totalExternal Causes of Illness: The Heat Devil
Think about those hot sticky summer afternoons-when you just want to stop the world and float in a pool, sipping iced tea. This kind of weather isn’t only uncomfortable, it can wreak havoc on your nervous system.

Even when it only lasts a few days, one-hundred-degree weather can be a formidable foe, causing high fevers, skin eruptions, headaches, and, most dangerously, a loss of body fluids. The Heart is the power center most sensitive to elevated temperatures, so if it becomes overheated, you may face troublesome behavioral symptoms, from fainting and palpitations to delirium and disturbed sleep.

To avoid these symptoms, there are a number of things you can do during hot weather. Above all, avoid alcohol and spicy foods. They cause your core temperature to rise, an effect comparable to pouring gasoline on a fire.

It may seem self-evident, but try to stay in the shade and drink at least six glasses of water a day. Eat cooling foods, such as chilled, juicy vegetables and fruit (for example, cucumbers and tomatoes). These foods can act as an internal air conditioner, keeping your system cool and hydrated.

In China, watermelon has been used for centuries to cool the body and clean out toxins. When I was a child, summer didn’t begin until the truck delivered a load of melons to our house. We looked forward to those first bites of the juicy red fruit. Little did I know that, years later, watermelon would actually save my life.

One day not long after graduation, I was interning at a Shanghai hospital when I nearly collapsed. I felt hot and achy, and I couldn’t understand why. As it turned out, I had contracted a dangerous formof viral hepatitis, and soon found myself quarantined and confined to bed rest. I was given an IV and prescribed acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I was also put on a diet consisting of watermelons to reduce the fever and jaundice. The seeds help the Kidneys to function at their highest level and act as a diuretic, and the fruit and rind help to release Heat and toxins. After a month of who knows how many watermelons, the virus was beaten back, making this an excellent lesson in the healing power of a wonderful fruit.

External Causes of Illness: The Dry Devil
To understand the effects of dryness on the human body, imagine you are on a trip to the eastern corner of California. Picture yourself standing in a 140-mile-long former lakebed. The sandy earth is cracked and dry; the temperature is 130 degrees and rising. This barren landscape is called Death Valley. While there, you might want to take a stroll. Yet after even a few swigs of water, the burning sun instantly makes you thirsty again. Your skin turns itchy and dry, your lips start to crack, and every breath sucks the moisture from your Lungs. This is an extreme version of what we call “dryness attacking your defensive shield.” Almost instantaneously, your body loses vital fluids, creating a state of low energy and weakness.

This effect might come with the arid days of summer or from an autumn wind, but when dryness invades your kingdom, you usually feel the first symptoms through the skin. It can turn red and blister, or you might get a rash or patches of eczema. But if the dryness penetrates deeper and reaches the Lungs, the power center most sensitive to dryness, it can lead to a chronic cough, a possible precursor to asthma. If left unchecked, dryness can even reach the Lungs’ partner organ, the Colon, resulting in cramps and constipation.

This condition is easily treated. If a patient is showing symptoms of chronic dryness, I will remoisturize with herbs and acupuncture. There are also several effective home remedies. Although it seems tempting, don’t reach for that icy-cold soda; it’s loaded with sugar and caffeine, ingredients are actually warming and drying, creating the opposite effect. Instead, try the Chinese way: drink a bowl of Mung Bean Soup or a glass of water with a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of lemon juice.

When the weather is hot and dry, it’s also important to increase your protein intake. I recommend preparing a high protein meal. Since your body is working harder to cool itself down, that extra protein will fortify your cells and Blood. Another healthy addition to your diet is raw vegetables and fruits, such as celery, cucumber, and apples.

A humidifier or steam inhalation can also keep your respiratory passages moistened and lubricated. And, of course, the smartest way to stay healthy in an arid climate is to keep hydrated by drinking at least six to eight glasses of water each day.

From the book Total Health the Chinese Way by Esther Ting, PhD, and Marianne Jas, MA. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009