“Whoever wishes to investigate medicine, should proceed thus; examine the seasons of the year and what affects they have on us.” Hippocrates
I am a big promoter of and believer in Seasonal Health – adjusting our lifestyle to the year’s changes in the locale where we live. I see this as a key part of Preventive Medicine. Adapting and attuning to the Seasons using the Traditional Chinese Medicine model was the subject of my first book, Staying Healthy with the Seasons (published in 1981 and updated in 2003), which integrates Natural, Eastern and Western medicinal approaches for optimal health. My most recent book, Staying Healthy with NEW Medicine, is the next octave of this integration of these three valuable healing systems.
The chart below shows some of the correspondences in Traditional Chinese Medicine that are relevant to the element of Fire and the season of Summer. Fire is associated with heat and the color red, while the heart and small intestines are the organs that relate to this season. These interconnections can be used to facilitate both diagnosis and treatment on several different levels. For example, the “heart” isn’t just a pump that circulates up to 3,000 gallons of blood per day to every cell of the body, but also the center of feeling, love and compassion. So, one set of correspondences relates to the idea of the wise ruler while another speaks to the emotions of joy and sorrow. Heat is the climate of summer and excess warmth or coolness in different parts of the body, like the hands or feet, can signify certain imbalances and potential for illness. “Hot” herbs and spices like cayenne and ginger can be used as tonics. The flavor associated with this season is bitter so excessive attraction or repulsion to this taste can indicate imbalanced Fire, while eating such foods as watercress, arugula, endive, black tea, coffee, or unsweetened chocolate can be beneficial. The key idea for seasonal health is always balance and moderation.
I explore these and many other correspondences in detail in my books and show how to make them relevant to your own health on a day-to-day and season-to-season basis.
The premise of eating seasonally is to re-attune ourselves to Nature, just as our ancestors lived harmoniously with what the Earth provided. Their basic diet consisted of locally grown and gathered fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, nut and seeds. Fish and shellfish were caught and consumed around river, lake, and coastal communities. Where possible, livestock was raised for consumption and hunters brought home wild game for their family or tribe. Thus, growing our own food and buying from local farmers are logical first steps toward seasonal eating while also investing in a more healthful future for our planet.
The light and dark cycles of Nature shift through the seasons, influencing our activity levels and our dietary needs more than any other factors. Outside temperatures also affect our food intake and exercise options. The basic instinctual and commonsense aspect of eating seasonally is that we balance the external climate with our internal nutrition. Nature provides us with cooling foods, like juicy fruits and salad greens during the warmer months, while during the colder months we consume more stored and concentrated foods that need to be heated/cooked; these include rice and legumes, hard squashes, and smoked or dried meats, and generally cooked animal proteins (other than for vegetarians).
Sleep may also shift with the seasons, with more day or night hours and going out and playing/hiking in nature during the warmer times while staying cozy in our warm beds during the colder, winter months, Changing hormone levels and our aging or life cycles – the seasons of our life – might also affect our sleep needs and moods. Teenagers love to sleep in, and during menopause in women, sleep can often be disturbed.
ENHANCING SUMMER HEALTH
Summer in the Western hemisphere is the warmest of seasons and often a time of increased physical activity. So paradoxically, we may need additional nourishment but a lighter diet than usual. It is important not to overheat our system. Remember to stay cool and hydrated. Drink plenty of water, at least two to four cups (16–32 oz.) upon rising, and similar amounts if you are going out for activities and exercise. Carry water with you in a stainless steel or hard plastic container (a stable polycarbonate rather than polyethylene that can leach more plastic chemicals into the water). You may also use a traveling water filter. Check your local water stores or the Internet. Most people need two to three quarts of liquid per day, especially in hot weather or with sweating and exercise. (1 pint = 16oz and 1 quart = 32 oz.).
Sun Teas are wonderfully refreshing and another great way to stay hydrated. Use flowers and leaves (or tea bags) in a clear half- or one-gallon glass jar filled with spring water. Hibiscus or red clover flowers, peppermint, chamomile, or lemon grass are all good choices, or use your local herbs and flowers that you learn are safe, flavorful, and even medicinal. Leave in the sun for two hours or up to a whole day.
Enjoy the sun and outdoors, but be sure to protect yourself from overexposure to sunlight by wearing a hat and using natural sunscreens without excessive chemicals. Carry Aloe Vera gel for overexposure and have an aloe plant growing in your home for any kind of burn. The cooling and healing gel inside the leaves will soothe any sunburn. It works great!
Certain nutritional supplements and herbs can support an increased level of physical energy and enhance your summer activities. The B-complex vitamins are calming to the nervous system and helpful for cellular energy production, while vitamin C and the other antioxidants (vitamins D, E, zinc and selenium) protect your body from stress, chemical pollutants, and the biochemical by-products of exercise. Helpful summer herbs are Siberian ginseng as an energy tonic and stress protector, dong quai as a tonic for women, hawthorn berry as a good heart supporter, and licorice root will help energy balance and digestion.
The hot days are also a good time to use some “hot” herbs. Interestingly, it is often countries with warmer climates like India and Mexico that use hot herbs and spices the most. Cayenne and Ginger stimulate digestion and elimination, while Turmeric is being praised as a wonder spice with many beneficial health properties,such as anti-inflammatory effects. Try adding these to your summer diet. Salsas are a great addition to many meals, on top of an egg in an organic corn tortilla or a rice and veggie dish. I just love those hot spices and I think they protect the body from much dis-ease.
Summer is also the time for fruit aplenty, and Nature is certainly wise to provide us with these most cooling foods. With plums, peaches, apricots, and most of the berries and melons, it is definitely a juicy time. (Note: some people nowadays are limiting their fruit intake due to the glycemic or sugar load. Is that needed for your health?) Enjoying lots of vegetables for salads or sliced up for dipping is also a good idea. In summer, it is wise to consume our heavier, cooked, or protein meals either earlier in the morning, or later in the day as the temperature cools down.
The long days, warmer weather and abundance of fresh fruits and veggies provides a great opportunity to do some summer detoxifying – another of my keys to optimal health. Extra exercise and sweating are also helpful as the skin is our largest organ of elimination. So why not try a fruit and/or juice fast for 3 days and see how much better you feel? This is the perfect time to try one of my favorite detoxes – the lemonade fast, or Master Cleanse, developed by Stanley Burroughs – it is simple and effective so check out the recipe and directions online.
In the 37 years since I wrote and published Staying Healthy with the Seasons I have become even more convinced of the value of this approach. So much of our health is in our own hands and attuning our lifestyle to the seasons of nature is a great first step.
Check out a PDF of my 10 Tips for Summer Health HERE – View PDF
Enjoy your Summer and Stay Healthy,