When you are feeling unwell and wondering what is the cause of your illness, your answer probably will be:
-Well, I’ve caught a virus/bacterial infection.
- One of my ’organs’ (the liver, the heart but also the pancreas, the thyroid etc…) isn’t functioning correctly
- Something in my body isn’t functioning properly (such hormones imbalance, allergies….).
But what IF illness could be due to something else?
Ill Health in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese Medicine, illness is seen as an imbalance in the body. This can be due to the ‘invasion of a pathogenic factor’ (quite close to what we call having caught a virus), but also to another 7 other causes!
1- Pathogenic factors
These are basically our viruses and bacterial infections such as a cold or the flu.
2- Food and Diet
Remember the saying ‘We are what we eat’? Food has a huge influence on how well we are and a lot of the problems we have, including tiredness, hayfever, headaches, stems from what we eat.
As our energy comes from the food we eat, eating the right food for us is crucial to get and stay well. As a very general rule, a diet that is varied with no food that is preponderant (such as lots of wheat or dairy) is better. Eating according to the seasons (nice, warming and comforting foods in winter and lighter, cooler meals including salads in summer) also makes a big difference.
We rarely think about emotions as a cause of disease, unless perhaps when talking about depression (and even then, emotions, such as anxiety, are the expression of the disease rather than the cause of it).
Stress is a big cause of ill health in our country. From IBS to chronic, recurrent headaches or back pain, stress is certainly one of the main causes of illness in my clinic.
However, this is just not about stress. For example, sadness and grief affect the Lungs in Chinese Medicine and we know that people tend to catch cold and chest infections more easily when they have just lost a loved one.
This is the climate that we are living in, such as a hot climate or a damp house. But it’s also man-made climates such as air conditioning in a car or working in an extremely hot environment (eg close to a furnace in a factory). Even wearing a cold wet swimming costume for too long can have some dire consequences on some women.
I am sure I don’t have to tell you that some medicines have some strong side effects. Antibiotics can give bad diarrhoea, a sign that the antibiotics has weaken the digestive system (or to put it another way, that it destroyed the gut flora) .
This is another disease of our modern society. Even when someone doesn’t bring work back home or works very long hours, we are always on the go, even when we are at home. Not content with long working hours, we also associate a frenetic game of squash or partying until 2am with relaxation, which are both as far it can be from true relaxation!
The lack of sleep is also a big issue in our society. We are currently sleeping about 2 hours less than our grand-parents but obviously still need the same amount of sleep. One simple rule is to always try and go to bed before midnight to be a restful night of sleep.
7- Physical work
This is both about having a hard manual job or being on your feet all day along and not getting enough exercise!
Obviously, being on your feet all day or having a physical job is more taxing on the body and the person will have to take particularly care of her energy levels.
But it’s also about the right level of exercise for you (and your constitution). Within the western culture we tend to associate fitness with health, while they are actually very separate topics. It’s possible to be a world-class athlete who has back pain, emotional instability, and troubled digestion. Super-fit, but not at all healthy. It’s also possible to be perfectly healthy, without being able to jog more than a mile. While it’s easy for this healthy person to develop greater levels of fitness, because their body is prepared and has plenty of energy to draw upon; the athlete is already nursing injuries and has used up available energetic reserves to build their body, so finds it difficult to cultivate wellness. You can see why it’s important to match the level of exercise with your right level of energy/constitution so that exercise doesn’t become taxing and ‘unhealthy’.
8- Weak constitution
Weak constitution is linked with our constitution at birth. Some people are born with less pre-natal energy and it will show in illnesses such as asthma appearing in young children, some developmental delays etc…
What about achieving good health then?
What it means is that good health is the result of a careful balance between all these influences. Trying to beat an illness by addressing just one these factors, such your level of exercise, will only give limited results but having a balanced diet and lifestyle will ensure long lasting health.
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