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It is now April and Spring is in full swing, trees are growing new shoots and flowers are in bloom. Just as nature is beginning to shake off its sleep to be reborn, it is time for us to do the same and take on life with renewed energy. Chinese Medicine traditionally associates spring to the wood element, the liver and gallbladder organs and a renewal and rebirth of our energy. The energy of Spring is upwards and outwards, enabling trees to burst with new buds and ourselves to move forward with vision and determination. In order to make the most of the season start by cleansing your body from inside (through diet) and out (with exercise).
At this time of year we should be taking special care of our Liver and Gallbladder by consuming plenty of seasonal green foods. Fresh spring foods are conducive to assisting in the detoxification of our clogged organs and provide energy, alertness and strength. It is no wonder that the freshest greens available this time of year are the ones best suited to our metabolism. Sprouts of all kinds are detoxifying to the liver and provide abundant vitamins. An emphasis on fresh young greens, sprouts, fish and occasionally eggs, mimics the springtime dietary habits of people throughout history. In our modern world these traditions are too often ignored, and a continued reliance on rich foods, frequent consumption of heavy meats, excess fats, alcohol, processed foods, and insufficient intake of vegetables can lead to stagnant liver function. Chinese Medicine tells us the symptoms of stagnant Liver Qi will vary greatly but include common ailments such as thyroid problems, headaches (particularly migraines), eye problems, hormonal imbalances and menstrual difficulties, allergies, bloating, eczema, irritability, high blood pressure, depression or insomnia.
To help soothe your Liver it is important to avoid all processed or denatured foods (ready meals, foods made with white flour and sugars), high fat foods (red meats, fried foods, eggs, dairies and nuts) and intoxicants as they clog the liver resulting in disease susceptibility. One of the easiest ways to stay healthy this season is to eat fresh seasonal foods, eat less in quantity and avoid late meals so as to not interfere with liver and gallbladder times of the night (11pm to 3am).
Some herbal remedies and teas can be beneficial during a spring cleanse. Teas of dandelion, burdock, clover, mint, lemon balm, cardamom, basil, marjoram, milk thistle, rosemary and fresh ginger all stimulate the liver.
Vegetables and herbs: asparagus, beets, corn, green beans, peas, artichokes, fava beans, spinach, kale, arugula, rhubarb, purple sprouting broccoli, green broccoli, garlic, lettuce, watercress, nettles, spring onions, cabbage, carrots, basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, caraway, dill, bayleaf
Fruits: berries, lemon, grapefruit, grapes
Fish and Seafood: clams, oysters, lobster, mackerel, mussels, wild salmon, sardines, sea trout, haddock, lemon sole, langoustines, bass
Meat: lamb, rabbit, duck, organic animal liver
Nutritional Support: Seaweeds and algae are particularly useful for your body in spring, in particular spirulina and chlorella. Aside from being packed full of life-giving nutrients, they will help detoxify the body and heal the liver. Omega-3s are also very important in the spring time and will help improve mood and energy. In addition, they are anti-inflammatory, so will help tendons and joints, which are also related to the Wood element.
In Chinese medicine the Liver is said to control the tendons and Spring is the optimum time to care for your tendons’ health to awaken your bodies through exercises that stretch out your body and stimulate your lymphatic system like yoga, tai chi, walking and light exercise. Outside air keeps Liver Qi flow so get outside for walks or cycle rides whenever possible.
We can follow the same principles on our environment and try to reduce our exposure to environmental toxins. Toxins are processed and neutralized by the liver and gall bladder and are expelled from the body through the spleen-lymphatic system, skin, bladder and bowels. They also are a contributing factor to cancer, degenerative disease, birth defects and genetic changes so it is important for you to be proactive in minimizing your exposure to them.
Some of the more prevalent toxins in our lives are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contained in non-stick pans; PCBs from plastic containers; pesticides and herbicides from foods and formaldehyde from carpets to eyeliner. When toxins are absorbed into your body, they can cause imbalance and harm your health and lead to symptoms such as:
– fatigue, memory decline, difficulty focusing, irritability, anxiety and depression
– allergies and infections
– difficulty losing or gaining weight
– muscle and joint pain and weakness, skin rashes, recurrent yeast and fungal infections
– constipation, diarrhea, bloating, indigestion
Although it is impossible nowadays to avoid all environmental toxins, you can limit your exposure as much as possible by:
– buying and eating, as much as possible, organic produce and free-range, organic foods. If you can only purchase one organic product it probably should be free range organic eggs
– limiting your consumption of fish (especially farmed fish which can be contaminated with PCBs and tuna which has high levels of mercury) and consume a high-quality purified fish or cod liver oil
– avoiding processed foods — remember that they’re processed with chemicals
– only using natural cleaning products in your home
– switching over to natural brands of toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics
– removing any metal fillings, a major source of mercury
– avoiding using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances as they can pollute the air you are breathing
– avoiding artificial food additives of all kind, including artificial sweeteners and MSG
– geting plenty of safe sun exposure to boost your vitamin D levels and your immune system.
– having your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath)
A few things do to help rid your body of toxins include:
– simplify your diet (beans, brown rice, oats, vegetables, fruits, organic chicken)
– drink a lemon squeezed in a glass of hot water upon rising daily
– drink vegetable juices and vegetable broths
– have 1 tablespoon flax seed, walnut or fish oil daily
– take 20-minute baths with Epsom salts or herbal oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint or fennel.