by Rachel Gorman, Lic.Ac.
Traditionally the time to start boosting the immune system is ~3 months before winter (i.e. BEFORE you get sick!), so right now in early fall is a great time to start prepping your body.
In Chinese medicine, each season is associated with 1 of the 5 elements, as well as with a yin/yang pair of the 12 organ systems. The element for Fall is Metal, associated with order, organization, setting limits and protecting boundaries, both emotionally and physiologically. The organ system pairing assigned to fall is the (yin) LUNG and (yang) LARGE INTESTINE. It is common for people to have imbalances in these particular areas during this season.- think colds, sinus congestion, coughs, flus, allergies, asthma, etc.
The Lung encompasses the entire upper respiratory tract including the nose and sinuses, as well as the general immune system as we understand it today. Interestingly, more and more modern research is pointing to the health of our guts as paramount to a healthy immune system- it’s often estimated that “70% of the immune system is in the gut”. Chinese medicine realized the importance of this connection thousands of years ago, well before the concept of germs and immunity came around. This means it’s equally important to have a healthy Lung and Large Intestine this time of year.
So, how do we maximize our immunity in the fall?
- Transition from Warm Weather to Cold Weather Diet
- Eat Less or Avoid: raw foods and cold salads, tropical/summer fruits (pineapple, watermelon, mango, strawberry), iced/cold drinks and smoothies, cold breakfasts (i.e. cereal, fruit/smoothie etc.)
- Eat More/Add: lightly cooked/steamed veggies, root vegetables (sweet potato, squashes, carrots, parsnips), cooked whole grains, fall fruits (apples, pears, plums and grapes, bonus points for cooked apples/pears), warm breakfasts (oatmeal, eggs, etc.), soups, stews, chilis, bone broths, warm teas, garlic, ginger, onion, walnuts and almonds, fermented foods (pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi), cinnamon,
- Additionally, avoid generally inflammatory foods (sugar, dairy, wheat) as the inflammatory response weakens the immune system
- Protect your Neck (& Feet!): You will never see an acupuncturist without a scarf once fall rolls around. In TCM theory the back of the neck is the most vulnerable area on the body and where pathogens attack first, so it is important to keep your neck covered, especially in windy and/or cold weather. It’s important to dress appropriately and warmly—no flip-flops in November! When you get cold, your muscles tighten up (and you may shiver) in an attempt to warm the body back up. The body reads this as an external stressor, which taxes the immune system. Plus, we know heat escapes the body easily from the head and feet, so put those socks on and stay cozy.
- Weekly acupuncture treatment, and, if needed, herbal medicine, is recommended throughout allergy/cold & flu season to keep you healthy, strengthen any underlying weaknesses and imbalances, and ward off illness before it can sink in
- Supplements: Consider taking a good probiotic, get tested for Vit. D status* (and supplement if necessary), add local honey to your diet. Root & Branch also offers a homeopathic cold & flu prevention kit, antiviral topical cream, as well as a prepackaged Traditional Chinese Herbal immune-boosting formula called Jade Windspring. (*Vitamin D is actually a hormone. In order for it to fully express its potential, the best blood range is 50-80.)