Sub-health: understanding the gap between health and illness
Aug. 1, 2011, 1:29 p.m.

Have you ever felt inexplicably tired or cranky? Has it been a while since you’ve felt 100% healthy? You may be experiencing a condition that spans the gap between health and illness: sub-health.

People who are sub-healthy do not present any medical abnormalities, but they may experience any combination of the following symptoms: anxiety, moodiness, frequent headaches, indigestion (cramps, bloatedness, IBS, irregular bowel movement, etc.), constant tiredness/fatigue, nausea, weaker memory, difficulty focusing, and general discomfort that is persistent but not enough to be diagnosed as an illness. Women who are sub-healthy may experience irregular periods (especially concerning flow or frequency).

Sub-health generally affects people who work white-collar jobs that involve a high amount of stress. Many acknowledge that the symptoms of sub-health affect their functional capabilities but don’t consider the symptoms serious enough to address. I’m here to tell you that sub-health should not be ignored. Your body remembers its damages and losses, even after they have been healed. For the sake of your long-term health, I strongly recommend taking care of sub-standard health conditions as soon as you are aware of them.

Throughout this article, I’ll be speaking from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, but physicians the world over will generally agree with these health principles. Let’s discuss five causes of sub-health and how to combat them to restore true health. Because TCM is all about balance, I’ll speak about how each cause offsets your internal balance and about how to restore this balance.

1) Extreme feelings
According to TCM philosophy, people have seven basic “emotions.” They are joy, anger, anxiety, pensiveness, grief, fear, and fright. These emotions are considered a major cause of internal disease in TCM. Experiencing extremes of these emotions or experiencing these emotions for too long upsets your internal balance. If you are prone to experiencing extreme emotions, they may be the cause of your sub-health.

From both a health standpoint as well as a social standpoint, it would benefit you to be aware of your emotions, especially when they flare up. Most people who are sub-healthy experience extreme anger or like to hold grudges. When you sense your emotions spiking, try to find quick ways to calm yourself down and restore your inner balance. Find ways of relaxing – e.g., taking a walk, do breathing exercises, etc. If you know any Mind-Body techniques, they could be extremely helpful for situations that consistently trigger strong negative emotions.

2) Working too hard
There are two ways to work yourself too hard: 1) physically pushing your body to the limit too long and too often, and 2) over-thinking, pushing the limits of your mental endurance. Some people have physically demanding jobs while others have mentally demanding jobs that lead them to become very sedentary. Both of these conditions could keep you from operating at your best.

Listen to your body; that’s my best advice. Don’t push yourself too hard or make yourself pursue abstract goals by neglecting your physical needs – e.g., “I’ll rest, but only after I…” Rest when you feel tired. And don’t fill yourself so full of caffeine or adrenaline that you’re not even aware of when you’re tired. Younger people, especially, have amazing energy and endurance, but everyone harms themselves when they are trained not to listen to their bodies. If you’re seated for long periods of time, get up and walk every hour or so. If you find your mind getting sluggish, give your brain a workout. If you’re physically tired after a long day, don’t immediately go and do an intense workout. If you want to rest, rest. If your body’s telling you to take it easy, listen.

3) Irregular eating habits
Everyone does things to throw their diet off balance. This includes eating unhealthy foods, eating irregularly, or eating too much or too little.

My advice here is fairly common sense. Eat appropriate portions of healthy foods at set times. The times at which you eat, the portions and quality of foods you eat all contribute to your health (or lack thereof). Specifically how you should balance your diet could be an entire article in itself. Just know that you need to get into the disciplined habit of eating good quality foods regularly. As you’re developing this habit, you naturally won’t feel hungry at predetermined meal times. Don’t worry. You can eat very small amounts of food, but don’t skip entire meals.

4) Irregular sleep
For people with high-stress jobs, eating and sleep are the first patterns they break. Compromising the quantity or quality of sleep could contribute to sub-health.

To all you night owls, all-nighters are definitely not good for you. It’s best to sleep before midnight. If you want optimal results, sleep before 11 p.m. This ensures that you get between six and seven hours of sleep and that you body has the opportunity to enter deep sleep (i.e., good quality sleep). Our bodies respond to daylight and darkness; we have a natural tendency to feel tired at night and more energetic during the daytime. Additionally, your body uses sleep time to rid itself of toxins and to replenish cells/tissues that were lost or damaged during the day. Give your body a chance to repair itself. Get some sleep.

5) Constitutional propensities for sub-health
Some people are born with natural propensities for sub-health. Some are prone to indigestion while others may battle frequent insomnia.

Take steps to keep your body out of harm’s way. For example, if you have a sensitive stomach, don’t eat overly spicy foods. If you’re not sure about your body’s natural weaknesses, consult a TCM physician. TCM physicians can recommend replenishing/restoring treatments that most Western medicine practitioners don’t subscribe to – e.g., reflexology, massage therapy, acupuncture, etc.

Listen to your body. Some sub-healthy people find themselves popping a bunch of aspirin for frequent headaches. This only serves to help you ignore the symptoms of sub-health. Symptoms are your body’s way of warning you of potentially serious problems. If you see indicator lights flashing in your car, covering up the light doesn’t solve your problem. It’s the same with your body. Awareness and serious consideration of symptoms can help you restore your health and prevent actual illnesses.

It’s most important to make appropriate lifestyle changes to maintain optimum health. Our bodies are finely-tuned machines. Do whatever it takes to keep it running at maximum capacity. If that means consulting a friendly TCM physician, I’m just a phone call or e-mail away.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Cai Lang, please e-mail To consult another BJU Integrative Medicine physician, please call (10) 5927 7061.

Edited by Christina Liao

Published:  Aug. 1, 2011, 1:29 p.m.