How to Stay Healthy This Autumn

In autumn, the yang/warmth of the sun decreases, giving way to the yin/cooler season of winter.  In the Fall, one must begin to store vital energy in order to make it through the winter in a healthy state.  People who feel poorly during the winter benefit greatly from receiving acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in the Fall.  Acupuncture and herbal therapy can help stoke the metabolism, increase immunity, circulate warmth and vitality throughout the body, balance circadian rhythms and improve one’s mood.

Conditions such as frequent winter colds, bronchitis and asthma, seasonal affective disorder, winter holiday depression, binge eating, and arthritic conditions which worsen in cold and damp weather can all be resolved if they are effectively treated in the Fall, by helping the body to store the vital energy it accumulated during the warmer months.

Here are my suggestions for a healthy Fall and Winter season:

  • Increase your intake of root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, burdock root, and winter squash.  A good guideline about what to eat during the autumn is to locate what is available at your local farmer’s market and use that as a template for building a meal that is appropriate to the Fall season. This goes for every other season as well.
  • Eat more soups.  They are warming and nourishing.  Soup helps keep you hydrated during this cool, dry season.
  • Also, drink warm tea and plenty of warm or room temperature water throughout the day.  Avoid cold drinks, large raw salads, and icy desserts. 
  • Adjust your schedule to wake up earlier and go to bed earlier.  Take walks outside to soak in the warming rays of the sun.  Sleep more during the dark, chilly nights.
  • Carry an extra layer (thermal undershirt or sweater) even if it feels warm outside.  Autumn is cold in the shade and warm in the sun.  Autumn temperatures can change drastically during the course of the day.  Try not to get chilled, and change your clothing immediately if you get sweaty.
  • See your acupuncturist.  Even if you are not sick now, receiving preventative acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine now can shore up your protective qi and help you have a healthy and happy winter

Get An Oil Change to Radically Improve Your Health

There are three types of fats: saturated (solid at room temperature), monounsaturated (liquid at room temperature and semi-solid in the fridge) and polyunsaturated (liquid at both room and fridge temperature).  Polyunsaturated fats are comprised of two types of fatty acids:  omega 6 and omega 3.

Our bodies require both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids in a one to one ratio.  Cross culturally, and throughout history humans ate diets containing omega 6/omega 3 fatty acids in a ratio of 1:1 (or, at most 2:1).  Today, that ratio has changed for most people to around 15:1!

Less than one hundred years ago, our diets underwent a dramatic change.  Industrial cooking oils were developed.  These oils: “vegetable oil”, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, etc. are extremely high in omega 6.

Something else occurred during the last one hundred years:  the factory farming of animals.  After World War II farmers were producing more corn than the American population was consuming.  So, they started to feed the surplus corn to livestock. They discovered that cows eating corn fattened up much quicker than cows eating grass.  Seventy-five years ago it took a cow four to five years to reach a slaughter weight of 1,200 pounds. Today it takes 13 months, thanks to corn, antibiotics, growth hormones and protein supplements.   Similar results were attained with other livestock, so now cows, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, and even fish are raised on corn and soy.

Cows and other grazing animals are ruminants:  they are able to digest the cellulose in grass because of their multi-chambered digestive tracts.  Corn consumption in cattle causes many problems (liver abscesses, bloat, sudden death syndrome, acidosis), because quite simply, cattle were never meant to eat corn.  Pasture fed cattle have a healthy neutral pH of 7 in their stomach.  A corn diet dangerously raises the acid level in the cow’s stomach creating disease states in the animal.  Sick animals are now the norm, so all commercial livestock are routinely given high doses of medications and antibiotics.  Diseased animals harbor pathogens, especially E coli.  Eating commercially raised meats routinely exposes your gut and immune system to a toxic soup of harmful bacteria, pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids and drugs.

Feeding livestock corn fundamentally changes the meat they produce, greatly increasing levels of unhealthy Omega-6 fatty acids and decreasing levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Wild or pasture raised meats have an omega 3/omega 6 fatty acid ratio that is close to 1:2.  The ratio in commercial meats is closer to 1:5.

So, what’s so important about getting the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids right?  When we consume omega 6/omega 3 fatty acids in a ratio close to 1:1, our body uses the omega 3 preferentially to produce lots of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  These substances are anti inflammatory.  Preventing inflammation halts many diseases in their tracks.  For example, here’s the sequence of changes the leads to a heart attack or stroke:  First, there is inflammation in our arteries.  The inflammation leads to a buildup of oxidized cholesterol or plaque.  This plaque can burst and form a clot, cutting off the blood supply to a region of the heart or brain, leading to death. 

What is the major cause of this inflammation?  Omega 6 fatty acids!  Just as our body converts omega 3 to beneficial EPA/DHA via enzymatic action, our body converts omega 6 to AA (arachidonic acid).  AA is harmful, and causes inflammation, when produced in excessive amounts.  Western doctors prescribe taking an aspirin a day to their cardiac patients, because aspirin blocks the body’s ability to produce inflammation from all that extra omega 6 we consume in our diet.  However, aspirin alone cannot undo all the damage caused in our bodies by the overconsumption of omega 6. 

Some diseases known to be caused, at least in part, by systemic inflammation and EPA/DHA deficiency include: heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, osteoporosis, joint pains in general, depression, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, brain fog and cognitive decline, inflammatory bowel diseases (such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), asthma, macular degeneration, menstrual pain, breast, colon and prostate cancer.

Interestingly, vegetarians (especially vegans) have been shown in various studies to have an even worse ratio of omega 6/omega 3 in their diets than meat eaters.  If you are vegetarian or vegan, you need to take some special precautions to ensure you are not undermining your health by eating a pro-inflammatory diet.

Stay tuned for Part II of this article, which I plan to send out in two weeks.  In Part II, I will discuss exactly what you should eat if you are a meat eater or a vegetarian in order to improve your fatty acid profile and reduce inflammation in your body.