The leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp and that pumpkin spice latte is calling your name. What’s the deal with autumn and why does it make us want to curl up in a ball, hibernate and eat anything with a hint of cinnamon in it?
You’re likely spending less time outdoors frolicking in the sun now than you were about 3 weeks ago. As the weather cools off, we put on more layers, we head inside for a return to school or work, we get less exposure to fresh air and subsequently less exposure to sunlight. You probably know that sunlight is how your body makes vitamin D. This mighty vitamin acts more like a hormone in the body; it impacts mood, the immune system, stress responses (cortisol) and testosterone and is crucial for calcium balance and bone health. Fall is the perfect time to start taking some vitamin D3 in a supplemental form to prevent deficiency throughout the winter. Take your supplement with a meal that contains fat (nuts, seeds, meat, fish) as vitamin D is fat soluble and is best absorbed with dietary fats. It is generally safe to consume between 2-4000IU (international units) of vitamin D daily unless you have high blood calcium. You can get specific dose recommendations from your health care provider.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, fall is a transitional season from the yang energy of summer to the more yin energy of winter. To help your body transition, consume more yin foods including root vegetables like beets and sweet potatoes. You can also practice grounding activities such as meditation and yoga to ease your body’s transition into fall. You may also notice a funny craving for pumpkin-spiced everything that goes beyond your local coffee shop’s brilliant marketing. In Chinese medicine, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, cumin and ginger are energetically warming in nature. When the weather cools off, your body wants to energetically balance the cold with some warmer foods. Add cinnamon to your smoothies, craft up some curry and swap sugar-filled pumpkin spiced lattes for a chai rooibos tea with a little coconut milk.
Autumn can also be a stressful time with lots of changes beyond what’s going on with the weather. Many people will catch the flu or get a cold in the next couple of months and this can be due to the effect of stress on the immune system as well as increased exposure to germs, viruses and bacteria in the environment. Vitamin D is one way to keep your immune system strong, but it is also important to manage your stress. Working out can help you cope with stress, but so can rest and recovery, plan to have at least one full rest day weekly in your workout regimen. Consider incorporating stress-busting nutrients and/or herbs such as a B-vitamin complex and vitamin C into your routine.
Get yourself some vitamin D, get grounded, get relaxed, get cozy and get ready because, after all, “winter is coming”.
Dr. Briana Botsford is a Naturopathic Doctor in Edmonton, Alberta. She is a primary care provider and treats conditions from high blood pressure to the common cold. As an Ironman Triathlete, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Yoga Teacher, she integrates her in-depth understanding of movement, exercise and the mind-body connection into her writing and patient care.