In the old version of the remedy, it came in cool little vials of tiny orange pills. Each vial was packaged in a neat little red oblong cardboard box. These were really easy to keep in your pocket if you were out in the sun. You could dump all or part of the contents of the vial onto your tongue and easily swallow. The pills were coated with a sweet coating so it was easy for kids to take. It also happens to be good for nausea from other causes as well. We always have it in stock in the clinic and recommend people take it along on cruises to the Carribean and trips to Hawaii and the like. In our clinic it is sold under the brand of Golden Flower Chinese Herbs as ‘Ease Digestion’ in pill form. It can help a number of digestive problems as well as summer heat.

Of course, the very best way to get treated for this awful condition, is to come in to the clinic, have an acupuncture treatment designed to dispel the summer heat ‘evil’ that has invaded your body, and get a custom formulated herb tea to take for a day or two. We really can help you.

Interestingly, the ancient doctors of China realized that a condition of Summer Heat can be the start of a long series of health problems. These problems can be almost anything. So in some cases, we cannot get full improvement in a condition until the original event of too much sun and heat exposure is treated successfully, even if it is no longer obviously present.

I found the following material on the website and I think it is great advice. Here is a recipe for a traditional cooling drink that is actually sold on the streets all over southeast Asia, as well as dietary recommendations for summer.

We stock chrysanthemum flowers in the clinic, by the way. All of the yellow flowers such as chrysanthemum, calendula, and chamomile are known for their properties of cooling excess heat in the body.

Cold Chrysanthemum Tea (For Quenching Thirst & Mild Sunstroke)

This is an ideal drink for hot summer days. As well as helping to prevent sunstroke it also clears Heat, benefits Qi, promotes body fluid secretion and is an excellent thirst quencher! This is an ideal drink for hot summer parties.


  • 60 – 80 White Chrysanthemum Flowers
  • 3 teaspoon of Jasmine Yinhao Green Tea
  • Rock sugar or honey
  • 4 liters of water


  1. Wash the chrysanthemum.
  2. Put chrysanthemum and tea into a cooking pot.
  3. Pour in 4 liters of water and bring it to boiling.
  4. Reduce heat and continue to cook for 20 minutes.
  5. Put in rock sugar or honey.
  6. Remove pot from the heat and allow to cool till room temperature.
  7. Strain the tea and put into refrigerator.
  8. Serve the tea chilled and enjoy!

Do’s in summer recipes:

  • white lentils (not sure what these are, but perhaps similar to the yellow dal lentils of India)
  • mung beans (traditionally made into a soup, can be cooked and served cold in a salad)
  • pear
  • watermelon
  • dark plum
  • sugar cane
  • strawberries
  • mulberries
  • grapes
  • coconut milk
  • lemon
  • watermelon peel (just the outermost peel)
  • persimmons
  • pineapples
  • water chestnuts
  • bitter melon (found in asian grocery stores)
  • winter melon (get at asian grocery)
  • hairy gourd (another one in asian grocery stores)
  • sweet potato
  • snake melon (find in asian grocery)
  • cucumber
  • tomato
  • Chinese spinach
  • straw mushrooms
  • lotus roots
  • Chinese wolfberry (goji berry) leaves (You may not be able to get these in the grocery store)

Many of these could be incorporated into a fruit salad or smoothie. Others would be great in a cold salad or steamed, or part of a stir fry.

Most importantly, be sure to stay pre-hydrated, keep up on your salt and potassium when spending a lot of time outdoors in the extreme heat, and watch for early signs of Summer Heat so you can get treated before you are terribly sick.