I’ve never been a big fan of electric blankets, but as I sat with Nancy in my clinic, I could tell that the new electric blanket she and her husband, Harold, were using was definitely a big problem for her.
It seemed that Harold was always running cold at night. He liked to crank up the electric blanket and pile on a down comforter and a few wool blankets. Nancy would inevitably awaken in the night covered with sweat with Harold’s ice-cold feet on her.
A history of heat
Nancy told me she had always been on the hot side—ever since she was a kid. She had actually come in to the clinic because of recurring bladder infections and sharp pains in her upper abdomen. Her doctor had checked her out, ordered an ultrasound, and found stones in her gallbladder. Gingerly placing her hand over the offending area, she said, “Dr. Brady said my gallbladder was in pretty bad shape; he called it cholecystitis, inflammation of the gallbladder.”
I checked Nancy’s tongue and found a thick yellow, greasy coating, especially toward the back. Her pulses were very full and robust. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Nancy’s condition is known as “True Heat.” Unlike many patients I see, Nancy did not have a deficiency condition; rather, she had an excess of dampness and heat accumulating in her lower intestinal area.
Dampness and heat are two major disease-causing factors in TCM. The idea that an excess of heat or dampness accumulates in various organs or areas of the body and can cause disease is an ancient concept in many cultures. It’s thought that excess heat can lead to inflammation and infection, eventually causing scarring and hardening of an organ or tissues. Dampness accentuates this process.
Nancy told me her doctor recommended surgery to remove her gallbladder. He told her that a cholecystectomy, or removal of the gallbladder, was extremely common and easy. “I told him, ‘Thanks, but I’d rather keep it,’ ” she said. “That’s why I came to you. Can I save my gallbladder?”
While not making a promise I couldn’t keep, I told her that when I was in China, gallbladder removal operations were rare. The traditional doctors all use herbs, acupuncture, and diet to get rid of the stones and improve gallbladder health. So it is possible to avoid surgery, depending on the dedication of the patient, and I have actually seen this happen a number of times.
Before developing a total program for gallbladder health, and to help remove the stones, I wanted to address Nancy’s underlying constitutional condition for up to two months first. Nancy’s doctor told her that she was in no imminent danger, so we had some time. Nancy had years’ worth of accumulation of heat and dampness, and this set the stage for the gallbladder problems, as well as the bladder infections, by creating an environment that fostered the whole process of inflammation and hardening.
Diet is a key element for success, and Nancy’s situation was interesting. She worked outside the home, and Harold worked part-time at home, also doing all the cooking. Harold, being cold, lacked fire and tended to cook foods that were highly heating and stimulating such as red meat, garlic, onions, hot peppers, and ginger. But nothing could have been worse for Nancy, who needed cool, moderate, and soothing foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables to help counteract her tendency for heat and dampness. This diet was a major reason for her health problems. When we know what our constitutional type is naturally, we can select the foods, drinks, and regular activities (such as weight training), that can help bring health and balance. Balancing hot and cold in our systems goes a long way toward preventing disease.
Nancy brought Harold to her next visit, and we spent an hour going over an ideal beginning herb and supplement program for her. (See page 68 for my recommendations.) Also, I recommended a special cooling diet consisting of 40 percent fruits and vegetables (at least half raw); 30 percent whole grains and beans (cooked); 20 percent nuts, seeds, fish, and meats (red meat no more than twice a week); and 10 percent fun foods/comfort foods (such as baked goods or snack foods.) I also recommended that she avoid black pepper, alcohol, stimulants (like caffeine or soft drinks), and refined sugar products.
This dietary program, along with the recommended herbs and supplements, is a good start for many people who tend to run hot all the time, as long as they don’t routinely have bouts of fatigue or weakness. (These conditions could indicate a more chronic, stress-related condition that would be treated differently.)
One should continue this program for at least a month or two. A month of this regimen, two or three times a year, can help prevent gallstones, the propensity for bladder infections, and even some kinds of loose stools.
After two months, Nancy came back to the clinic. The gallbladder pains were less frequent and severe. Plus, as side benefits, she had no bladder infections during that time, she didn’t feel so hot and sweaty during the day, and she was able to get through the night without waking up covered in sweat. Also, her bowels were more regular.
Christopher Hobbs’s case studies are gleaned from his thirty years of studying and practicing herbalism. Hobbs, a fourth-generation botanist and herbalist, is an Herbs for Health editorial adviser and licensed acupuncturist. He is the coauthor of Vitamins for Dummies (IDG, 1999) and many other books.
“Case studies” is not intended to replace the advice of your health-care provider.