Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Six TCM Health Tips for Winter

TCM Health Tips for Winter

As we head into winter, it’s easy to put health and wellness on the back burner. Winter in Minnesota brings colder temperatures, snow and rain, biting wind, dry air and fewer hours of daylight. This can be hard on our bodies, but traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can help. We asked Mei Wang, Ph.D, TCMD, LAc and professor at NWHSU, for TCM health tips for winter. 

The Cold Can Cause Big Problems 

The climate in winter is cold, and the cold air is congealing. In TCM, this means the cold can easily obstruct qi and blood circulation in our bodies. From a western biomedicine perspective, cold can constrict vessels and thicken the blood. 

As a result, cold can lead to the recurrence or aggravation of many chronic diseases that affect the elderly. This includes serious life-threatening concerns such as stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, and myocardial infarction. The cold has been shown to increase the rate of incidence of these problems. Therefore, we should take special care to protect ourselves from the cold using TCM health tips for winter. 

The TCM Understanding of Winter Physiology

In winter, our bodies’ yang energy is hibernating. The qi and blood tend to move inwards, the skin pores are denser, and the water we drink does not easily change to sweat and leak from the body surface.

Since less water is being released as sweat, the TCM kidney (similar to, but not exactly the same as the western biomedicine kidney) has to work harder to create urine.

This increase can make us more prone to urinary symptoms such as frequent urination and urgency. In elderly men, the symptoms of urinary difficulty may be aggravated, and even acute urinary retention may occur. Therefore, special attention should be paid to kidney maintenance during the winter health care regimen. 

Here are 6 TCM health tips for winter:

1. Go to bed early and get up late, waiting for the daylight

This phrase comes from the classic Yellow Emperor, Inner Cannon. The ancients’ early bedtime meant going to bed at 9 o’clock in the evening and getting up in the morning when the sun came out.

It’s the so-called “When the sky sleeps, we sleep, and when the sky wakes, we wake up.” Modern people do not need to adhere to this strictly, but it is very important to go to bed early, and get up late in winter.

When it gets dark early, yang energy is stored early, and going to bed early can nourish yang. When the dawn is later, yang energy rises later, and getting up late can consolidate yin essence.

2. Keep your head, back, and feet warm

In winter, ensure your head, back, and feet are warm. Women should also pay special attention to keeping their abdomen warm during their menstrual period.

This is especially important for those with yang deficiency, as these three parts are easily attacked by cold. The experience of TCM is that “cold in winter will lead to febrile disease in spring.” Suppose one catches too many colds in winter, allowing winter cold to enter the body. In that case, one will suffer febrile disease in spring (such as the flu). 

You can also prepare home remedies to prevent and soothe colds. If you feel a cold coming on, you can boil water with ginger slices and brown sugar to drink. You can also cook porridge with scallions, ginger slices, and glutinous rice. Then add an appropriate amount of rice vinegar to make this “miracle porridge” to prevent colds. This remedy has a very good effect.

3. Minimize activities that make you sweat

TCM teaches that during winter activities, there should be “no leakage of the skin.” This means the yang energy should not be allowed to leak out of the skin in the form of sweat.

Our skin is like the leaves of a big tree. In summer, sweating can help the body detoxify. In winter, it should be closed like pine needles to avoid sweating. Otherwise, the skin will leak, and the Yang Qi will be lost.  

4. Spend more time in the sun to strengthen your yang

Winter is the season when depression is most common, which is related to lack of sunlight. In winter, Chinese medicine advocates “basking on the back” to maintain health.

The back is where the seven most important meridians of the body that transport and manage yang energy gather. Whenever possible, sit with your back to the sun and let it warm you slightly. The yang energy will be absorbed into the body through the acupuncture points on the back and then transported to all body parts.

When we feel comfortable all over our bodies after basking in the sun, there is sufficient yang energy in our bodies, and our meridians are unobstructed. With the Yang Qi replenished, we can enjoy life in high spirits again.

5. Strengthen the kidneys and store essence

Entering winter, the kidney meridian becomes active. The kidney is the house where essence is stored. Winter is the best time to nourish and store essence. For people with kidney deficiency, kidney replenishment is most effective in winter.

Kidney essence mainly relies on nourishment and sparing use, like a thin water stream that can last a longer time. The first key to replenishing the kidneys is to moderate sexual activity. The ancients believed that excessive sexual activity in winter would consume a lot of the body and should be restrained.

6. Eat nutritious foods, in moderation

For white-collar workers, the most worrying consequence of supplementing nutritious foods in winter is weight gain. After the age of 35, women may often feel hungry due to organ dysfunction, especially in winter. As our appetite increases, our weight also increases. 

The following two methods can help solve the problem of supplementation and weight. Supplementation depends on the taste. Have our tastes changed? As we age, we may find that our tastes have changed.

For example, one used to have a light taste but now likes to eat salty foods. One did not like sweets before but now does and feels happy after eating them.  Changes in these habits can reflect the condition of the organs to a certain extent.

TCM believes that the five flavors are responsible for the five internal organs. Bitterness enters the heart, acidity enters the lungs, sourness enters the liver, saltiness enters the kidneys, and sweetness enters the spleen. If one wants to eat sour food, it may be because one’s liver fire is too strong. People with kidney deficiency instinctively want to add salt to mobilize kidney qi.

We can satisfy our appetite in moderation, but we should not indulge it. We should take targeted dietary food measures in a timely manner. For example, sea cucumbers, kelp, and other seafood are salty and can enter the kidneys to replenish kidney deficiency. Millet and lotus seeds can strengthen the spleen. Tomatoes, citrus, bananas, and goji berries can nourish the liver. 

If we incorporate TCM healthcare regimen into our daily lives, we can enjoy Minnesota’s cold winter.

Story by Kit Harlow, Chiropractic Student