Have you recently started struggling with migraines, sinus issues, eye pain, liver problems, painful or heavy periods, skin rashes or acne, muscle cramps or pains in your joints? Odds are you’re suffering from a seasonal imbalance – here’s our naturopathic nutritionist Rhi Hepple’s advice on the support your body needs at this time of year and how to find the strength to ease your discomfort
As a naturopathic nutritionist I follow the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system of The Five Elements that bring balance to our mind, body, emotions and spirit. They work in a cycle within us all and outside us in the seasons. The Five Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. As individuals we may resonate with one Element more than others and at various times a particular element can go out of balance which can bring up health issues and disturb our natural well-being. We came into the Wood Element on 21 March and stay with it until 20 June (when we come into the Fire Element). During this spring season we can work on nurturing our own Wood Element which will not only support our health but also our mind and mood too.
If you are struggling with some recent health symptoms that have come up for you, it could be because of a weakness in your Wood Element which is making this change of season a challenge for you. Or do you always get ill at this time of year? It may be your Wood element needs strengthening so you can be more resilient at this time. Or have you experienced a time of stress recently which is impacting on the health of your Wood Element?
What the Wood Element means
- Physically The Wood Element is about the liver and gall bladder which helps us to detox toxins and plays a key role in our metabolism of fat and glucose and helps to keep a healthy hormone balance. It is also about the health of our eyes and sinuses. Often during the Wood Element season we may see stronger symptoms in these areas.
- Emotionally The emotions of this element are anger and frustration which can often be challenged during this season. The Wood Element also helps us to plan and make decisions. This can really help us to focus on seasonal changes like ‘planting our seeds’ for fruition later in the year. We can sometimes feel a shift at this time of year as plans and ideas come into play and we feel the energy to get things done and be organised. We can also have the urge to ‘spring clean’ to clear out the clutter and get rid of things we no longer need. But if our liver is over-burdened due to a health imbalance we can feel foggy headed or muddled, unable to make simple decisions like what to cook for dinner or what to wear. We may find other people’s clutter or disorganisation hugely frustrating and get irritated by those who are late or forgetful.
Living true to your Wood Element
If we think of wood as a beautiful tree we can see how it can stand strong and tall and resistant to weather changes around it. The branches can sway in the wind without breaking and be flexible but still strong. Maybe our tree would flower and the blossom would fill our branches and we’d be full of vitality and beauty. Maybe we would be abundant in fruit to feed and nurture those in need. But a wood out of balance may grow branches that are knarly and knobbly. Maybe they’d be brittle and break at the challenges of the weather. Maybe we would mean to flower or grow fruit and it would be a bad crop that year. When everything is in balance and our Wood Element is nurtured we would be a tree abundant in green leaves, flowers or fruit to feed the insects and offer shelter to the birds.
Symptoms of a Wood Element imbalance An imbalance in the Wood Element can manifest in liver and gall bladder issues, eye or sinus problems but also arthritis, migraines, fibroids, depression, addiction, muscle cramps, bloating or gas or diarrhoea especially after eating fat or high-sugar meals. PMS or scant or heavy periods. You may be prone to acne. You may be judgemental or have a high opinion of things that you might feel are unjust or unfair.
A Wood Element in balance When in balance the Wood Element can help you to be incredibly productive and organised. You are able to plan ahead and be clear in your decision making. You may be a logical thinker and like to see plans all the way through to the end before starting or planning something new. You may be a good leader and be well motivated and help to motivate others.
Sure signs A sure sign of an unhappy liver are migraines, waking at 1 or 2am, hot flushes and skin issues. If you are experiencing a flare-up of these kinds of symptoms it is good to look inward and ask if there is any unresolved anger or frustration. Historically we were much more in tune with how our emotions affected the health of our body. Old sayings such as ‘feeling liverish’ or ‘Of all the gall’ were clearly suggestions of how anger had an effect on how our liver or gallbladder felt. Ongoing, allowing these kinds of emotions to be internalised will manifest in signs of our liver or gall bladder being burdened. Finding ways to address emotional upset is important. Talking therapies and polarity therapy are great ways to rebalance the emotions.
A typical Wood Element imbalance
One client springs to mind whose energetic balance of the liver was impacting on her physical health. She had recently split from her husband and had to move house a number of times. There had been a number of months of intense organisation. The stress and upheaval had started to take its toll. She felt she had started to show signs of coming into early menopause. Her periods were suddenly very heavy, she was for the first time experiencing migraines which she felt were hormonal and she was waking in the night at 2am feeling hot and bothered. Her knees were painful and she had been too tired and sore to exercise.
She came to see me to support menopausal symptoms but with everything she was telling me I felt it was essential to support her liver health first before doing any hormonal work. I got her to make a few tweaks in her diet, reduce sugar and alcohol and eats lots of green and sour foods which she loved and started to crave. She said she couldn’t go a day without her sauerkraut! With a few other liver supports she soon saw a reduction in symptoms. All of a sudden she was back sleeping peacefully, joint pain had reduced and she was able to enjoy her weekend hikes in the forest which she thoroughly embraced and felt gave her so much peace. She felt calmer in herself and less tired. In her last appointment with me she spoke about a singles hiking holiday she had booked and I was delighted to see how much she had blossomed.
So how can you support your Wood Element?
Supportive food for the season:
- Apple cider vinegar or fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir or kombucha.
- Green foods such as broccoli, artichoke, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and pak or bok choy (But also fennel, beetroot, butternut squash, sweet potato and carrots)
- Fruit: apples, blueberries, blackberries and prunes
- Eat more sprouted and raw foods and choose sour or bitter flavours
- Avoid hot and spicy foods
- Spices for the season are turmeric which protects the cells in the liver, stimulates bile production and is anti-inflammatory
- Teas for the season are dandelion root and kombucha
Supportive supplements for the season:
- Milk thistle is a good protective liver support.
- Vitamins/minerals for the season are Vitamin C, E and selenium
- Add spirulina or wheatgrass to smoothies
- For eye problems euphrasia (eyebright) is a good support
Supportive actions for the season:
Ground your energy by being outside in nature, walk in the forest, lie in a field and rest. Exercise is beneficial especially qigong or tai chi.
Juice for the season
Beetroot juice contains glutathione which protects the liver from toxin damage. Artichoke contains the flavonoid silymarin which is also the active ingredient in milk thistle, another liver support. This juice is a tasty combination of both these potent liver supporters:
1/2 globe artichoke
3 beetroot leaves
1 stalk of celery
3-5 cm pice of root ginger
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Remove the tough outer leaves and stalk of the artichoke the juice the rest of it. Pass all the rest of the ingredients through the juicer except the lemon juice which is best to juice by hand and stir through at the end.