Get Your Immune System Ready for Fall
Fall is officially here and with this season change comes a noticeable shift in our immune system. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on a system of five elements: earth, metal, water, fire, wood. Each of these elements are associated with a season, a yin and a yang organ, a color, a direction, an organ, an emotion and more. In TCM Autumn is the season of the lung and the element of metal.
Its color is white. Its emotion is grief. Its environment is dry. Its sense organ is the nose and its tissue is skin and hair. In addition to Autumn's organ being the lung, we also include the large intestine.
In TCM each organ has a direction tissue type of qi and function. The lung disperses water and qi throughout the body. It’s in charge of breath and respiration. It manages descending qi—If qi cannot descend in the body the results can be asthma or even constipation. The lung additionally manages skin and hair for rashes.
Our defensive qi is our most surface level qi. Its lives at the skin level and defends us against colds and flues.
On the emotional side of things metal can reflect our core issues.. It’s the time to question existential reality, with questions like “Who am I?” “What is my life’s work?” With current political affairs being what they are you may be questioning what will be come of this world.
Dryness is common in autumn and usually presents as an itchy throat, a dry nose, chapped lips, rough skin and dry stools. We need to eat foods that promote the production of body fluids and have lubricating effects. Foods such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk, spinach, barley, pears, apples, millet, persimmons, loquat, seaweed, mushrooms, almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, milk, clams, eggs, crab and pork.
In terms of flavor, I like to advise people to eat more food with sour flavors because it can prevent the loss of body fluids. Sour foods like pineapple, apple, grapefruit and lemon all have astringent properties that can help store body fluids. Foods with pungent flavors as like onion, ginger and peppers induce perspiration and cause the body to lose fluids.
Herbs to Take
Astragalus Huang Qi: Helps to increase the available energy of (or “tonify” as we say in TCM) the spleen and the lung. Astragalus Huang Qi is good to take in early autumn or in the midst of the transition from late summer to autumn. It’s a lung qi and wei qi tonifier. Great if you are prone to dampness in the lungs. Helps with asthma energy and protecting against colds.
Reshi / Ling Zhi: Treats the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys. It’s a powerful tonic. Reshi is an immune modulator and potent antioxidant. It tonifies the spleen and treats fatigue, insomnia and forgetfulness. It works to tonify the lung to treat cough and shortness of breath.
Cordyceps / Dong Chong Xia Cao: Tonifies the kidney Yang and augments the lung Yin. It transforms phlegm for chronic cough. It can relieve wheezing from deficiency. Cordyceps are supposed to increase the number of the Natural Killer Cells, which are responsible for the body’s defense against viruses and bacteria. Some trials show that the fungus works effectively in people with leukemia. It shows good results in fighting against cough, chronic bronchitis and asthma, since it relaxes bronchial walls and has anti-inflammatory properties. Its reported to show enhancement in building muscle. Chinese athletes who use Cordyceps tend to show better results than the other sportsmen. It helps with oxygen uptake. Cordyceps benefits all the body systems, giving them more overall energy and vitality.
I really love Paul Stamets Host Defense Breath formula. It’s a blend of Reishi Cordyceps and Chaga—all fungi that support lung and respiratory health. They are excellent at boosting energy and your immune system to help you transition through the season and be prepared for the upcoming cold season. You can also get all the fungi separated out. In Portland you can find his this product in New Seasons, Whole Foods, and at the People’s Food Co-op. If you are interested in a powder form, Golden Cabinet Herbs on SE Hawthorne also carries another line of fungi.
Chicken soup is another powerful immune system booster. Though Chinese Medicine calls for black chicken, a regular fryer at the grocery store will work. Oregon College of Oriental Medicine sells herb packs to make with your chicken soup that contain herbs for strengthening your immune system.
Here is a recipe from the Omnivore's Dilemma—You can pickup the listed herbs at Vital Compass in North Portland
1/4 cup goji berries (Gou Qi Zi)
10 dried longan (Long Yan Rou)
10 pieces Chinese wild yam (Huai Shan)
5 dried dates (Hong Zhao)
5 pieces codonopsis (Dang shen)
4 pieces astragalus (Huang Qi)
If you are prone to cold and flu with the season change or are looking to build up your immune system, or just have questions about herbs, let’s talk! It’s important to note that not every Chinese herb works for every person. I would love to work with you to determine the perfect formula to get your body armed for autumn.