Heat vs Cold in Traditional Chinese Medicine

As scientifically well-developed and advanced as contemporary western medicine is, the concept of “heat vs cold” is absent.  We, the doctors, care if you have a high fever or hypothermia, but when was the last time your physician asked if you had cold or heat intolerance?  In contrast, in traditional Chinese medicine, “heat vs cold” is one of the very important factors on which the herbal treatment is based.  By correcting the heat or cold intolerance, many patients feel better with their symptoms, regardless what the underlying disease may be.

On this early March morning, three ladies walked in my office seeking help.  Each of them had extreme temperature sensitivity.


A graphic designer who underwent divorce nine months ago, felt extremely cold and tired all the time.  She presented with neck and shoulder pain.  Her radial pulse was very weak which disappeared with pressure.


A middle aged professional woman who had been under a lot of stress due to her son’s illness came in for help for stress relief and mental clarity and focus improvement.  She too, was extremely cold and weak by pulse examination.

Both patients improved quickly with a combination of warming, energy-enhancing herbs and acupuncture.


A 52 year old teacher who had prophylactic breasts and ovaries removed as she was a BRCA gene carrier came in for management of sciatica pain.  She stated that she had to set her room thermostat at 62 degrees because she always felt very hot.  She also suffered from insomnia.  Her medical history was complicated, including pre-diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, etc.  She was on 9 prescription drugs, but still felt miserable.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

The TCM approach is relatively simple.  Other than acupuncture for pain and other related complaints, cooling herbs are given to cool off the excess heat, and warming herbs to warm up the cold body.  You may call this “phenotypic medicine”, i.e., treating the manifestations of underlying diseases.  Patients quickly improve and often derive sustained benefit instead of transient relief.  There isn’t one single herb or single combination of supplements that can take care of the heat/cold problem.  Treatment needs to be tailored to each individual to get best results.

Dr. Peter Sheng
Cincinnati Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Therapy, Integrative Medicine & Holistic Health Care