Cultural dimensions of hot, cold and sema in Sinhalese health culture

Soc Sci Med. 1987;25(4):377-87. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(87)90276-0.


Attention is focused on those for whom hot/cold and phlegm constitute special health concerns in Sri Lanka. A distinction is drawn between those at special risk to hot/cold and phlegm based on a sense of constitutional vulnerability and those at risk due to temporary illness or expected changes in physiological process. Socialization of the former risk group is considered in light of social labeling theory, while the health behavior of the latter group is highlighted. It is pointed out that a wide range of behavior from folk dietetics to bathing and from water boiling to the taking of birth control pills is influenced by hot/cold reasoning. It is emphasized that the hot/cold conceptual framework serves an integrative function in the traditional health care arena and provides a rationale for participatory action in a health culture undergoing rapid medicalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Body Constitution
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Culture
  • Female
  • Food
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Pregnancy
  • Social Class
  • Sri Lanka