Fall has officially become a favorite time of year for many! If you live in the Midwest where there are at least four seasons, one becomes acquainted with transitions and change. Just when you start to get comfortable with one thing, you are reminded, as it was so eloquently written in Ecclesiastes, that there is a time and season for everything!
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Fall is associated with the element of Metal. The lungs and large intestine are the organs related to Fall and the Metal element. Just like Fall, as nature transforms and prepares for the cold season, the lungs are associated with the emotion of letting go (think of leaves falling off trees). The lungs are also related to the emotions of grief and sadness. While loss and sadness is not specific to a season, it is thought that emotionally and energetically it is highlighted during this time. The loss of vibrant energy and sunshine of summer; loss of time, relationships, loved ones, employment, ability, a dream or other, can stagnate the energy within us.
From a physical and scientific lens, the lungs are defined as being part of the respiratory system. This system is made up of organs and tissues that work together to help you breathe by bringing in air and passing oxygen into the bloodstream. When we think of whole-person care and the importance of the mind-body connection, it's helpful to consider all aspects- spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and environmental- in how it may impact health.
As the weather becomes cooler, our bodies become more susceptible to the effects of wind and cold air. Spending more time indoors, which may increase the potential for exposure to poor air quality and seasonal viruses that favor circulation during this time, may make one more vulnerable. In addition, for some, changes in weather increases social isolation and favors a sedentary lifestyle which impacts physical and emotional health. Depending on where you live, access to fresh fruit and vegetables is also decreased (no more trips to the seasonal Farmer’s Markets, for example), which shifts eating habits. All these factors can contribute to a weakening of your body’s ability to fight off illness.
In part one of this Fortify for Fall series, we will focus on the lungs and ways to build a defense for cold weather season. Our herbal spotlight is Mullein (see Breathe).
Common Mullein, a flowering plant known as Verbascum thapsus, has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years. It has origins in Europe and Western Asia; however, it now grows in other places, including the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. The leaves, flowers and roots of this yellow-flowering plant has been used in the herbal medicine community for the treatment of various diseases caused by inflammation (such as respiratory infections, bronchitis, asthma, and other lung-related ailments). It’s commonly prepared as a tea or taken as a supplement for these conditions.
In addition to vitamin C and minerals, active compounds of Mullein include:
• Flavonoids and Iridoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
• Phenylethanoid glycosides, which have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties
• Saponins, which have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and antitumor properties
These properties contribute to Mullein’s use for lung health. This herb has been used as an expectorant, which means it helps the body expel excess mucus (by helping to bring up mucus that may be settling in the chest, nose, or throat). It is also a demulcent, which is a substance that relieves irritation and inflammation of the mucous membranes by forming a protective film (Marshmallow root is also known for this mucilaginous property and is used for digestive and respiratory health as well, see Breathe).
As you prepare to nourish your body in preparation for the season ahead, consider the following for lung health:
Dr. T's Tea Talk Tips
1. Prevention is key! Get regular checkups. If you are taking prescribed medications (such as inhalers or other) do not stop taking them without consulting with your medical provider.
2. Smoking tobacco is a major cause of damage to the lungs, and it remains a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Please don’t start, and if you already smoke, get help with quitting. Try to avoid exposure to smoke from others as well. The damage that cigarettes cause to the body and healthcare system is astronomical. It’s estimated that cigarette smoking cost the United States more than $600 billion in 2018 (healthcare spending, lost productivity from smoking-related illnesses and health conditions, premature death).
3. The nose is the opening to the lungs. Try keeping your nose clear (i.e., saline rinses) and covered (scarf or other as tolerated).
4. Learn to love, laugh, and let go! Holding on to negative emotions may decrease flow and movement in the lungs (for example, shallow breathing vs deep breathing which increases oxygen flow). Talk to someone and get professional help if needed. “Getting things off your chest” lifts a burden both physically and emotionally. Be intentional about managing stress.
5. Eat nutritious foods. It’s tempting to favor “comfort foods” during this time which may not have as much of a nutritional value. Focus on “eating the rainbow”, which means foods should be colorful (mainly fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts). Some specific foods that have been suggested for lung health include pumpkin (which aligns with the Fall season), leafy greens, beets, and apples.
6. Stay hydrated with water. Tea drinking helps to meet this goal!
7. Stay active! Move your body and practice breathing exercises.
Do your best to embrace this season of change. Take an active step towards what you can change, release what you are not able to change. Allow positive energy to flow by letting go of what no longer nourishes your body or soul.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions.
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