The leaves are falling, the temps are dropping, it is that time of year, hello Fall! Some people love the change in seasons, I think it is an excuse for them to binge on pumpkin lattes and get into the festive season, but that’s just a theory. Then there are the rest of us, the people that have a harder time when the seasons change. Whether it be something like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or increased joint pain, increased fatigue or a flare of a chronic issue, these symptoms can start creeping back into our lives as the seasons change.
There are so many factors that play a role in this significant happening. In order to embrace all four seasons, we really have to watch how are bodies work and help support them through each transitional period.
As Fall time comes around, the temperatures drop. This drop is a hit to the immune system, especially if you have a history of any chronic health issues. It means your recovery time from typical illnesses, may be longer.
Next, the daylight rapidly gets shorter and shorter. In June we have 15 hours of daylight vs only 9 hours of sunlight in December. Yikes! Not only is it getting colder, it’s darker 5 extra hours a day, this also can dampen our immune function, and mood! There is new research being conducted, showing our circadian rhythm has a direct effect on our immune system and that we might have the strongest abilities to fight infection and receive immune-based therapies in the a.m. when the immune cells are highest performing.
Okay, so temperature, daylight and circadian rhythm have an impact on our immune system, what else? What typically occurs this time of year? HOLIDAYS. SUGAR. JUNK FOOD. October starts us off with a holiday where billions of dollars are spent on sugary treats. Pumpkin pies and carbs on carbs (ie turkey and dressing sandwiches, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits) are handed out in November. And then, during December, we get together to bake cookies, candies, and sugary treats that get passed out throughout the whole month which ends with another carb-loaded meal Christmas night. As we head into the New Year, we party and continue to overindulge from the month before. We might start thinking about new years’ resolutions and decreasing our sweet tooth habits, but we are still sluggish from the past 3 months. As February hits, we stock up on chocolates for our lovers (or ourselves) and then in the next month, the Easter Bunny makes their way into our lives delivering more sugar. The corporations really figured this one out!
Temperature, daylight and sugar all have a direct effect on our immune system. Did you know, simple sugars cause a 50% drop in the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria? This immune suppression is most noticeable 2 hours post ingestion, but the effect is still evident 5 hours after ingestion (Sanchez et. al., 1973). If someone eats a candybar, their immune system is suppressed for up to 5 hours after eating that bar, if they continue to eat sugars, their immune system continues to stay lowered. This includes pop, candy, donuts and other carbs (bread, etc.). A standard American is consuming these foods regularly. In order to protect your immune system, decrease sugar intake.
This is the time of year where traveling to warm destinations is ideal. Soak up that sun and enhance your immune function. Vitamin D which can be obtained through sun exposure, is lowest during these Fall/Winter months due to the lack of sunshine. Supplementing with Vitamin D is optimal. Get your levels tested. Western Medicine says 30-100 ng/ml is normal, but 60-80 is truly optimal to protect your body against viruses and infections. “Vitamin D can lower viral replication rates and reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce inflammation” (Grant, et. al., 2020). I’ve tested hundreds of Vitamin D levels on patient in the Midwest and typically we are low around 28 ng/ml.
Since I know that opportunistic infections (ie viruses), tend to rise during these times, I try to equip my patients with tools to help them strive through the seasons.
Some quick tips:
- Open up your detox pathways so that the body is constantly cleansing itself
- Drink water: I love adding 1/4-1/2 tsp of sea salt in the mornings (or take a shot of it and chase with water), this helps your adrenals function better, decreasing fatigue and provides minerals to your cells
- Sauna: If you can get to an infrared sauna multiple times a week, this is ideal. Saunas are excellent detoxifiers. I recommend my patients work up to the point where they are sweating “like a faucet” for 5-10 min. If people tell me they can’t sweat, I usually look at supporting their adrenals, because this is a common symptom.
- Epsom Salt Baths: 2 cups epsom salts + 1/4 cup baking soda 3-5x/week. Not only are these baths relaxing, they can help detox as well. If you ever feel light headed or weak post bath, decrease the dose in half. If you don’t have access to a bathtub, use half ingredients and soak your feet.
- Poop at least once per day. Bowel movements are a main source to remove toxins from our body. If we are not having daily bowel movements, we are not flushing waste out fast enough. Use natural products magnesium oxide, vitamin C or MoveEeez powder to get your bowels moving daily. Skip the Miralax (you can read my earlier blog post on why I say this, here).
- Lymph Therapy: Get your lymph moving! Lymph removes toxic waste from our blood. Back in the olden days, people rode horse and buggy and naturally got their lymph system moving. Now we are more sedentary and our lymph is more stagnant. You can get lymph massage done (special massage therapist do this), use a rebounder (mini-trampoline), invest in a vibration plate (can get from Amazon), wear compression stockings and/or dry brush. Even deep breathing into the abdomen can help mobilize lymph.
2. Support your immune system with supplements
- Vitamin D3: depending on your levels usually 5,000 IU daily is a good amount during winter. Some people may need more depending on levels.
- Vitamin C 3,000mg daily divided doses. If you start feeling ill, you can take 1,000mg every hour until bowel tolerance (loose stools), then you back off the dosing. In times of acute illness, the body rapidly goes through the ascorbate (vitamin C) stores in the body, so more vitamin C is helpful during times of illness.
- Lauricidin: This is one of my favorites for immune enhancement and for pathogens likes viruses. People will take 1 scoop a day for preventative health in the Winter and increase it as needed if they start feeling under the weather. These pebbles are made from a part of the coconut plant and are great for the immune system.
3. Use light therapy to brighten your day
- Consider buying a “Happy Light” which is a light therapy device used for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It reduces the melatonin levels of the person suffering from the disorder and boosts their energy level. Sitting in front of this device 20-30 min. during the day can help enhance mood. People keep it on their desk at work or set it up while they are getting ready for the day.
4. Clean up your diet
- Really focus on decreasing carbs and sugar during the next few months. If you know you’ll binge around the holidays, make sure you are really taking care of your detox pathways (#1 above) and help support your system. I have had many patients notice the difference in joint pain and overall fatigue when they removed sugar from their diet x30 days. Be mindful of sugar and the power of your immune system.
5. Move to a warm climate
- Only half kidding! Enjoy vacations during this time of year and if your body struggles during this transition, maybe it’s time to become a snowbird and move to a warmer state for a few months.
I hope you all have a healthy, happy and prosperous ending to 2021.
Stephanie Grutz, ARNP, FNP-C