Fall and Your Health

by Michael Hurley, L.Ac. – Co-founder and acupuncturist at Cup of Life Healing Center

As the fall season comes around the corner, we must be aware of what the change of season means for our health.   Our bodies have become used to the summer warmth and freedom to express ourselves.  Just as the weather and sunlight changes at this time of year, so must our focus and attention.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the fall is a time to start buckling down and completing the projects we started in the spring.  The fall harvest is a perfect example.  While this is a tangible external expression of our food growing cycles coming to completion, there is more to look at.  Completion also applies to the projects that we have going on internally—personal changes we are making within ourselves.  By drawing our awareness to season change, we become conscious of the Qi that flows within us and the cyclical patterns that it reveals.

In TCM, the body is made up of various channels or pathways that Qi flows.  These correspond to organ systems and have, over the years, been associated with certain characteristics.  For instance, the Lung and Large Intestine systems are associated with the fall.  The emotion of the Lung/Large Intestine is grief or “letting go”.  Many times people complain of a depression that comes at the end of the summer or beginning of fall as the air gets a little cooler and the days begin to get noticeably shorter.  We have trouble “letting go” of the summer and we have a small grief process that goes along with that.  Supplementing and caring for our Lungs is very important to combat this grief.

The proper flow of Qi from the Lungs is a downward direction.  In the fall, the Lung Qi is instable.  This may cause the Lung Qi to ascend or become “rebellious”.  If the Qi is not descending, we see symptoms like coughing or wheezing.  The Lungs are the uppermost organ and in being so, are the most vulnerable to Wind and Cold.  This is why it is so important to start dressing warmer in the fall.  The Lungs also control the Wei-Qi, a protective barrier that we have to protect us from colds and flu.  It resides between the skin and the muscles and serves to keep us warm.

Some things to consider during the fall months in order to support the Lungs so they can do their job to protect us include:

  • Getting more sleep
  • Avoiding foods that may cause phlegm
  • Dressing in layers
  • Using a netti pot or some type of sinus wash to keep the nasal passages clear of mucus
  • Practicing some type of self cultivation exercise like Qi Gong or yoga that focuses on pranayama or breathwork.

Getting more sleep conserves Lung Qi which helps keep the Lungs healthy and increases energy.  Striving to avoid phlegm producing foods is essential because excess phlegm will cause the Lungs to become blocked. When the lungs are blocked, the body will have difficulty using Lung Qi efficiently.  This could lead to heat which can manifest into a sore throat, sinusitis, and even bronchitis.

Phlegm producing foods are foods such as milk, cheese, creams, and sugar.  Also, raw foods should be avoided because they tax the Spleen.  A weak Spleen will not transform phlegm properly.  Improperly transformed phlegm will be stored in the Lungs.

Instead, try adding foods that will benefit the lungs such as: ginger, garlic, horseradish, onions, and mustard.  These should be consumed in moderation.  Also, taking advantage of the many wonderful local farms in our area is a fantastic way to eat seasonally.  If it grows this time of year, you can bet that it will benefit your body.

Above and beyond doing what I have already explained, it is a good idea to seek professional help in strengthening the Lungs.  In addition to the things you do at home, regular acupuncture treatments during the fall can keep your Qi balanced and curb illnesses before they become severe.

Remember, a good immune system does not mean you never get sick.  It means you overcome illnesses more quickly thus preventing them from being more serious.  A perfect example is getting over a simple cold before it becomes bronchitis or pneumonia.

I hope that this article has been interesting to you and I also hope that some of this information serves to help keep you healthy this fall.