One of the most important topics in Classical Chinese Medicine is the harmful effects of cold on human health, referred to as cold damage. Cold is considered the most detrimental of environmental factors that adversely affect our health. Other factors include excess humidity or dampness, wind, heat, and dryness, all of which have negative health consequences, but cold stands out amongst them.
In a nutshell, cold is the antithesis of life, while warmth is the embodiment of life. When we are alive, there is warmth in our bodies, and when we die, our bodies turn cold. In nature, the warmer seasons of spring and summer symbolize new life and activity while fall and winter symbolize hibernation, inactivity, and a symbolic “death” in nature. In the context of human health, exposure to excess cold (yin energy) can wane our life force (warmth, yang energy). This inevitably leads to a myriad of illnesses, from the common cold to autoimmune disorders and cancers. Here are some examples of cultural practices that lead to cold damage.
The Smoothie Culture
One of the most damaging trends of the past few years has been the drinking of smoothies as meal replacements. They are quick, convenient, and easy to make. There is a belief that smoothies are full of goodness, packed with nutrients, enzymes, and vitamins that we need on a daily basis. This cannot be further from the truth. Here are some pointers about the detrimental effects of smoothies:
More often than not, smoothies are made with cold ingredients from the fridge or even the freezer (frozen fruits) and drunk at that temperature. Even at room temperature, they will still have a net cold effect on the body, albeit less detrimental.
Smoothies are typically drunk first thing in the morning and as a replacement for breakfast. The consumption of a cold drink first thing in the morning has great adverse effects on health because it puts out our digestive fire (stomach acid) which we need to break down food.
Cold automatically robs us of our innate yang energy or life force, leading to all manner of digestive issues as well as autoimmunity challenges.
Cold, by nature, contracts, while warmth expands. Upon waking in the morning, we need to expand energetically outward so as to engage with the outside world.
This is another cultural trend that has become very popular over the last several years. The basic premise is that it is a way to vitalize our system through exposure to cold. This, in turn, is meant to have an exhilarating or stimulating effect on overall health. Let’s break it down into more detail:
While it is true that exposure to cold can have an exhilarating effect on the body as well as the mind, it comes at the expense of our innate life force. Any exposure to cold requires the body to adapt to it. This adaptation process requires a great deal of energy – energy from deep reserves which is needed at times of urgent health challenges.
The main issue with cold plunges is their extreme nature. Any time we are dealing with extremes, there is a price to pay and the experience comes at the expense of something else in the body. To become healthy, it is not necessary to resort to extremes.
Traditional approaches are generally about moderation and the middle path. While a very small percentage of humans have super-human physical endurance and can put their bodies through extreme experiences such a cold plunge or a gruelling marathon in the desert, the vast majority of people are better off with less extreme ways to achieve better health and vitality.
Cold plunges are far more detrimental to those with chronic health issues or those who generally feel on the weaker side of the spectrum and already lack life force. People who are robust and physically strong with too much heat and fire can potentially feel great with cold plunges in the short term, but long-term negative effects are unavoidable.
Poor Sleep Habits
Many people like to stay up late because this is the time when they feel relaxed and can enjoy some downtime to themselves. They are usually people who are on the go all the time and can only experience some peacefulness when most people are sleeping.
Night time is symbolized by yin and inactivity. People who are attracted towards staying up are the yang-type, also known as Type A personalities.
These people are burning the candle at both ends. On the one hand, they are on the go all day which is already taxing their life force. On the other hand, they are also taxing their system by staying up late.
This combination, while strictly speaking is not “cold damage”, inflicts an overall cold damage on the system by depleting the life force (warmth).
Information Overload and Over-Stimulation
While, again, these are not cold in physical temperature, by virtue of overwhelming us they rob our life force and lead to a net cold effect on the system. Constant exposure to information, news, and stimuli through a variety of screens and formats requires a great deal of energy. Our immune system goes into overdrive not merely as a result of exposure to viruses and bacteria, but also as a result of information overload, negative news, and existential fears. Cold creates fear, anxiety, and paranoia. These are emotions that our world has been experiencing more and more in the recent past.
Ultimately, any stressor in life can act as a “cold pathogen”. By nature, all stressors tax our life force and therefore act as cold pathogens. All we need to do is to avoid extremes and follow a generally balanced lifestyle to protect our warmth and life force.
Armin Madaninejad R.Ac