In acu-speak, we tend to use the terms "heat," "cold", "wind", and "damp" quite often. Since summer seems to finally be on its way, today we will discuss heat from a TCM perspective. Heat is fairly easy to see and diagnose. From our viewpoint, it can influence the body either physically or emotionally. Heat will cause the tongue to get very red, and the pulse to be rapid. If we examine the tongue, we can tell which organ system is being affected by this internal heat. People who have a lot of heat may display self-explanatory signs-red face, sweating, hot skin, frequent fevers. At times, however, this heat can also manifest into emotional symptoms, such as irritability, anger, frustration, anxiety, agitation, and mania. Remember how we talked about Yin and Yang a few days ago? The Yang-type person, the one who is constantly pacing and talking, is loud and expressive, and has lots of manic energy, is an example of someone with heat. Usually these people are hot (or at least warm) to the touch as well. A few years ago I treated a woman who was schizophrenic, who raved about aliens from the moment she walked in the door until the needles were in. She was agitated, manic, and pissed off-all signs of emotional heat. When I touched her, her skin was both hot and wet-signs of emotional heat and dampness (I will get into how dampness affects the body in another entry.)
Schizophrenia and manic-depression are very extreme cases of mental heat, but many people suffer from heat on a smaller scale. If you can't sit still, have trouble concentrating (think ADHD), feel anxious and nervous, perhaps have trouble sleeping-these are all signs of heat. Palpitations are a classic sign of heat, and they are usually paired with this sense of anxiety and irritability.
Other physical symptoms of heat can be seen on the skin-red rashes, boils, and acne are issues of heat attacking the skin. Last year I was seeing a patient with a lot of heat: red skin, red eyes, boils, pimples, and a manic affect. The first few weeks that I treated him, I left the treatment room soaked. My hair would actually be wet from humidity, as if I had just left the sauna at the gym. He had SO much heat that he would raise the room temperature. He cooled down after a few acupuncture treatments, but I still hold a grudge for all the bad hair days he caused!
In short, the heat of the body (Yang) needs to balance out the Yin. If there is too much Yin, it will "put out the fire", so to speak, and the body will suffer from a lack of energy and drive. Too much Yang will cause the body to metaphorically burn itself up. Balance is the key.