The official first day of the fall season was Sept. 22. While fall weather can vary dramatically by location, one sign of autumn is common in every climate: it’s dry. We caught up with Pacific College faculty member and acupuncturist, Dong Ji, OMD, PhD, LAc, at our San Diego clinic to find out what this season change means for patients. “We see a lot of patients with ailments related to dryness: dry skin conditions like eczema, dry eyes, dry lung issues like coughing, and even symptoms of dryness in the digestive system such as constipation,” Ji says.
In Chinese medicine, fall is associated with the large intestine and lungs, which, when out of balance, are tied to skin conditions. Seasonal fall symptoms often manifest in these parts of the body. Acupuncture, the strategic placement of ultra-thin needles in specific locations that correspond to a particular condition, called “acupoints”, can help prevent some seasonal ailments. The goal of an acupuncture session is to renew the healthy flow of qi, a life-force energy, and restore the body to balance.
To prevent ailments caused by fall weather, PCOM faculty member, Barry Xin, OMD, PhD, recommends a defensive qi treatment. “We want to amp up the ‘wei qi’ in order to best defend the immune system before symptoms occur,” Xin says. Acupuncture can boost immunity while addressing each patient’s specific areas of susceptibility.
Another tip to prevent illness is slowing down. According to The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, a Chinese medical text, it’s best to move your bedtime an hour or two earlier and to rise an hour earlier. This corresponds with the time change and shorter days. “It’s ideal to go to bed when it’s dark and rise when it’s light,” Ji says. “We don’t recommend people start large new endeavors in the fall, or travel a lot. In Chinese medical theory, fall is a time to withdraw focus from the outside and to focus on daily life.”
Oriental medicine practitioners may make nutrition recommendations to treat health complaints. Xin suggests sweet potatoes as an immunity booster during the fall season. He also recommends moist foods, such as pears, to address dry skin. Green pears can also improve breathing issues and dryness in the lungs. Acupuncturists can prescribe herbal formulas to treat health and immunity issues during autumn. These all-natural treatments are typically prescribed to suit the individual patient, as each herb has its own purpose and is assigned to treat a particular symptom. Xin says he and his colleagues often use “mai men dong” and “chuan bei mu” to prevent dryness caused by fall weather.
As with all treatment options, some patients are not as inclined to open their minds to herbal remedies. Xin has a solution: “Often, in the fall we see very young patients – kids – who have a bad dry-cough, but are hesitant to try the traditional herbal remedies,“ Xin says. ”Try steaming pears with a bit of the herb ‘chuan bei mu’ and add rock sugar. They don’t seem to mind eating that. They will get the benefit of the pears to fortify their lungs, and both the pears and the herb will prevent dryness.”
Ji suspects there may also be benefits to having that bit of sugar. “Traditional Chinese cuisine does not involve many sweets,“ says Ji – who grew up in Lanzhou, a large city in Gansu Province in Northeast China. “In China, we don’t usually have dessert. But we do believe that sweets can nourish the Yin,” he elaborates.
In traditional Chinese medical theory, many of the “dry-symptom” ailments tackled in fall are often related to an imbalance of a person’s yin energy. In China, the Mid-Autumn Festival occurs at the first full moon between September and October – the onset of fall. The Chinese celebrate by gathering with family and friends for a reunion, spending night time outside under the full moon, indulging in a number of sweets such as dried fruits and sweetened nuts, and baking and eating the traditional “mooncake”. “In TCM, the moon represents yin in nature (the sun is yang), so by watching the moon, you can absorb some of that yin,” Ji says of the festival, which, at its heart, actually relates to health. Ji says that, while Chinese culture does not usually embrace sweets, “On this day, we do. And throughout the month we eat fruits, sugared nuts, and, of course, mooncakes, which are actually made of different types of nuts and duck egg yolk.” Since ducks spend their time in water, the eggs are thought to absorb more yin than those of a chicken. So really, the ingredients in a mooncake, the consumption of sweets, and the time spent under the full moon all contribute to nourishing yin.
Ji also points out that the Western holiday of Halloween – which takes place at roughly the same time – shares many of the same attributes.
Feel your best this fall and enjoy the festivities with these Chinese medicine insights in mind.