This spring has been a bad one for colds and sore throats that don't seem to want to go away. Why is it that everyone seems to get sick in the springtime?
There are a lot of physiological changes going on in our bodies as the weather outside begins to warm up. Our bodies need to maintain a core temperature around 98 degrees Fahrenheit so during the winter a significant amount of our calories from food go towards maintaining this body temp. That's also why we tend to be more hungry in the winter and crave more high calorie foods. Our bodies use the excess calories to increase the number of fat cells to serve as insulation. Fat cells are also convenient storage sites for excess amounts of fat-soluble chemicals that come in from our food and our environment including pesticides. As the weather warms up we no longer need the extra insulation or the excess calories for heat production. So fat cells undergo apoptosis (programmed cell death) which may also release the fat-soluble chemicals back into the lymph fluid and bloodstream. The liver then continues it's detoxification efforts to convert these chemicals into a form that can be removed via the lungs, bile, or urinary tract.
If you are sensitive to your body signals you will notice that your appetite diminishes in the spring. This is an important mechanism that allows our bodies to remove the cellular waste and essentially do some “spring cleaning” internally. If we ignore our body signals however and continue to eat the same amount of food as we did during colder times it will put more strain on our detoxification systems. Your body starts to get mixed signals trying to burn off the fat and create fat for storage of excess calories at the same time. When temperatures fluctuate wildly from one week to the next this process can be all the more complicated. You may notice your liver go into overdrive resulting in hot flashes or flushes of heat, pain under the ribcage on your right side, and waking up between 1 and 3 am, which is known as “liver time”.
With excess waste material in the blood and lymph, the immune system is employed to help in the form of those wonderful white blood cells that clean our system by eating their way through the waste. With the increase in temperatures there is also an increase in microbial activity. We are exposed to more bacteria in the air we breathe and everything that we touch. As the active immune system and environmental microbes collide we may develop the typical “spring cold” symptoms. The length of time and severity of the symptoms is directly proportional to the amount of bacteria and waste the body needs to eliminate. Mucus flows from our sinuses and our lungs cough up this viscous material that is loaded with the debris of battle. As unpleasant as it all might be to have our daily routines interrupted, it is biologically important.
We would do well to listen to the wisdom of religious and spiritual customs that encouraged periods of fasting during this time. These customs were not only a way to promote moderation during the lean times of food availability but also a way to ensure the health of the community. The remedy for spring diseases is to eat less! Support your body's cleansing efforts by drinking more water and alternate periods of rest with moderate levels of exercise. Above all eat cleanly and do not put more chemicals in to your body at this time. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Food should be whole and free of pesticide residues. Prepare your meals at home with fresh ingredients when possible to avoid excess amounts of additives and preservatives used to lengthen the shelf-life of processed foods. Make good use of the early spring greens such as dandelion leaves to add to your salads to support liver function but even more important than going through liver cleansing protocols is to be sure and give your liver a break by putting less burden on it. Reduce meal portion sizes by at least one third, eat when you are hungry and do not eat when you are not hungry. If you listen well to your body you will transition easily into warmer weather without the sniffles and coughs of spring.
To Your Health!
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.