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At the end of this week we'll officially be entering Spring, something most of us have been waiting for impatiently the last couple of months. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), spring marks the decline of Yin, which predominated the winter months, and the reawakening / renewal of Yang, which arrives at its peak in the summertime. In order to maintain our health & longevity we must obey the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang as they move through the seasons, which means we must eat and dress according to the season in order to preserve the balance between ourselves and nature.
In TCM theory, spring is all about growth, movement, and expansion; and is associated with the Liver (wood element). The liver governs the distribution of Qi and blood, and it's in the beginning of spring when Qi comes out of its winter hibernation with a strong flow and the desire to expand. In Western Medicine this relates to a more active metabolism; so its important that we encourage the flow of Qi through being active and sustaining a proper diet. Keep in mind that since spring is a Liver season, diseases associated with the Liver (high-blood pressure, high-cholesterol, and cerbrovascular diseases), are more prominent, because of such pathological patterns as Qi stagnation, blood stasis and hyperactivity of Liver Yang. You can think of these as the liver overheating, poor lipid metabolism, atherosclerosis, and internal heat that rises up to harass the heart. Another common Liver pathology during this season comes in the form of emotional disturbances like anger, frustration, and stress, which can damage the Liver's ability to function properly.
Not getting enough sleep or being a "night owl" can also affect the Liver and promote disease. The motive for this is because the night is considered Yin, and so is the Liver and the blood. If one stays up too late this aggravates the Liver, which needs to rest; allowing the body time to heal & rejuvenate itself. During this period of rejuvenation the blood retreats, and enters the Liver to enhance the function of the Liver cells, which in turn accelerates the metabolic functions of the organ, and improves the Liver's ability to detoxify the body.
In order to maintain a lifestyle that is in balance with the spring season, the following general principles should be followed.
1. Calorie and protein intake should be maintained at optimal levels.
Since it's still cool in the springtime our bodies require slightly more calories to stay warm; although, not as many as is needed in the winter time. Since it's still cool outside, proteins tend to be used up more quickly for energy, so these should be slightly increased as well.
2. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Your body needs more vitamins and minerals to upregulate the immune system in order to protect itself from invading pathogens that are more prevalent as the temperatures warm up. Also, there is more wind during the spring, and wind carries these pathogens, which can enter through the mouth, nose and back of the neck. This is why it's important to eat right and harness strong defensive Qi (immune system). As always, you should eat twice as many vegetables as fruits; ensuring you get lots of antioxidants like vitamin A, C, and E, which boost the immune system and destroy anything that penetrates the body's outer line of defense. Vitamin A regulates the immune system and acts as an anti-inflammatory protecting your lungs against respiratory infections. It can be found in kale, mustard greens, and spinach, as well as, sweet potatoes and carrots. Vitamin C has an anti-viral effect, and is particularly good at destroying free radicals, those pesky little molecules that seek out and destroy healthy cells. Good sources of vitamin C are: papaya, pineapple, oranges, broccoli, and Brussels Sprouts. Vitamin E also protects are cells from free radical damage, and increases our body's resistance to disease. Look to spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds, and avocados for this anti-oxidant.
3. Eat a light diet that is slightly warming in nature, and avoid greasy, fatty foods (= fatigue), as well as, spicy and cold foods.
A springtime diet should include slightly warming foods like, brown rice, millet and porridge. Acrid foods can also be included like onion, garlic, cayenne or paprika, and ginger. Green onions and ginger are especially useful against colds and flu.
4. Balance the Spleen and Liver through proper diet.
Another important reason to keep the Liver in check during the Spring, is because when the Liver becomes bound up, the Qi stagnates, which can also cause blood stasis and heat. It is then possible that the Liver will attack the Spleen / Stomach causing digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome. To prevent this from happening we want to balance these two organ systems through proper diet and exercise. For the Spleen, we want to eat foods that are nourishing and strengthening like: fennel, carrots, sweet potatoes / yams, pumpkin, zucchini, and beets. Try to avoid over-thinking / worrying, sweets, greasy - fried foods, cold or chilled drinks and raw food, which can weaken the Spleen and digestive system. To nourish the Liver, eat green colored foods, green apples, peppermint tea, rose hips tea, kiwi, rye, artichoke, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes. Things to avoid include anger, frustration, fast food, greasy food, alcohol, spicy food, and excess amounts of sour foods.
5. Spring is the best time to detox.
During the winter months most people have a higher fat intake because there bodies are in conservation mode, in other words, were hibernating and trying to conserve energy. There is little activity during these months, people are more reclusive, and spend even more time in front of the tele. Due to all this lack of physical activity our bodies accumulate large amounts of toxins, which lodge themselves in various tissues and organs. As a result of this toxic accumulation we can become sluggish / fatigued, loose focus, have poor digestion, lowered immune response, and higher blood cholesterol. Since the represents the Liver and renewal, it's the perfect time to purify the body by doing a detox. Some foods that have naturally detoxing abilities are: strawberries, blueberries, cilantro, celery, kale, cherries, and lemons.
Have a GREAT spring and take care of your livers!