Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks









Heat in Chinese Medicine, & Chilled Coffee
by Brian Benjamin Carter

Question: I recently saw a chiropractor/acupuncturist for the first time. He recommended I give up coffee and that it was especially bad for me. He mentioned I have too much "heat" already in my body. I suggested that I chill my coffee before ingesting it but he frowned at that. I'm not sure if he was referring to the heat we all know and love in the winter time or some other more metaphysical idea. I'm open to new ideas and would like your opinion on this issue. Who knows maybe I will join you in quitting coffee. Currently I drink about 4-8 cups a day.
A fellow coffee drinker,
Steve J.


Heat in chinese medicine is definitely a larger concept than just wintertime central heating :) I would say it's definitely not a metaphysical concept, though, because metaphysical means "beyond nature." Chinese Medicine draws metaphorically from natural phenomena, such as heat, coldness, dampness, and dryness.

So... CM is a "natural," not a metaphysical medicine, and heat is a natural, not a metaphysical concept... A subtle, but important point.

Central Heat Concepts (get it?)

'Heat' is also one of the 8 Principles (a simple diagnostic framework of 4 opposites: hot/cold, internal/external, excess/deficient, and yin/yang).

Heat can be a cause of symptoms like:

  • just feeling hot or a real honest-to-goodness fever
  • hot flashes, menopause hot flush
  • red eyes
  • anger
  • inflammation
  • heartburn symptoms
  • excess libido (I know... what's excess?)
  • sweating
  • bad breath
  • insomnia

We also look for signs such as:

  • a rapid pulse
  • redness in the tongue body, or
  • a yellow tongue coating...

...as evidence of heat. In Chinese Medicine, we more specifically diagnose which 'organ system' has the heat by which symptoms you have, and in what part of the tongue we see 'heat' (there is a map of the tongue by organ system).

  • For example, rheumatoid arthritis is pain and inflammation in the joints, which we would see as both qi stagnation and heat (and possibly dampness).
  • One of the 4 basic characteristics of inflammation is the feeling of heat (the others are pain, redness, and swelling).
  • Heat in the Stomach-system is a cause of acid indigestion, or heartburn. So is bad breath.
  • The red eyes and anger are called 'Liver-system heat.'
  • The menopause hot flush can be caused by heat from qi stagnation, Liver and/or Kidney yin deficiency.

A Cool Diet + Alcohol Effects

You can avoid producing more heat by slightly altering your diet. Avoid greasy and spicy foods, coffee and alcohol. Yes, heat is one of many alcohol effects. You can eat cooling foods, but check with your practitioner first to see how much he thinks your digestion can take. Some people can eat loads of raw and cooling foods. Others need cooling foods cooked in soups or porridge if they aren't as strong.

Thai Iced Coffee = Bad

Why did your practitioner frown about the chilled coffee? Because the "heat" of the coffee is not just the physical temperature of the beverage. Coffee still produces heat internally even when consumed cold. Actually, your fancy thai iced coffee may be worse for you, because cold can inhibit the digestion. This is no problem for stong people or if it's only done temporarily, but longer-term or in weaker constitutions, cold foods and drinks can take their toll. Also, decaf is just as 'hot' as, if not hotter than, regular coffee.

There is scientific research to support some of these ideas:

So, research shows that coffee makes for angry, arthritic people with ulcers! This is by no means a complete survey of the side effects of coffee. On a personal note, if you read my April 2002 article on Coffee, Espresso, and the Wood Type Personality, you'll see that I quit coffee about a month and a half ago. I've been drinking green tea instead. Chinese herbs have helped me to clear out a lot of the heat that resulted from years of coffee drinking.

4-8 cups per day is quite a bit (though not for some... I had a friend in college who measured his daily intake in terms of pots of coffee). Most people can get by with one or two cups in the mornings. Many people have trouble sleeping at night if they drink as much as you are. But some feel their sleep is not at all affected. One thing's for sure, though... it's heating you up!

All the Best,


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