Beware the Transition, Summer to Fall


Almost all of my gout attacks have come between August and October. Don't get me wrong: They don't come annually (anymore). I'm a lot older now. We all are. I've never lived on any medications, per the doctor's insistence, and my body has obviously been through more wear and tear than it's ever been. Logic would dictate that I should have more frequent gout attacks - but I have less. Why?

Is aging not a factor in illness and disease? Don't be ridiculous. Aging is always a factor, but western culture and medicine often insist on highlighting it as the primary or only factor, which allows consumers to assume the victim role and pharmaceutical companies the role of multi-billionaire at the expenses of quality of life.

I'm proud to say I've had only one gout attack in the past five years - she was a doozy and she came in October - but still that's 80% less than how often the condition used to confront me. The only possible explanation could be the only constantly changing variable, my own diet and discipline. Approximately each year I improve a little bit: Either I become a better chef or I get snobbier about the produce and meats that I buy. I eat more and more cooked greens, I discovered an affinity for high quality mushrooms, and most importantly I gave up all refined sugar. I intermittently fast as often as possible, I bought a Berkey water filter instead of the cheap Brita and my breathing during most days is more mindful. We have no choice but to constantly improve, lest suffer the consequences of old age.

Still now is the time of year I am most careful. Towards the end of summer I try to avoid shellfish, cured meats, lentils and sardines. And just because you don't have gout doesn't mean this seasonal transition couldn't be a trigger for you as well. Be forewarned: For one of us it is gout, for another is acid reflux and allergies, and another is menstrual cramps and migraines. Believe it or not, from a holistic medical perspective all of these conditions can potentially be a result of one broad pattern: Dampness.

As summer comes to a close our bodies are inundated with an internal accumulation of the humid climate we've been steeped in for the past 100 days - especially those of us who have been mostly quarantined in air conditioned homes that suppress perspiration and cause us to retain more pathogenic fluid than we should. Although this was a unique year, summer tends to coincide with more socializing, which usually includes more alcohol consumption and foods like pizza or barbecue, all of which are fun but can exacerbate the same metabolic humidity, or as Chinese Medicine calls it: "Damp Heat."

"Damp Heat" in the spleen or stomach is the most common pattern for gout disease, which is part of the reason why the inflammation in the form of uric acid crystals most commonly sediment in the big toe, at the first metatarsal bone, which happens to be the acupuncture "source point" of the spleen. Poetically painful!

The summer is full of yang energy, whereas the fall is the beginning of yin. Healthy yin is cooling and light - it is that experience of the most perfect New York weather - when the baseball playoffs begin and we can be comfortable outdoors with only a sweater or light jacket. Pathological yin, on the other hand, is heavy and damp. It is sedentary and it is sediment. It sinks, like heavy sludge, either into our stomachs or our joints.

As self-care has improved my body can employ the summer's healthy yang energy to properly transform body fluids, excrete waste downward and send upward more functional mitochondria to my immune system. In the past I haven't been so "lucky." The heat of summer has steamed my body fluids into a pathogenic coagulation that overpowered my weaker yang qi and sunk into the form of arthritis. I'm occasionally able to maintain some sense of humor during milder attacks, recalling one time my brother made a pasta dish with shrimp and mussels, which I had to decline: "I couldn't. That'll go straight to my toes."

This is possibly the best time of year for hot water with lemon and fresh ginger (be sure to simmer the slices of ginger for 10-20 minutes). It is also a great time for breathing exercises or just exercise in general, as autumn corresponds to the lungs, and in Chinese Medicine the lungs are the first in command when it comes to our fluid metabolism and immune function. Limit foods that cause "dampness," such as sugar and flour, dairy, smoothies and raw salads (unless they are in conjunction with a bigger portion of cooked food and/or ginger tea). Preferable to have more cooked vegetables and small portions of protein, and sadly, this is the time of year to start retiring a bit earlier to bed. 10pm is ideal but before midnight is relatively imperative... but by all means, enjoy your holiday weekend (with masks on)!

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