Summer season and Traditional Chinese Medicine in Richmond VirginiaMany cross-cultural elemental systems have four elements, but Chinese Medicine has five because late summer is differentiated from summer. Late summer is the season of the Earth element and is a time of dampness (humidity), heat, the beginning of harvest, and the ripening of sweet fruits. According to the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine, the Earth element corresponds to the Chinese digestive organs of the Spleen and Stomach, the color yellow, the sweet flavor, the emotion of worry, and much more.

Every summer we see patients seeking treatment for some conditions that commonly flare this time of year. Although this summer has not been as consistently hot as many Richmond summers, we have treated plenty of patients with digestive complaints and joint pain.

Many people tend to eat more nightshades (plants with high alkaloid levels that are believed to be more active at night) in the summer, which makes sense because tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers are all abundant now. Tomatoes in particular are especially savory and tempting in the summer, since at other times of the year they can be quite mealy and anemic looking. It is wonderful to enjoy nutrient rich local produce, however, it is important to be honest with yourself.

Health problems from consuming nightshades may only occur in individuals who are especially sensitive to them. And many patients who do complain of GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disorder) and increased joint pain in summer don’t notice it as much at other times of the years. Often, they are eating more tomatoes and other nightshades plus the red wine and pasta that may seem a natural accompaniment. Nightshades contain constituents which tend to settle and cling around the joints exacerbating any existing arthritis or joint pain.

Just decreasing the amount and the frequency of these foods can be helpful. Eating a small amount of tomatoes two times a week is different from eating several whole tomatoes per day. If you have a garden and find yourself with large quantities of tomatoes, peppers and other nightshades at this time of year, consider canning or making sauces and relishes to enjoy throughout the year, or sharing them with friends and family. For the fresh, luscious ones you simply cannot resist eating right now, remember,  for healthy joints and digestive harmony, enjoy the bounty of summer, but please do so in small amounts.