Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf is an integrative medical doctor specializing in natural approaches, including Ayurveda and Functional Medicine, to help resolve chronic health problems. She practices in Fairfield, Iowa and is available for Personalized Wellness Sessions over the phone or video call. She is the author of 2 books for... more
April showers and May flowers bring … healing powers?
“Mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful” – Now is a springboard for healing
Ever notice that around the equinox at the end of March, you may feel a little “off,” fatigued, less hungry, or even feel a subtle “flow” in your system?
Ever wonder what’s up with these springtime vulnerabilities?
According to the latest research, it’s the change of season and your body knows it.
A landmark study published in Nature Communications in May 2015 validates that our genes themselves change expression with the change of season, and over 4000 of our genes, nearly 25% of those tested, are diminishing their activity during the spring, while another 4000, quiescent in the winter, are ramping up for the summer.
This equals one seismic genomic shift in our physiology each spring (and fall,) and may readily explain why our body immunity may get thrown off balance at this time.
How It Works
Cued by daylight, genes that clock our circadian rhythms also keep “seasonal time” and help regulate our immune response as the seasons change throughout the year.
For example, genes that promote inflammation are very active in the winter (Northern hemisphere), which may explain the higher incidence of cardiovascular, psychiatric and autoimmune conditions during that season.
Nothing New Under the Sun
While this finding is cutting edge scientific discovery in the making, it turns out that one existing health system clocked these changes over 5000 years ago.
The ancient yogic health system Ayurveda described way back then that deeply-lodged ama or impurities in the body begin to loosen and “flow” out this time of year, not unlike the snow on a mountain melts and begins to trickle down towards the plains.
According to timeless Ayurvedic wisdom, these bodily shifts are Nature’s version of “spring cleaning,” and we can take advantage of this innate cycle by adjusting our diet and lifestyle during the change of season, especially in the spring.
Also fascinating is the Ayurvedic prediction that the season change in spring and fall are times of transition in the body and important times for “internal cleansing” to help the body adjust from one season to the next.
While I thought that was a quaint idea in my early years of exposure to Ayurveda, I take it more seriously now that I’ve learned that thousands of genes are toning down their activity at season change, and thousands more are “ramping up” in anticipation of the incoming season. Take a look at Figure 1 to see what that looks like!
Notice how around April and May, many genes are “in transition” between extremes of activity in summer vs winter. Indeed, the ancient Ayurvedic physicians were right, our bodies are in tremendous flux during season change!
So what should you do now in light of this fascinating and important fact of your seismic seasonal genomic shift? Take advantage of it! Now is a great time to “detox.”
Why Bother to Detox? Doesn’t Our Body Detox Anyway?
Here in Iowa, an agricultural center, we can derive extra benefit from detox in Spring due to the relatively high concentration of airborne agricultural chemicals from crop-dusting and herbicide application that occurs from April to July.
Supporting our detox system biochemically, as well as overall physiologically, may prove important to our long-term health, as our biochemical pathways can get “overloaded” by high concentrations of toxicants and lead to negative consequences on the cellular level, if not for our health as a whole.
How Does Our Body Detox, Really?
Detoxification of chemicals is a fascinating story in itself, or perhaps, a good one to read before bed — if you suffer from insomnia!
I promise to be brief, but you should know that:
- Some toxicants (the official title of toxins from the environment) are easily flushed from the body as they are water soluble.
- However, others are fat soluble and easily get stuck in cell membranes or fatty tissues. They need processing before they can get out of the body.
- For these stubborn “sticky” toxicants, we have a 2-step process of detox by the liver, aptly named “Phase One” and “Phase Two.”
- Phase One enzymes make the toxicant more amenable to being flushed out, however that means it can make it more toxic in the short run. [Side note: This step often produces free radicals (“bad guys”) that need to be neutralized too.]
- Enter Phase Two to save the day, by providing friendly small “conjugant” molecules like sulfur, methyl groups, acetyl and glucoronide that can then neutralize the toxicant and help it exit the body more easily.
Whew! Toxins out and Biochem lesson over!
How Good Are You At Detox?
Our personal genetics partially determine how good we are at detoxing chemicals, including medications, drugs, caffeine, alcohol and pesticides. People with certain SNPs (gene types) may have more limited ability to detox — Anyone chemically sensitive out there? It’s very common, and even more so in vegetarians, who may also be low in nutrients essential for detox, further limiting their detox ability.
You can do simple home tests to evaluate your detox system, as well as take precautions by ensuring that you eat enough protein and fortify your diet with nutrient-rich foods that fuel your detox system, such as those listed below (ref #4).
Below you’ll find “Detox Tips” for increasing the necessary detox nutrients in your diet and support a healthy spring!
IMPORTANT NOTE: By the way, you only want to ramp up your Phase 1 activity if you have enough antioxidants on board, and a vigorous Phase 2. Why is that crucial?
The logic is that we don’t want to make our internal toxicants more toxic (read “angry”) by driving Phase 1, when we don’t have enough “juice” to neutralize and eliminate them from the body via a robust Phase 2 pathway.
Bottom line: Ingest foods that support both pathways for best results.
Here are your Quick Detox Tips for 2017 (Do now! Your detox genes are up and ready and your system is “in the flow” of Spring. A 6-week course is ideal, but even a week or two will help.)
To Help Keep The Body Metabolizing and Eliminating well (tips courtesy of Ayurveda):
- Drink ½ c. of boiled warm-hot spring water every hour until 6 PM
- Add fresh ginger root to your daily diet. A thin slice with a dash rock salt and lemon before the meal will stoke your detox fire.
- Avoid cheese, yogurt (except as lassi, a fresh yogurt drink), cold foods and drinks, including ice cream and other frozen desserts, red meat, chocolate, sugar, and alcohol.
For Biochemical Support:
Include in your daily diet, ideally each meal (those listed support balanced Phase 1 and 2 function [ref. #4]):
- Turmeric powder (an amazing detox enhancer)
- Coriander (supports liver detox enzymes)
- Fresh probiotic sources such as homemade lassi or kefir
- Fresh steamed or sautéed greens (chard, kale, dandelion, mustard, etc)—greens stimulate bile flow
- Cabbage family vegetables, include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli sprouts
- Tangerines (and other citrus fruits containing limonene)
- Fish oil (highly pure only)
- Onions, leeks, garlic (sulfur-containing foods)
And finally, follow your body’s inclination for more rest, which itself aids detox. Go to bed early and spend time with family, friends and hobbies — which will also mellows out any accompanying emotional detox — and take some time to laze around. After all, spring has sprung!
1. E.E. Cummings, author and poet
2. Xaquin Castro Dopico, Marina Evangelou et al, Widespread seasonal gene expression reveals annual differences in human immunity and physiology. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7000 (2015), doi:10.1038/ncomms8000
3. Goldinger A, Shakhbazov K, Henders AK, McRae AF, Montgomery GW, Powell JE (2015) Seasonal Effects on Gene Expression. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0126995. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0126995
4. Romilly E. Hodges and Deanna M. Minich, “Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application,” Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, vol. 2015, Article ID 760689, 23 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/760689