What seasonal transition poses the biggest challenge for your immune system?
Is it the shift to winter, when most of us (save for the citizens of Southern California and the Deep South) barely venture outside for at least a quarter or a third of the year?
Or does the Spring Equinox pose an even bigger threat, attacking us with seasonal allergens such as pollen and grasses? What of the spring to summer? Does this shift pose the biggest seasonal attack on the immune system because of hot, damp air?
For many people, the transition from late summer to fall taxes the immune system the most. The muggy, sizzling heat seemingly overnight gives way to dry, chilly air. As the sun’s ultraviolet rays reach our neck of the world at a more indirect angle, this climatic shift coupled with the dryness of the air can attack the respiratory system.
And if your immune system is ever the least bit suppressed, it can make you more vulnerable to becoming infected by rhinoviruses (the family of viruses that includes the common cold).
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) philosophy has contemplated this health issue for thousands of years. Developed by astute Earthly and celestial observations over the millenia, TCM offers very practical advice for supporting health during this challenging seasonal transition. (For obvious reasons, 2020 may be more especially difficult to stay healthy and balanced.)
Foods To Support Health During the Fall Transition
When the temperatures start dipping into the 60s and below, that’s when it’s time to abandon the heart-of-the-summer raw food diet. Instead of large salads, start eating foods that warm and moisten the respiratory system: baked pears and apples.
Non-GMO and organic oats (it’s important to buy oats that are non-GMO and organic due to glyphosate contamination); sweet potatoes and yams. Because by and large, the ancient Chinese traditional society were not vegetarians, a little bit of animal protein is often included in dietary recommendations. Lamb is the animal protein of choice from a TCM perspective for the fall transition.
If you continue to eat lots of raw foods this time of year, your digestive Qi (energy) can become depleted. In TCM, the Spleen is the organ system that’s responsible for transforming food into nutrients. (TCM organs include the physical organ plus the highway energy system around the body known as “meridians.”)
Raw foods place a burden on the Spleen. The Spleen has to work extra hard because its partner organ in TCM, the Stomach (TCM organs are capitalized) will develop excess heat. Anyways, TCM digestive theory aside, suffice it to say that eating lots of raw foods can actually throw your digestion and health off balance. Start eating more seasonal, cooked foods.
This is the time of year when you can start eating more cooked garlic, onions and ginger. Doing so will boost your “Wei Qi”, which is TCM’s version of the immune system, of defensive Qi.
And now that barbecue season is over, it’s time to put the cover on the grill both literally and metaphorically-speaking. Grilled meats are harmful for health to begin with. They produce what are called advanced glycation end (AGE) products, which can contribute to, well, the ageing process.
But from a TCM perspective, heavily-cooked meat along with beer, ice cream and other summertime favorite foods produce “damp heat” in the body. Damp heat robs the Lungs of Qi. That’s not a good thing in any year, let alone in 2020.
Ditch The Iced Coffee
Instead of drinking iced drinks, start drinking herbal teas throughout the day. During colder weather, many people forget to hydrate because there’s not a strong thirst signal to the brain like there is in summer. So even if you’re not thirsty, sip on some herbal tea.
Not only will drinking warm/hot tea keep the lungs (and TCM Lungs) moist, staying hydrated will aid your body’s elimination, which also supports a balanced immune system.
The Best Herb To Support The Transition To Fall
One of the most famous herbs for supporting the immune system in TCM history is astragalus (Huang Qi). Astragalus is considered an adaptogenic herb (or ‘adaptogen). Adaptogens help keep the body in a state of homeostasis, neutralizing the harmful effects of physical, mental and environmental stress.
If you’re feeling “burnt out” and exhausted, astragalus, from a TCM perspective, acts as a Qi tonic, meaning it can help re-energize the body. Astragalus also supports the immune system by assisting the body’s detoxification mechanisms; the legendary herb bolsters Wei Qi, preventing pathogens from entering deep in the body.
Astragalus supplements can be found online. Some herbal medicine brands may also offer astragalus tea.
Take It Easy
This time of year, make sure you start incorporating stress-management techniques into your daily practice. There are no excuses. If you have to wake up 5 minutes earlier to practice some deep breathing, do it! You don’t even have to get out of bed.
Simply lie on your back, inflate your belly and chest like a balloon for 4 seconds and then deflate for an equal time. Repeat 20 times. The increased oxygenation will boost your Lung Qi, and just may prevent respiratory assaults that are quite common this time of year.
Got any tips for staying healthy this time of year? Let us know by leaving a comment below.