What is the opposite of physical health? Quick research on the internet would bring you results such as “illness”, “sickness”, “disease”, and the likes. It implies that physical health is synonymous with the absence of illness, sickness and diseases. In reality, things aren’t this simple.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) introduces a concept called sub-health. Some people may be suffering from sub-health without realising it. This is because sickness may not accompany the condition. Simply put, most people feel well without knowing their health is in a declining state.
How can we tell if we have sub-health, and how do we fix it? Here are six symptoms of sub-health along with their causes and remedies.
What is Sub-Health?
Declining physical health is not noticeable right away. If you could get up from your bed this morning and go about your daily routine, you’re probably feeling well enough. When you go to a doctor, you’d most likely be declared healthy and sent home. This happens because Western medicine usually diagnoses and treats diseases based on the patient’s symptoms.
On the other hand, you might get a different outcome if you visit a TCM physician. TCM determines health or illness through observation of the overall state of the patient’s body. Therefore, even though you don’t experience major symptoms such as fever or other kinds of discomforts, you might still be diagnosed with sub-health.
Also known as sub-optimal health status (SHS), sub-health has been defined as an intermediate state between health and disease or between healthy and unhealthy. According to The TCM Clinical Guidelines of Suboptimal Health Status, this condition is characterised by the perception of health problems, general weakness, and low energy within three months. It is regarded as the stage preceding a chronic disease.
In summary, sub-health is a condition where a patient develops deteriorating physical health, leading to more severe illnesses over time, especially when it goes untreated.
6 Common Symptoms & Causes of Deteriorating Physical Health
In general, TCM believes that organ imbalance is the root cause of sub-health. A person’s overall health and well-being rely on the harmony between the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. The five organs work by influencing other systems and each other. Sub-health occurs when there’s an imbalance in one or more organs.
Based on this philosophy, there are six common signs indicating someone might be suffering from sub-health:
A 2020 study has found that sub-health patients score significantly higher on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) than healthy people. PSQI was invented to measure sleep quality; the higher the score, the worse the quality. This result suggests that insomnia goes hand in hand with sub-health.
TCM’s POV: Insomnia comes from too much yang (active energy) or too little yin (passive energy), leading to excessive heat in the heart that disturbs the mind and body.
The study above also discovered that irritability and short temperedness — along with fatigue, forgetfulness, chest tightness, lack of concentration and memory loss — is more prominent in sub-health patients.
TCM’s POV: Liver Qi (life force energy) Stagnation can lead to irritability. The liver is responsible for regulating emotions, so a blockage could prevent it from functioning optimally.
3. Runny nose
While a runny nose or sneezing in the morning is often an underlying sign of common sickness such as allergies, cold or flu, it can also be a symptom of infections, hormonal imbalances or the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
TCM’s POV: A runny nose may point to lung qi deficiency. Our lungs play a huge role in our overall wellness, so having a deficient pair can certainly take a toll on our health. Besides a runny nose, a deficiency in the lung qi can also manifest in shortness of breath, susceptibility to flu and sweating too easily.
Constipation, a common condition experienced by many people, can be easily cured with dietary changes. But in some cases, constipation is a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome.
TCM’s POV: Spleen deficiency is the cause of constipation and other digestion-related problems, like bloating and gastric pain. Moreover, TCM believes that the spleen produces qi, making it the origin of life’s energy itself. This is why a disturbance in the organ can disrupt energy flow and induce health issues.
5. Frequent urination at night
Nocturia or frequent urination at night has been linked to diabetes, poor kidney function, urinary tract infections, enlarged prostate and bladder stones.
TCM’s POV: This condition stems from a deficiency in the kidneys, where a substance called jing is generated. Jing is said to be an essence that can transform into qi and blood; therefore, a kidney deficiency may affect health negatively. Be careful if you have lower back pain because it’s one of the symptoms of deficient kidneys.
6. Hair loss
In severe cases, hair loss may suggest autoimmune diseases or thyroid imbalance in women, hypertension, prostate cancer, coronary heart diseases, insulin resistance disorders or prostate enlargement in men.
TCM’s POV: Hair loss is the effect of Kidney and Liver Deficiency. The two organs are closely related, as both regulate the blood and nutrients in the body.
How to Remedy Sub-Health
TCM physicians may recommend cupping, acupuncture, lifestyle adjustments or dietary changes to treat sub-health. For example, physicians would advise patients to avoid cooling food, refrain from overeating, and have meals regularly to treat constipation and weak spleen.
Herbs can also be helpful; for instance, cooling teas made from chrysanthemum and lophatherum can combat insomnia and heat excess in the heart, while fleece flower root can remedy kidney and liver deficiency.
When it comes to physical health, we now know that there is more to it than meets the eye. The absence of serious symptoms may not necessarily constitute a healthy body.
Since an imbalance in the organ systems causes sub-health, it’s crucial to counter its deteriorating effects with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices. To better recognise the condition of your body, remember to consult trusted physicians before undergoing any treatment.
This is an adaptation of an article, “6 Signs of Sub Health”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.
- Hindawi. 2015. Effects of TCMC on Transformation of Good Health Status to Suboptimal Health Status: A Nested Case-Control Study [online] [Accessed 9 March 2022]
- Science Direct. 2020. Disclosure of suboptimal health status through traditional Chinese medicine-based body constitution and pulse patterns [online] [Accessed 9 March 2022]
- ZOE. 2021. What are the symptoms of Omicron? [online] [Accessed 9 March 2022]
- National Health Service. 2017. What is IBS? [online] [Accessed 9 March 2022]
- Sleep Foundation. 2018. Nocturia or Frequent Urination at Night [online] [Accessed 9 March 2022]
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