We are living in a year of heightened viral illness, and in a state where we are currently fighting wildfires and suffering from smoke inhalation. I don’t know about you, but this yells, “My lungs need lots of TLC” to me! As a Chinese medical practitioner I’m especially aware of this in the fall. Why?
In Chinese medicine, each season correlates with an element, and a paired set of organs. Fall is the Metal element, and its organ systems belong to the Lung and Large Intestine. These organ systems are thought to be especially vulnerable during this season, and in Chinese medicine special attention is made to strengthening and protecting these organs during this time. Blend that with the year we’ve had so far, and I would advise everyone to place an emphasis on loving our Lungs (and Large Intestine--see below) this fall.
Now, some of you may think that this is pure Chinese medical gibberish. Yet it is always fascinating to me to note that these systems do often get stressed for many this time of year--including myself. For me, it is my sensitive digestion that always seems to go south in the fall. For many others this is the time of year we start to see escalating respiratory illnesses and viral infections. From a purely Western medical standpoint, Vitamin D levels start to drop in the fall (unless you are supplementing correctly), leading to lowered immunity, increasing inflammation, and speeding up of bone loss (a prelude to the Kidney system in winter, which governs bone).
So what can we do to “love our Lungs and Large Intestine” this fall? How can we use the energies of fall from a Chinese medical standpoint to support us in moving towards a healthier and happier year? Here are a few suggestions:
Metal: A Metaphysical Viewpoint
Autumn or fall is the season when things are cooling off, winding down, and Nature is preparing for hibernation. Emotions connected with the Metal element are grief, and letting go. You might find yourself during this time naturally revisiting old wounds that never healed, family members that have passed, or relationships that are no longer in your life. Make sure to give yourself time and space to do this. If you have a regular meditation practice, invite shelved or buried energies of grief and loss into your conscious awareness, with love and in a safe space, so they can be processed and released and you can move into winter with a lighter heart. You might be surprised at what surfaces to be cleaned out.
The Lung in Chinese medicine correlates with both respiratory and immune system functions. As I stated before, in a year of increased viral infection, and in a state where we are currently suffering from smoke inhalation, it becomes even more critical to take extra measures in supporting the Lung. How can we do this? Here are some suggestions:
Invest in a good quality HEPA filter such as this one. Ideally your HEPA air filters should be placed in any space you are spending an extended amount of time, such as your bedroom or office.
Try steam therapy with essential oils. This is easy to do the old fashioned way, by hanging your head over a pot of steaming hot water and placing a towel over your head! Some of the top essential oils for lung detox include eucalyptus, tea tree oil, rosemary, and thyme.
Consider adding cod liver oil to your daily regimen. While for centuries many of our ancestors in cold northern climates dosed themselves through the winter on cod liver oil, somehow this vital practice was dropped along the way. Cod liver oil contains generous amounts of vitamin A and D. The body uses vitamin A to build and repair lung tissue, as well as to reduce inflammation. There is a whopping 4500IUs of vitamin A in just one teaspoon of cod liver oil, and 450IU of vitamin D. Just two teaspoons per day would boost levels to an optimum place for the average person. Cod liver oil is available through most health food stores, and through our DCA apothecary, where you can purchase it at 20% off this next week.
Add in N-acetyl-cysteine (or NAC) as a daily supplement. NAC is an antioxidant that thins mucus secretions, aids in expectoration, and reduces cough (if cough is present). NAC is also a precursor to our main detoxifying molecule in the liver--glutathione. So it assists detoxification at the level of both the lung AND liver. NAC can be found at any health food store, or at our DCA apothecary, where you can purchase it at 20% off this next week.
Especially if you have a weakened immune function, or higher than normal stress levels, consider trying a few adaptogenic herbs. Astragalus, Rhodiola, and Osha Root are three wonderful herbs for lung and immune support. Medical mushrooms are also effective: Reishi, Cordyceps and Shitake all strengthen the lung/immune system, and can be found in the products Breathe, and MyCommunity by Host Defense. A great new product we stock at our DCA apothecary is Immunitone Plus by Designs for Health. Immunitone Plus contains Reishi, Cordyceps and Shitake, as well as Astragalus and other herbs that strengthen immune function.
In Chinese medicine “white” vegetables and fruits are believed to support Lung function. Spicier varieties will help to expectorate and clear phlegm, while sweeter varieties will nourish Lung Yin, helping to moisturize dry lung tissue, which is very helpful in our dry Colorado climate. Spicy examples include radishes of any kind, Daikon radish, and turnips; in fact, colors aside, you should be generous in using your kitchen spices in the fall, such as thyme, oregano and basil, as they will also help to move the lung qi and clear phlegm. Sweeter examples include pear and jicama. Apples and persimmons also nourish Lung Yin, and appropriately are also fruits that are harvested in the fall.
Two main classes of herbs are used to support the Lung in Chinese medicine: those that nourish and moisten the Lung Yin as discussed above, and those that move the Lung Qi downward, stop cough, and expel phlegm, thereby aiding in lung elimination processes. Symptoms that correlate with a deficiency of Lung Yin include a dry cough with little to no phlegm, dry sore throat, frequent “tickle in the back of the throat”, and feeling warm in the late afternoon and evening. Symptoms that correlate with Lung Qi and Phlegm Stagnation include cough with a lot of either easy or not so easy to expectorate mucus, rattling cough, feeling of pressure and irritation in the chest, and wheezing.
Chinese herbal formulas are extremely effective at treating all kinds of respiratory disorders, whether viral, bacterial, or functional. Examples include Zhi Sou San (Stop Cough Formula), Sha Shen Mai Men Dong (one of the best formulas to nourish Lung Yin), and Ding Chuan Tang (often used for asthma and wheezing). If you are interested in getting on a Chinese herbal formula to support your lung health, your DCA acupuncturist can make a recommendation for you.
The Large Intestine is our main elimination organ, and one of our primary “detox” organs. Therefore, fall is an ideal time to “clean out the closet” and work on clearing oneself of both physical and mental toxicities. Anyone who struggles with constipation can tell you how “toxic” they start to feel after only a few days without pooping!
Consider attempting a good 4-6 week detox diet this fall, such as this one. Or simply remove the top inflammatory foods for a while, and give your body (and gut) a rest! These include removal of gluten, dairy, alcohol, sugar and fruit juices, and conventionally grown produce and meats.
Most detoxing herbal formulas target the Large Intestine; consider adding Triphala in during your fall cleanse, an ancient three herb ayurvedic formula targeted at optimizing intestinal function.
Or if constipation is an ongoing issue for you, this is a good time to bring in some herbal formulas to help encourage a more regular release, such as Evergreen’s Gentle Lax, or our classical Chinese formula Xiao Cheng Qi Tang. Both formulas are available through our DCA apothecary. On a mental or spiritual level, what might you be holding on to that is best let go of at this time?
And if all else fails, don’t forget: regular acupuncture throughout the fall will support ALL of these important functions! Acupuncture will strengthen the Lung Qi, help to eliminate congestion and boost expectoration of phlegm, regulate bowel function and promote healthy elimination, reduce stress, and boost immunity. We look forward to seeing you soon!