There are six external pathogenic influences that can affect the body - wind, cold, fire, summer heat, damp and dryness. These pathogens enter through the weak and unprotected layers of the body and may cause disease in patients whose immune systems are weak. Theories about disease developed in areas of China where environmental influences were strong; for example, in areas where "warm" diseases were prevalent, usually in the south, practitioners developed herbal formulas and methods for treating conditions such as malaria and infectious diseases. Bell's palsy is seen more frequently in northern climates where wind and cold predominate, and so there are protocols for treating this condition.
As we head into winter, it's helpful to dress accordingly and shield yourself from the elements. Eating warming meals is a strategy for fortifying the body and digestive system against cold and damp weather.
Patients may not think about how the environment plays a role in health and disease, but the development of Chinese medical practices were built on observation of how the population was affected by external influences. Practitioners today are trained to look for those influences that may be adversely affecting their patients and suggest ways to counteract them - just another way of treating the patient in a holistic manner.
The vagus nerve, one of the the cranial nerves and the longest autonomic nerve in the body, connects the brain to the digestive system. It is a pathway for neurotransmitters, and according to research, helps regulate inflammation in the body. Issues with vagal "tone" -- that is a low level of activity/function -- may contribute to conditions such as IBS, depression/anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.
Disruption of gut flora (dietary factors and meds (antibiotics) can have an impact on physical and mental health. The brain-gut axis is being targeted in therapeutic approaches to treating mood and gastrointestinal disorders.
There are several ways to strengthen the function and increase the activity of the vagus nerve, such as receiving acupuncture, massage and chiropractic care. I like to reinforce my treatments by suggesting patients to combine these modalities. Other techniques are gentle yoga and exercise, chanting and meditation, laughing, singing and belly breathing. Belly breathing utilizes the diaphragm, and by expanding the diaphragm, the vagus nerve is stimulated. The results: lowered heart rate, a gentle massage of the digestive organs, and a quick switch of the mind/body into relaxation quickly (especially good in times of stress/anxiety).