As the humid days of summer give way to the brittle, dry air of fall, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners begin to turn their attention to the Lungs and their associated functions.
Autumn presents both a vulnerability (i.e. the onset of respiratory infections), as well as an opportunity to strengthen and nourish these vital organs which are very receptive to herbal tonics to keep us well. Conditions such as asthma, smoking damage, chronic cough and susceptibility to bronchitis or sinusitis can also be successfully treated when the correct differential diagnosis and herbal formulas are used.
Traditionally, Autumn is also seen as the harvest season. It is during this time that our bodies harvest and gather energy for the colder months ahead. Because there is less activity in the colder months, more emphasis is placed on building substance (Blood & Yin), nurturing, and supporting our internal organs.
In addition, the lungs hate dryness. The dry fall air, pollution, chemicals and smoke are all ways in which dryness can invade and harm them. Dry lips, dry skin, itchiness, wrinkles, dry throat, dry cough and constipation are signs and symptoms that a lung disharmony is present. The proper moisture level of the lungs can be likened to a moist sponge after it has been rung out. The consistency of the lung fluids should be a little thicker than water and a little thinner than egg whites, and clear. Anything less (or more, as in the case of excessive phlegm) begins to impair their optimum function.
The Lungs are also closely associated with the immune system (though not our cellular immunity) and is called Wei Qi or Protective Qi. Wei Qi circulates around the skin, nose & mouth to defend the body from external attacks by viruses, colds and germs as well as other pathogens like dander, pollen & dust.
If the Wei Qi is not working well, meaning your lungs are not functioning at full capacity, you will experience frequent colds, flu or hay-fever type symptoms. An important part of building Wei Qi is eating foods and herbs that will disperse pathogens and protect the lungs. Catching more than 5 colds in a year points to a deficiency in the energetic lung organ, and we would need to boost our Wei Qi.
A very effective and well documented herb to help KEEP the body’s defense Qi at it’s peak is Astragalus (Huang Qi). The name alone tells a story in the Chinese Language. Huang means Yellow, and Qi is Life. The more yellow these tongue depressor roots look, the more potent the strength. We use this superior herb ONLY when we are well. It is a misconception that using this herb when we start to feel sick will increase our “immune system”. It is actually the opposite. There are many Chinese Herbal formulas like Gan Mao Ling that help to release the pathogens of virus’ & colds from our bodies as well as a Western herb, Echinacea which can be found in most health food stores. Just remember Astragalus and Echinacea are not interchangeable.
There is also a connection between the lungs, the skin, and Wei Qi in TCM. The skin reflects the condition of the lungs, which needs to be strong enough to keep the pathogens out. Increasing the amount of oil we eat can give the skin more protection. If the lungs are strong, the skin will be lustrous and firm, and we resist invasions of flus, viruses, and other pathogens.
Understanding that TCM is based on recognizing patterns of relationship and interconnection is important. Seeing that signs and symptoms of lung disharmonies are not merely physical, but may have emotional and spiritual dimensions as well, is important. The emotion of grief is housed in the energetic lungs. If grief is repressed, it festers in the body and over time causes the lungs to contract. When they can’t extract sufficient Qi from the air we breathe and distribute that Qi around the body, then our ability to defend ourselves against invasion of pathogens is compromised.
Deep breathing, meditation, counseling and exercise, along with pungent foods like scallion soup or ginger teas, may help clear grief by balancing the Lung Qi and helps push pathogens from our body as well.
I hope this article brings some clarity to the work of traditional Chinese medicine and the way herbalists can help in maintaining harmony during the season of Autumn.
Laura Mignosa is a certified Chinese herbalist who is both Chinese and Western trained. She is also the Director of the Connecticut Institute for Herbal Studies located in New Britain, CT since 1995. Her private practice of Chinese herbal therapy is available at her school, and the one-year Certified Chinese Herbology Program begins this September. You may see these classes and her work at www.CTHerbschool.com or follow her at Laura.Mignosa5 on Facebook. 860-826-2705.