External and Internal Causes of Disharmony and Disease

External and Internal Causes of Disharmony and Disease

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), good health is dependent upon the smooth flow of chi, the balance of yin and yang, the influences of the five phases, and the balance between our organ network systems and our external environment.[The Five Phases are: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.]

It is believed that certain conditions are necessary for disease and disharmony to occur. First, there must be a receptive host, which is a body out of balance. Second, because the weakened body is unable to protect itself, it cannot adjust to external and internal influences (referred to as pathogens) and therefore allows them to cause damage.

The External Influences, or Causes, of Disease

The external causes of disease are related to the seasonal weather or climatic changes, which correspond with the five phases. They are wind, heat, dampness, dryness, and cold. Although each of these conditions can affect our body during any of the seasons, disease is more likely to occur during the related season, unseasonably related weather, or from artificially created environments such as air conditioning, central heating, microwave radiation, fluorescent lights, smoking, and polluted air or water.

Seasonal Weather or Climatic Changes Which Correspond With The Five Phases:


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Spring, a time of sudden growth and rapid change, is the season associated with the unpredictable, rising and falling gusts of wind. During the months of spring, the breeze can also be calm, mild, and pleasant. When wind occurs in another season, it takes on the energies of that season—for example, the hot wind of summer, the damp wind of late summer, the dry wind of autumn, and the cold wind of winter.

When wind finds its way into our body, it causes disorders such as flu and the common cold. Like the wind, our symptoms tend to wander and change or suddenly disappear. Characteristics of a wind attack include headache, body aches, fever and chills, stuffy nose, sinus congestion, and cough.

As well, you need to be aware that a wind environment is created inside our body when too much wind energy accumulates in an internal organ system. The excess of wind energy may cause serious imbalances in the vital energy of that system. The imbalance may move suddenly to another organ system and may overstimulate or suppress it. Excess liver wind causes energy to rise to our head and stimulates symptoms like headache, dizziness, insomnia, and blurred vision.


Summer, a season full of hot air temperatures that may prevail over a long period of time, is associated with sweltering heat. Although heat is specific to summer, it may combine with the dryness of autumn, or environmental energies such as central heating to cause a form of dry heat. Fire,an extreme form of heat, can be brought on by an excessive imbalance of energy related to any of the seasonal energies—for example, the dampness or humidity connected to late summer.

The nature of heat is to rise and move outward toward the surface. It may be discharged as sweat, or seen as a red face and eyes, skin ulcers, redness on the tip of our tongue, a full and bounding pulse, or signs of inflammation like redness, heat, pain, and swelling in an affected area.

When heat attacks our body, it increases our metabolism and dilates our vessels. Characteristics of an attack include fever, irritability, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, thirst, profuse sweating, and in severe cases associated with sunstroke, delirium, dizziness, and unconsciousness. When combined with dampness or humidity, additional symptoms may include a heavy feeling in our head and whole body, stuffiness and a feeling of fullness in our chest, and abdominal distention (bloating).

As well, you need to be aware that a heat environment can be created inside our body with exercise, the ingestion of warm or spicy foods, alcoholic beverages, and drugs such as amphetamines. If an imbalanced body already has excessive heat, these factors may exacerbate these disorders and symptoms.


Late summer, a season where rain, morning mist, and damp ground may prevail, is associated with humidity and the stagnant, heavy, air. Dampness is often combined with cold, heat, or wind.

When dampness seeps into our body, stagnation and sluggishness of our circulation occurs. The movement tends to be downward and gives us a feeling of fullness and heaviness in our abdomen and lower extremities. Other characteristics may include fatigue, lethargy, shortness of breath, rheumatic pains, stiff and swollen joints, and bloating.

As well, you need to be aware that a damp environment may be created inside our body with the ingestion of starchy foods, watery fruits and vegetables, and dairy products. In addition, drugs such as steroids and birth control pills can aggravate our symptoms.


Autumn, a season where insufficient moisture in the air may prevail, is associated with dryness. When dryness occurs in another season, it takes on the energies of that season—for example, dry heat, dry cold, and dry wind.

The tendency of dryness is to consume our body fluids. Dehydration prevails and is evidenced by chapped lips, brittle hair and nails, dry and cracked skin, dry eyes and nostrils, dry mouth, and decreased sweat and urine production. Our lungs are particularly susceptible to dryness. Since they are paired with the large intestine, besides respiratory disorders, we may experience hard stools and constipation.

As well, you need to be aware that a dry environment can be created inside our body with the ingestion of hot and spicy foods and drugs such as nicotine, diuretics, and antihistamines. Because these substances can generate heat or deplete moisture, they will worsen our disorders and magnify our symptoms.


Winter, a season where low air temperatures may prevail over a long period of time, is associated with cold. Although cold is prevalent in winter, it may occur in other seasons like the cold, dryness of autumn or combine with environmental energies such as air conditioning.

When cold penetrates our body, it decreases our metabolism and causes our blood vessels to narrow. Symptoms such as paleness, chills, abdominal and joint pain, back pain, fatigue, frequent and clear urination, gas, loose stools, and loss of sexual vitality may occur.

As well, you need to be aware that a cold environment can be created inside our body by the ingestion of raw foods, refrigerated or ice-cold beverages, and ice cream. Drugs such as aspirin, antibiotics, and antacids have a cold influence and may affect our digestion.

Stress affects our sympathetic nervous system, makes us more susceptible to our triggers, and can intensify our migraine attacks. As well, chronic stress can deplete our stress hormones, sex hormones, and levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and make us more prone to migraine attacks.

The Internal Influences, or Causes, of Disease

External and Internal Causes of Disharmony and DiseaseThe internal causes of disease are believed to be associated with emotional damage. It is thought that once an emotion damages a respective organ network system, it causes imbalance and disorder in other organ network systems. The resultant emotional stress can cause stagnation of energy flow and lead to physical breakdown.

The emotions involved are anger, joy, worry, grief, and fear. Like the external influences previously addressed, they are related to the five phases.


Anger causes liver chi to rise to our shoulders, neck, and head. The rush of energy can give us confidence and the ability to exert authority. However, when our anger is inappropriate, excessive, and prolonged, it causes a flare up of liver fire, which, in turn, may cause heart fire.

Anger embraces several other related emotions such as rage, fury, irritability, frustration, resentment, and bitterness. Damaging effects of these emotions include headache, dizziness, high blood pressure, tension and pain in our neck and shoulders, and in extreme cases, stroke and heart attack.


Joy affects our heart. When one is at peace and filled with happiness, chi is calm and opens our heart to promote acceptance and love. When excessive joy or excitement prevails, our metabolic rate speeds up. Heart energy is dispersed and affects our other network systems as well.

Damaging effects of too much joy include palpitations, dizziness, and fatigue. Other manifestations include excessive giggling, talkativeness, and giddiness. Some studies have shown that people who talk too fast have an increased incidence of heart disease and stroke.

Shock (Fright)

Shock weakens the chi of our heart-small intestine network. The unexpected nature of the fright, or shock to our system, scatters energy and injures our heart and kidneys. Often diseases or disorders experienced by an individual can be traced back to the time of the shock.

Worry (Rumination, Pensiveness)

Worry knots or congeals energy and affects our spleen-pancreas-stomach network. If our spleen-pancreas-stomach network cannot perform normal functions, digestive problems such as ulcers and indigestion occur.

Extreme worry, or pensiveness, can trap energy within our brain and lead to excessive thinking, brooding, insomnia, and apathy. It can also affect our lung and lead to anxiety, breathlessness, and problems in the neck and shoulders.


Grief, or sadness, the heaviest of all emotional energies, affects our lung-large intestine network. When sadness promotes caring and compassion, it can be a healthy emotion. However, when it is excessive, or chronic, it dissolves chi and consumes our energy.

Damaging effects from too much sadness include depression, tiredness, breathlessness, and respiratory disorders such as colds and bronchitis. As well, extreme grief can impair our resistance to more serious illnesses like cancer.


Fear causes chi to descend and affects our kidneys. A healthy dose of fear can be a great motivator—for example, the instinct necessary for survival. However, an excess of fear, such as a fear of failure, can be inhibitory and keep us from pursuing a desired career or other goals.

Damaging effects of fear may include bedwetting (in children), involuntary bowel movements and urinary incontinence in adults during extreme fright, anxiety, and pain or weakness in the lower back and legs. Chronic fear may lead to renal failure and permanent kidney damage.

Apart from the effects of stress I just mentioned. chronic emotional stress can influence the immune system. For example, laughter and joy have a positive effect on immunity. Grief and sorrow weaken immunity.

Looking Back and Glimpsing Ahead

In conventional Western medicine, many of these external and internal influences are considered to be triggers for our migraine attacks or can cause physical, chemical, environmental, or emotional stress.

Now, let’s apply this information to our wellness plans. In TCM, a person is encouraged to incorporate treatments and therapies like acupuncture, meditation, and mind-body exercises into their lifestyle to keep their energy centers balanced and prevent disease.

We can integrate these same therapies into our wellness plans to keep our sympathetic nervous system balanced and reduce the physiological response of our bodies to stress, stabilize our serotonin levels, and prevent a number of our migraine attacks.

©2013 by Sharron Murray, MS, RN. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.

This article was adapted with permission from the book:

Migraine: Identify Your Triggers, Break Your Dependence on Medication, Take Back Your Life
by Sharron Murray.

Migraine: Identify Your Triggers, Break Your Dependence on Medication, Take Back Your Life: An Integrative Self-Care... --  by Sharron Murray.Migraine explains how to: * Identify headache types and triggers; * Break the cycle of medication dependence; * Create a self-care plan that combines eastern therapies (yoga, meditation, biofeedback, and reflexology) with conventional western medical approaches (physical therapy, chiropractic) to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks and achieve wellness. The author looks closely at both Eastern and Western medicine to help readers understand their unique headache patterns and minimize, or abort, migraine attacks.

Click here for more info or to order this book on Amazon

Read excerpts from the book.

About the Author

Sharron Murray, author of -- Migraine: Identify Your Triggers...Sharron Murray, a migraine sufferer herself and a former faculty member at Cal State Long Beach, has over 25 years of teaching and consulting experience in the critical care arena. She has spoken extensively on topics related to critical care nursing and physical assessments of adults, and has published in numerous professional journals. She lives in Central Washington. Visit her at www.sharronmurray.com

Watch a video with Sharron: Migraine: Identify Your Triggers and Break Your Dependence on Medication

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