Do you tend to be more melancholy as the leaves turn color and fall off from the trees? Are you feeling somewhat sad while streets are being decorated with festive holiday decorations? In the East, people have long believed that the body and emotions are closely connected. In Eastern medicine, excessive sadness, sorrow, melancholy are manifestations of lung (fall organ) and respiratory problems. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of lung health, and find out what the causes of respiratory problems and learn how we can have healthy lungs and feel happier in this season.
In Eastern medicines, each season has its unique energy, which resonates different internal organs. Fall’s contractive, downward energy (Metal energy) is associated with lungs, colon and skin, and we are more prone to problems related to these organs and system in this season. Imbalance in fall energy and fall organ (lungs) will be manifested as being “withdrawn”, “overly introvert”. Unusual or excessive sadness, sorrow, and melancholy are also considered to be “imbalance of respiratory function” in the East. Other tendency can be “looking inward”, or “lack of ability to move on/forward” etc.
Lung and respiratory problems affect tens of millions of Americans, from simple coughs, asthma, bronchitis to pneumonia. And lung cancer is still a leading cause of death even though the smoking rate is decreasing. According to Eastern medicine, lungs are most active in the fall, and we are more prone to the imbalance of lung energy, which can be manifested as various forms of respiratory problems as well as emotional issues.
Basic facts of Lungs
Lungs are one of the major respiratory and excretory organs. We take in oxygen into lungs, where the blood receives and transports it to all the cells inside the body. Then the blood takes wastes from the cells, brings them back to the lungs, and eliminates them from the body as a form of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. In fact, about 70% of all the waste are eliminated through lungs.
Under normal conditions, lungs do this continual job (inhaling and exhaling) astonishing 17,000 times each per day! Without this function, our trillions of cells, including brain cells, will be lack of oxygen (eventually the death of cells!), and toxic wastes build up inside the body, leading to various health problems. Studies have shown that when a normal cell is deprived of oxygen, it becomes cancerous. This is one of the good examples of how lung problems can affect your entire health.
Brain – Lung Connection
Did you know that our brains consume about 25% of all our oxygen? Clearly, the health of our lungs immediately and directly affects our brain functions and overall cognitive health. The possible consequence would be poor memory, lack of concentration, and overall fatigue. It also affects your mental and emotional health, and could lead to depression, or general negative attitude to life.
In many cases, those with respiratory problems may also have some type of digestive problems too, such as constipation, diarrhea or colitis. In other words, improving your bowel movements by eating more fiber rich food can also benefit lung-respiratory health.
Finally, skin, one of the major excretory organs, is also a fall organ, working with the other two, trying to keep the body clean from inside. Any skin trouble is basically a “discharge” of waste/excess from the body and may indicate that something is wrong with its partners, the lungs and colon. Dry skin, wet skin, acne/pimples, flabby skin, and other skin troubles especially on the cheeks are mainly due to excessive consumption of high fat food (dairy, eggs,meat, oils, nut butters etc), sugars, baked/dry foods and excess liquid (water, fruits, juice etc), all contribute to lung and digestive problems.
Though pollution, chemicals and the air quality are contributing factors in lung and respiratory problems, daily dietary patterns and lifestyle also have a huge impact on lungs and their health.
1. Mucus forming foods
Fatty foods and foods which produce mucus inside the body are one of the main culprits to cause lung and respiratory problems. The fat and mucus build up around the 600 million of air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs, which makes them sticky and tight. While healthy lungs can eliminate the chemicals and other harmful substances from polluted air or smoking, these toxins will stick to the the alveoli when they are coated with mucus and fat. Those foods also clog the airways overtime, causes inflammation. (asthma, etc.). Over time, the lungs lose its flexibility and resilience, and an ability to expand (inhale) and contract (exhale) smoothly, which leads to difficulty of breathing, chronic coughing and other respiratory problems.
The major mucus forming foods include dairy, sugar, white flour, baked foods, excess oil (deep fried, excess dressing), excess liquid and cold or frozen foods and drinks.
2. Inflammation causing foods
Needless to say, inflammatory foods can damage the cells and tissue of lungs (along with all parts of the body!), and inhibit the lungs healthy functioning. Asthma, and other respiratory problems including lung cancer, are often the result of inflammation of lungs. Inflammatory foods include dairy, sugar, meat, eggs, poultry, refined foods, processed foods, chemicals, excess oil, excess spices, alcohol, smoking and drugs.
3. Acid forming foods
Since lungs are main excretory system, foods that produce too much wastes (acid, toxins) will put extra stress on the organs. Excess protein (animal foods, dairy), sugars, refined foods, processed foods, alcohol, coffee and food additives are all acid forming foods.
A Japanese Paradox
Anybody who has traveled to or lived in Japan knows that everyone in the country smoke cigarettes. You would think that America is a dreamland for nonsmokers after coming back from Japan. But why lower incidence of lung cancer in Japan while smoking rate is much higher than the US? In fact, smoking rate among Japanese male is almost 60%, while less than 30% of American males smoke.
Yet, when you see the death rate of lung cancer among smokers, it’s 81/100000 for Japanese male and more than triple for American counterparts (300). Though smoking definitely contributes to the risk of lung cancer, some researchers conclude that there are other factors including daily diet and lifestyle of Japanese men. For example, lower fat & alcohol intake, lower rate of excess weight/obesity, and more daily exercise among Japanese males compared to their US counterparts. However, while the smoking rate is decreasing in Japan (83% in 1966 / 34% 2011), the number of cases of lung cancer is dramatically increasing (3000 in 1958/ 60000 in 2011), which parallel to the prevalence of modern western diet among Japanese.
Tips to nourish your lungs and Balance your “Fall Energy”
The solution to nourishing your fall organs is quite simple. Eat foods in season, such as squashes, potatoes, grains and leafy greens. Cut down on those mucus forming, inflammation causing and acid forming foods listed above as much as you can. Develop your daily meals around whole, natural, plant-based foods. Whole grains, especially organic brown rice (fall grain) nourishes all of your fall organs. Dark leafy greens such as kale, collard, boy choy, napa cabbage,mustard greens, dandelion greens, arugula, watercress, parsley, scallions, etc are all beneficial. Black soy bean has been used as a medicinal foods for respiratory system in Asia for centuries.
Mild pungent flavors, such as onion, scallion, ginger, mustard, horseradish and wasabi stimulates lung/respiratory function when used as a spice or condiment in small portion. Mineral & fiber rich hijiki (fall seaweed), is great for the fall organs, too. Root vegetables are also in season, nourishing for lungs, such as burdock root, carrot, parsnips etc.
You can also include some foods that work extra hard for your lungs: Daikon, especially when grated, is great for lung problems because it helps dissolve the accumulated fat in/around the lungs. And if can find it, lotus root has also been used to treat general lung problems in the East for centuries by dissolving build up mucus and fat. At health food stores, you can find “lotus root tea” in a powdered form.
Other helpful tips to benefit your breathing: Correct your Posture: A person with hunched back and one with straight posture and chest always open and chin up. Which one do you think can breath more efficiently? Having a good posture makes a huge effect on your lung health overtime. And it affects your mood, too! Mild aerobics: To improve lung and other respiratory system, mild and regular aerobic exercise is helpful. Walking in/near nature, or swimming are both great. Yoga, tai chi, qi gong and other breathing-focused exercise are also good. Chanting, singing are easy yet powerful aerobic exercise, too. Laughter: “Laughter is the best medicine” is particularly true for lung health. This helps take in more oxygen and out CO2, stimulates respiratory / circulatory systems, brain and nervous function, and above all, makes you feel just so good! Read funny stories, meet your friends, watch your favorite sitcoms or comedy movies, go to a comedy club, or even take “Laughter Yoga” classes, whatever works for you. Breathe clean air: when the lungs are underactive, polluted air is particularly harmful. Avoid traffic, second-hand smoke as much as possible. Be in or near nature as often as you can, particularly morning fresh air is the best. Also, having some green plants produces more oxygen, and actually clears indoor air, according to studies.
Smoke filled lungs image from Shutterstock