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Why Detox for Fall? A TCM Approach for Cold and Flu Prevention and More!

The Seasons and Health

In Chinese medicine, each season and its element—wood, fire, earth, metal, or water—govern the flow of qi (energy) in the body. Proper flow of qi is key for health maintenance. Acupuncture and herbal treatments regulate the flow of qi to organs via energetic pathways (meridians) to heal the body and restore balance.

So, Why Detox for Fall?

The short answer: Proactive prevention of illness, one season ahead. The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor puts forth the principle that one should cultivate yang energy in spring and summer, while protecting the yin energy in autumn and winter.

The fifth season: In Chinese medicine, there is a fifth season, called late summer. Ruled by the earth element, late summer is a time for nourishing and strengthening while shifting to the next season, fall.

A fall detox prepares the body for the fall and is done in the fifth season (third week of August to fall equinox).

In tune with the seasons: Late summer is all about centering and grounding by nourishing and strengthening our bodies. Continuation of intense summer activities—such as late nights, long days; spending time doing vigorous activities in peak sun; eating hot and spicy or heavy food; dehydration; lack of sleep or irregular sleep—all increase the fire element in our bodies, which can aggravate or create symptoms listed below.

  • Anxiety, stress, worry (heart fire aggravated), agitation, mania, depression, nervousness, insomnia
  • Exhaustion or weakness from summer activities
  • Digestive issues such as reflux, ulcers, heartburn, acidity, or bleeding
  • Headaches aggravated by heat, red eyes

One season ahead: The ultimate goal of fall detox is to nourish and strengthen the digestive system to prevent fall seasonal illnesses. A strong earth element (stomach and spleen) supports the metal element (lungs and large intestine) in the fall season when immune health becomes vulnerable (e.g. cold and flu, inflammation).


Who can benefit from a fall (late summer) detox? Late summer, it is particularly important to strengthen digestive (stomach and spleen) health—especially if you have or have had any inflammation in your digestive tract, such as IBS; celiac disease; Crohn’s disease; colitis; diverticulitis; food sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies; chronic constipation; or diarrhea.

Fall Detox for Prevention

In Western terms, a fall detox can prevent issues one season ahead by nourishing and strengthening:

  • Immune health (for cold and flu prevention);
  • Lung health (for fall seasonal allergy prevention especially to molds); and
  • Digestive health (for colorectal cancer and prevention of polyps [extra tissue growing in the colon that can become cancerous, ulcerative colitis], ulcers of the colon and rectum, diverticulitis [inflammation or infection of pouches in the colon], and irritable bowel syndrome [an uncomfortable condition causing abdominal cramping and other symptoms]).


Fall Detox Foods

To support the earth element, eat nourishing, neutral, and sweet foods which support and strengthen the digestive organs—stomach and spleen. Generally, don’t skip breakfast, chew well, eat slow, avoid overeating, and include the following in your fall detox.

Lentil Soups: Legumes and lentils build qi, blood, and fluids. They are high in protein and fibre, and they regulate blood sugar

Winter Squash: Pumpkin, butternut, delicata, Hubbard, turban, acorn, and spaghetti squash are perfect nourishing foods

Whole Grains: Quinoa, millet, buckwheat, brown rice, oats (steel cut).

Root Vegetables: Beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, onions, radish, and turnips.

Fruit: Berries, apples, peaches (avoid all tropical fruits and all fruit juices due to too much concentrated sugar).

Nuts and Seeds (go easy on the nut butters, as they are heavier to digest).

Some Leafy Green (warmed, lightly cooked in soups or stews—avoid raw in this season).

Warm Pungent Foods: Onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard leaf, lavender, oregano, basil, savory, tarragon, rosemary, sage, bell peppers.

Essential oils of juniper and tea tree.

Remember: Health begins in your gut! Since your digestive system is the cornerstone of your health, if you manage and care for this one system—daily, monthly, yearly—you will be able to prevent many illnesses in the future. Think spring and fall detoxes for your body as a “tune-up” for your car or “cleaning out your garage” for your home—essential maintenance you benefit from throughout the year.


Angeli Chitale, BSc, ND

Dr. Angeli Chitale is a licensed naturopathic doctor with
additional training and certification in treatment of both
thyroid and endocrine conditions including fertility for
men and women.