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HoloSapiens - the TCM "Food as Medicine" Project


Introduction to the disharmony


Major symptoms:

  • cold hands and feet
  • overall feeling of cold
  • fear of cold


  • Spleen Yang deficiency symptoms - coldness in the abdomen, watery stools that contain undigested food
  • Kidney Yang deficiency symptoms - coldness in the back, loose stools, frequent urination, poor sexual desire, sterility


“Interior cold” is a condition either caused by invasion of external cold pathogen or an internally developed condition. In both cases - as the name of the syndrome suggests -  the experience, the symptom of  “internal cold”  is feeling of cold. 


External invasion of cold pathogen develops by residing long term in a cold environment and chronically exposing the body to cold atmosphere and surfaces.  Internally developed “cold” is the result of organ deficiencies, specifically deficiency of Qi and Yang (the body's warming faculty). Every body organ owns Qi and Yang (as well as Yin and Blood). Deficiency of Qi will lead to lack of energy and tiredness, but if the condition worsens and the Yang becomes deficient  “cold” symptoms develop. Usually the organs that predominantly suffer from Yang deficiency are the Spleen the Kidney.

Note: In traditional Chinese medicine the concept of the Spleen differs from the understanding of the spleen in Western medicine. In TCM main function of the Spleen is the transformation of food into "food essence". The symptoms of an imbalanced Spleen point to imbalance in the digestion. So in order to avoid confusion whenever we refer to the Spleen we will consider the collective work of some organs and systems that participate in the transformation and the transportation of nutrients and fluids, rather than solely focusing on the organ spleen as defined in Western science. 


In the case of Spleen Yang deficiency there is coldness in the abdomen, while in Kidney Yang deficiency there is coldness in the back.  Spleen Yang deficiency furthermore manifests with symptoms of deficient digestion such as watery stools that contain undigested food. Kidney Yang deficiency manifests in loose stools, frequent urination, poor sexual desire, sterility (in TCM the Kidney governs both the urinary and the reproductive systems).  In both cases there are cold hands and feet, overall feeling of cold, fear of cold.


 Major Chinese Herbs


A very famous Chinese herb that strongly warms the interior and enters the Spleen and Kidney channels is Fu Zi (Aconitum carmicaeli). It restores devastated Yang where the warming faculty is extremely weak. As it enters the Spleen and Kidney it benefits Spleen/Kidney Yang deficiency disorders.  Additionally it enters the Heart, boosts the circulation and strengthens the vessels. It is also a very good herb for joint pain/swelling/numbness, especially the kind that gets worse when exposed to cold.




Another major herb that warms the interior is Wu Zhu Yu (Evodia rutaecarpa). It is one of the herbs that has the ability to lead the energy downward, being very beneficial for rebellious Qi symptoms such as vomiting and acid reflux, as well as sores of the mouth and tongue. (1)


There is an interesting story about how the herb was named. Back in Ancient China there used to be a custom that the smaller kingdom had to pay tribute to the larger kingdom in order to keep the peace. One time the small Wu kingdom brought the larger and stronger Chu kingdom their national herb, called “Herb of Wu kingdom”, as a present. A doctor with the name Dr. Zhu planted the herb. After the king of the Chu kingdom suffered sever abdominal pain and was successfully cured with this herb, he embraced the herb and changed it’s name from “Herb of Wu kingdom” to “Wu-Zhu’s fruit”. “Wu” - because it came from the Wu kingdom, “Zhu” because it was planted in his kingdom by Dr. Zhu, and “fruit” because it was a fruit. Ever since the herb is referred to by this name – Wu Zhu Yu. (2)


Fresh ginger is warm herb that benefits the first stages of common cold. When dried it’s temperature changes from warm to hot and the herb is now used in the “warm interior” class herbs. Gan Jiang (Zingiber officinale) rescues devastated Yang, warms the Lungs and transforms “cold phlegm”. It also stops bleeding due to cold.




Rou Gui (Cinnamomum cassia) – cinnamon bark – strongly reinforces the Yang and brings it back to its source. It also warms the channels, unblocks the channels and vessels and promotes the movement of energy throughout the body. Simultaneously it aids the generation of energy and blood in the body and is often used together with herbs that tonify the Qi and blood.


Another herb that warms the channels and alleviates pain is Dou Chi Jiang (Litsea cubeba). It is particularly good for painful menstruation due to cold. Xiao Hui Xiang (Foeniculum vulgare) – warms and encourages movement in the Liver channel, benefiting hernia disorders, as they manifest from “cold in the Liver channel”. Ding Xiang (Eugenia caryophyllata) – warms the Kidneys and benefits the Yang, thus is used for impotence or clear vaginal discharge, caused by Kidney Yang deficiency. Chuan Jiao (Zanthoxylum bungeanum) besides warming the interior kills parasites, and is used for roundworms. Bi Ba (Piper longum) can be topically applied for toothache.


Healing foods


Foods that that have a healing effect on “internal cold” pathology are foods with warming nature. 


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Food Therapy


Food therapy is the most economical and non-toxic biochemical approach to health and disease. Food is something we continuously use to sustain our lives. Learning what foods are healing (and what disruptive) for each condition has the potential to convert every meal into a form of therapy.   


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(1) Benski, Dan & Gamble, Andrew (1993). Materia Medica, Revised Edition. Seatle: Eastland Press, Incorporated

(2) Lu, Henry (2005). Chinese Natural Cures. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.

(3) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books

(4) Holmes, Peter (1998). The Energetics of Western Herbs. Boulder: Snow Lotus Press, Inc.


Related Articles:

How the Climatic Factor Cold Affects Health

Spleen Yang deficiency

Kidney Yang deficiency

Cold in the Stomach

Cold in the Large Intestine

Winter (Element Water) - "cold evil"



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