Hydration and Your Health

Hydration and Chinese Medicine - Eastern Healing Solutions

Every so often, I will get caught up in some activity and completely forget to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated. I know this is happening because my mouth will get really dry, I’ll feel thirsty, and even get slightly headachy. This is a problem that is easily fixed; just drink some water, right?

There are many people however, who are chronically dry despite drinking plenty and trying to stay hydrated. While about sixty percent of your body is water, there are conditions and patterns in Chinese medicine in which dryness is a large part of the problem. Here are a number of items that you may not know about dryness, balancing fluids, and Chinese medicine:

  • In Chinese medicine fluids are considered to be anything that moistens your body. This includes the moisture you find in your body’s organs and tissues, digestive fluids, tears, saliva, and the fluid in your joints. These fluids come from the food and drinks that you eat, digest, and convert to nourishing and moistening substances in your body. Essentially, body fluids provide moisture to every part of your body.
  • Beyond moistening and nourishing, fluids also play a number of other roles in keeping you healthy. They act like a cleaning system; through the process of metabolism waste and toxins are produced which are ultimately excreted through body fluids like sweat and urine. In addition, fluids are protective. Your eyes are protected by tears, your brain and spinal cord are protected and cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid, your mouth is moistened by saliva, and your sinuses and nasal passages are kept moist by mucous. Fluids also provide cushioning between your joints and elasticity and suppleness to your skin.
  • Western illnesses or conditions that are associated with dryness include Sjogren’s syndrome, which is an autoimmune condition frequently characterized by dry eyes and a dry mouth. Sjogren’s is often accompanied by other autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.  Certain skin conditions may also be related to dryness, such as eczema or psoriasis.
  • There are two general scenarios in which problems with body fluids can cause you to have symptoms. The first is when your fluids are no longer providing the moisture and nutrients your body needs to clean, moisten, protect, and cushion adequately. The second is when those fluids are not metabolized, distributed, or excreted properly. When this happens, you tend to get concentrations or puddles of fluid and areas of dryness. For example, you may develop edema (water swelling) along with very dry skin.
  • From a Western medical perspective, there are several causes of dryness, including certain medications, chronic dehydration, hormonal changes, and ageing. While all of these factors are a consideration in Chinese medicine as well, there are other causes of dryness according to Chinese theory. They include living in a hot or dry environment and poor diet. In addition, there are a number of patterns in Chinese medicine to describe what’s happening when you experience symptoms of dryness.
  • In Chinese medicine, fall is considered to be the season of dryness. As the warm days of summer wane, the humidity drops. In addition, the nights become cooler, the harvest has been brought in, and plants freeze and dry out after the first frost—all harbingers of dryness. In the fall, our bodies are more susceptible to dry colds—often characterized by a dry sore throat, dry and swollen nasal passages, and an unproductive cough.
  • A pattern of simple dryness means that your body fluids are depleted. This can be caused by any of the factors described above or from having elevated body heat for a period of time, such as a fever or inflammation. Common symptoms of this kind of dryness include dry skin, hair, lips, nails, throat (dry and sore), nasal passages, stools, chronic thirst, and a decrease in urinary volume.
  • Yin depletion of any kind can also produce symptoms of dryness. According to the theory of Yin and Yang, Yang acts a bit like your body’s pilot light—responsible for keeping you warm, fueling metabolism, and overall activity. In contrast, Yin is more like a healing and nourishing coolant in your body. It’s responsible for keeping you cool, nourished and moistened. When your Yin becomes depleted, you may experience a number of different symptoms, but lack of moisture—dryness—is common. As you age, it becomes more likely that your body’s Yin will decrease causing thinning of your skin, dry hair, and brittle nails. Also, because Yin is considerably cooling in nature, you may feel warmer than usual if your Yin becomes depleted. This heat often further dries you out. Interestingly, the Yin of specific organs can be depleted causing very specific symptoms. The Yin of your Lungs is frequently the first organ system to become dry, causing a dry and sore throat, an unproductive cough, and dry nasal passages. Liver Yin depletion is more closely associated with the nourishing aspects of Yin, causing dry skin, thin and brittle nails and hair, and a thin and emaciated body. At a deeper level, your Kidney system may become Yin depleted and produce the above symptoms plus a weak and achy back, hot flashes, night sweats, and fatigue.
  • It is also possible to have a pattern called damage to fluids. This is more severe than simple dryness or Yin depletion. Damage to fluids will take time and a multi-pronged approach to treat.
  • Treatment of dryness or damage to fluids using Chinese medicine goes beyond acupuncture. Frequently a nourishing and moistening herbal formula will be necessary, along with some dietary changes to incorporate more plant-based fats and better hydration.

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