Cold limbs according to Chinese Medicine

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Cold limbs can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like cold limbs here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here cold limbs is often associated with poor appetite, frequent urination and fatigue in the pattern “Lung Yang Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause cold limbs.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of cold limbs we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat cold limbs.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause cold limbs

In Chinese Medicine cold limbs is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

The Lungs is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Lungs in Chinese Medicine

Lung Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Slow (Chi), Slowed-down (Huan), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to cold limbs, other symptoms associated with Lung Yang Deficiency include poor appetite, frequent urination and fatigue.

Lung Yang Deficiency is often treated with Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang, a herbal formula made of 2 herbs (including Dried Ginger - Gan Jiang - as a key herb). Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that warm interior cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms the Lungs".

Read more about Lung Yang Deficiency here

Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) is the king ingredient for Si Ni Tang, a formula used for Lesser Yin Cold Transformation

Lesser Yin Cold Transformation

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

In addition to cold limbs, other symptoms associated with Lesser Yin Cold Transformation include feeling of cold, listlessness and diarrhea.

Lesser Yin Cold Transformation is often treated with Si Ni Tang, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). Si Ni Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that rescue devastated yang", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Rescues devastated Yang".

Read more about Lesser Yin Cold Transformation here

Water Plantain (Ze Xie) is the king ingredient for Wu Ling San, a formula used for Yin Excess

Yin Excess

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Tight (Jin), Wiry (Xian), Full (Shi)

Tongue coating: Thick white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Excess Yin is a Full Yin state pattern. Its symptoms are like those of the Cold and Damp Heat Pernicious Influences such as Edema. It is a result of over-exposure to cold environments and bad diet.

In addition to cold limbs, other symptoms associated with Yin Excess include feeling of cold, poor appetite and loose stools.

Yin Excess is often treated with Wu Ling San, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Water Plantain - Ze Xie - as a key herb). Wu Ling San belongs to the category of "formulas that promote urination and leach out dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Promotes urination,".

Read more about Yin Excess here

Water Plantain (Ze Xie) is the king ingredient for Wu Ling San, a formula used for Oedema

Oedema

Pulse type(s): Slowed-down (Huan), Hidden (Fu)

Tongue coating: Thick white coating

Oedema manifests itself as swellings due to the retention of Body Fluids. Chinese Medicine believes that it originates from the leaking of Body Fluids from their normal pathways into the space between skin and muscles.

In addition to cold limbs, other symptoms associated with Oedema include poor appetite, loose stools and fatigue.

Oedema is often treated with Wu Ling San, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Water Plantain - Ze Xie - as a key herb). Wu Ling San belongs to the category of "formulas that promote urination and leach out dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Promotes urination,".

Read more about Oedema here

Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi) is the king ingredient for Wen Jing Tang, a formula used for Cold in the Uterus

Cold in the Uterus

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Deep (Chen), Tight (Jin)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple, Pale

In addition to cold limbs, other symptoms associated with Cold in the Uterus include feeling of cold, frequent urination and scanty periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Cold in the Uterus is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps or Late Menstruation.

Cold in the Uterus is often treated with Wen Jing Tang, a herbal formula made of 12 herbs (including Cinnamon Twigs - Gui Zhi - as a key herb). Wen Jing Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms the Uterus and vessels".

Read more about Cold in the Uterus here

Five herbal formulas that might help with cold limbs

Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Lungs. Strengthens the Stomach.

Why might Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang help with cold limbs?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lung Yang Deficiency' of which cold limbs is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Lung Yang Deficiency include poor appetite, frequent urination and fatigue.

Read more about Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang here

Si Ni Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Rescues devastated Yang. Warms the Middle Burner. Stops diarrhea.

Why might Si Ni Tang help with cold limbs?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lesser Yin Cold Transformation' of which cold limbs is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Lesser Yin Cold Transformation include feeling of cold, listlessness and diarrhea.

Read more about Si Ni Tang here

Wu Pi Yin

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Reduces edema, diuretic. Regulates and strengthens Spleen Qi.

Why might Wu Pi Yin help with cold limbs?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Yin Excess' of which cold limbs is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Yin Excess include feeling of cold, poor appetite and loose stools.

Read more about Wu Pi Yin here

Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Warms and transforms Phlegm-Fluids. Strengthens the Spleen. Resolves Dampness.

Why might Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang help with cold limbs?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Oedema' of which cold limbs is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Oedema include poor appetite, loose stools and fatigue.

Read more about Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang here

Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang

Source date: 1827 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Supports Kidney Yang. Supplies Spleen Qi. Expels Cold and Dampness from the Uterus.

Why might Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang help with cold limbs?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Cold in the Uterus' of which cold limbs is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Cold in the Uterus can contribute to many health issues, including Menstrual Cramps.

Read more about Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang here

Acupuncture points used for cold limbs

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat cold limbs

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with cold limbs?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat cold limbs as a symptom, like Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang or Si Ni Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with cold limbs?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat cold limbs as a symptom, like Wu Pi Yin or Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang for instance.

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with cold limbs?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat cold limbs as a symptom, like Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang or Wan Dai Tang for instance.

Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Read more about Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with cold limbs?

Because Ginseng is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat cold limbs as a symptom, like Gui Pi Tang or Shen Ling Bai Zhu San for instance.

Ginseng is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Read more about Ginseng here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with cold limbs?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat cold limbs as a symptom, like Wen Jing Tang or Er Xian Tang for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here