By Marian Kimball Eichinger, LAc
Fall is a lovely time of year! The days are bright and crisp, the leaves transform into shades of red, orange, and yellow, vegetable gardens teem with bounty, and the temperature drops enough to pull out your favorite wrap around sweater. It is beautiful and invigorating. Unfortunately, with all this beauty and abundance fall can also bring the skin-crackling dryness of indoor heating, and a new season of colds and flu.
According to Five Element Theory, (which significantly informs Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) theory) fall corresponds to metal, the Lung, the nose, and dryness. The Lung opens to the nose, which means that the health of the nose reflects that of the lung. The Lung and the nose, like metal and the leaves on the trees, are fragile and highly vulnerable to changing temperatures and the dry environment of fall. Viruses and other external pathogens love dry environments, so it is especially important to keep our lungs and nose moist and healthy during the fall months in order to prevent getting sick.
The good news is that there are several things we can do to strengthen and moisten our lungs and boost our immune systems to more effectively fight the pathogens during the dry, chilly environment of fall. Here are some things I would recommend:
1. Eat warm, cooked, nourishing foods: I start with the most important and obvious. As much as you possibly can, eat whole, cooked, plant-based foods. Processed foods simply do not provide the nutrients that fresh whole foods provide. Cold, raw food is more difficult for our bodies to break down and digest, causing unneeded stress on the system. During this time of dropping temperatures we need to warm ourselves with cooked, nourishing foods.
2. Drink plenty of liquids: And to take it a step further, I would recommend room temperature or warm liquids. Room temperature water and hot teas are a wonderful way to replenish the body’s natural fluids and warm up on a chilly day. Teas with cinnamon and cloves are especially great for warming and invigorating.
3. Honey: Honey is moistening, and when taken in your tea, coffee, oatmeal, sandwich, what have you, it will help moisten your body and lungs.
4. Ginger, green onions, garlic, and brown sugar tea: Sounds interesting? It is delicious and warming immunity enhancer with anti-biotic properties. It can be used as a prevention or treatment of cold symptoms such as nasal congestion. Slice an inch of ginger, 3-4 garlic bulbs and 3 green onions (must include the roots!) and simmer in about 2 cups of water until fragrant. Add brown sugar to taste and enjoy!
5. Take Vitamin D: We live in Minnesota, and fall and winter means covering up so we need the immune strengthening power of Vitamin D (for more info, click here). It is recommended that you ask your primary physician to test your blood for your Vitamin D level.
6. Humidify: A dry lung harbors pathogens. Run a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom while you sleep. In lieu of an electrical device, put a pot of water in your bedroom near a heating vent or on top of a radiator.
7. Get acupuncture: Acupuncture is very effective in two ways: for a) the prevention of and b) treatment of disease. Regular acupuncture can strengthen immunity and the lung’s natural ability to repel pathogens so we don’t get sick. If you do get sick, acupuncture can hasten healing by strengthening and helping the lung expel pathogens that make their way in. Acupuncture can also help relieve symptoms such as headache, sore throat, stuffy nose and achy muscles so you feel better as you heal.
8. Take herbs: There are several very effective Chinese herbal formulas to help prevent and treat colds and flu. These formulas contain herbs that strengthen the lung, boost immunity, clear heat (in case of fever), dispel cold (in case of chills), and treat cough. These are very safe formulas with no side effects that can be taken as needed or long term. A discussion with your naturopathic doctor or acupuncture practitioner about your symptoms and needs will identify the formula that is right for you.
These are just a few things we can do to help maintain our health in the fall and winter months. Other things I have found to help are getting out and seeing people, a movie or a play; getting a decent amount of exercise; and reading good books - For nourishing our spirit is equally or more important as nourishing our body!
Flaws, Bob. The Tao of Healthy Eating. Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, CO: 1998.
Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Churchhill Livingstone: 1989