Heat and humidity mean more than feeling sweaty. As temperatures rise, so do some common Shanghai health problems. Here are some issues to watch for and tips to stay healthy and comfortable as Shanghai swelters!
Fungus loves the Shanghai environment! The heat, humidity and consumption of sweet foods and drinks are the perfect environment for fungal infections. Closed shoes, locker rooms, pools and public showers are breeding grounds for foot fungus. Fungus on the nails usually appears as a thickening or discolouration while ‘athlete’s foot’ consists of peeling, red, itchy skin or hives.
Avoid foods and drinks which promote internal dampness; these include tofu, cheese, mushrooms, shellfish, sweets, chocolate and alcohol. Tonifying and ‘phlegm clearing’ foods can help, including daikon, vinegar, yam, squash, pumpkin and grains. People in hot climates typically eat spicy foods for a reason—many spices have germ-killing properties and can reduce phlegm. The herbal remedies offered by a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor can keep your body in balance to adjust to the seasons and stay healthy.
It is important to practise good foot hygiene by regularly cleaning and drying the feet, especially the area between your toes. My colleague, podiatrist Vaishali Patel, recommends Shanghai residents always wear shower shoes/flip flops in common areas and keep nails well trimmed and feet exfoliated. She advises wearing breathable socks or hose and ensuring shoes dry out thoroughly before wearing again (talcum powder can also help reduce moisture). Vaishali can assess possible fungal infections and create a treatment plan for this persistent and contagious problem. There are a variety of chemical treatments for fungus, both topical and oral (TCM can be used to support healing). Shanghai expats who are prone to fungus may wish to bring their preferred topical treatment from home, as some solutions may not be available in Shanghai.
With varying levels of cold chain consistency in food preparation and delivery, food in Shanghai may be prone to bacterial growth. Be especially careful about street food during hot weather. When possible, find out how suppliers source and handle food.
Eat meat and fish well cooked. Dairy and egg-based foods can also be problematic. When food sits out even for very brief periods in the heat, bacteria starts to develop.
Drinking icy beverages, though tempting, can be hard on digestion and cause stomach pain and indigestion. An excess of cold, sweet drinks and food can contribute to digestive problems in summer. Unsweetened teas such as peppermint, green, chrysanthemum or lemon tea are good alternatives to sugary drinks.
If you experience digestive problems, there are very effective Chinese herbs for diarrhea and other ailments. Seek treatment quickly and replace fluids so you don’t become dehydrated.
A lot of people suffer from heat rash. Sweat glands become clogged and inflamed, leading to a skin rash. Always wear natural fibers such as cotton or linen and light, loose garments. The skin needs to be able to breathe to allow heat and moisture to escape. Keep the area clean and cool. Heat rash will typically go away on its own as the body cools down.
Some people also suffer from sun rash, allergic reactions or worsening of chronic skin issues such as eczema during hot weather. Read medication labels, as some medications cause sensitivity to sun. Keep the skin as cool and dry as possible and try not to scratch the area. Avoid exercising outdoors during the hottest part of the day. If you have ongoing problems, topical treatments can help relieve symptoms and TCM herbal decoctions can lower internal heat and balance qi.
The drastic seasonal changes in Shanghai can be especially hard on the body. Take precautions and treat your body well with sufficient rest, good diet and exercise throughout the year. For thousands of years, the Chinese have practised seasonal eating and habits designed to help keep the body in harmony with nature. These traditions may help you too.
Cool your body down with fruits and vegetables that grow naturally in summertime, such as white mushroom, tomatoes, spinach, dill, asparagus, broccoli and eggplant.
Watermelon, cucumber, strawberries and mint nourish body fluids, clear heat in the body, reduce swelling and strengthen the digestive system that is often weakened by dampness and heat in the summertime.
Doris Rathgeber is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine who founded Body & Soul – Medical Clinics in Shanghai in 2003. Vaishali Patel provides podiatry services at Body & Soul’s Downtown Clinic. You can find out more about Body & Soul’s interdisciplinary team and health services offered at several Shanghai locations at www.tcm-shanghai.com.