Autumn, change of season and immune support

It has finally rained here in the Cowichan Valley, which is a good sign that it is autumn. Transitions are difficult, as you may know from moving, starting a new job, a new school, a new relationship… They put us under quite a bit of stress to adapt. Autumn is the time to take particular care of our immune systems. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I do believe “getting sick” once or twice a year is actually good training for our immunity, and helps our immune cells to adapt to ever mutating viruses. However, we shouldn’t stay sick for long or suffer serious health complications because our bodies are not well equipped to fend off infections. Here are my favourite methods to protect yourself from getting too sick this autumn and winter.

  1. Start out in good health – Have you already been feeling tired and rundown? Not sleeping well? Then its time for a full check-up to correct deficiencies and address any underlying health problems before working on preventing further deterioration throughout the year.
  2. Soup. Never mind juicing, green drinks, and cold smoothies. Its cold outside now, you need food that will warmly nourish you. Pull out your slow cooker and start simmering some bone broths and harvest veggie filled soups. Beyond simply keeping your body warm and thereby keeping your blood circulating, soup is full of readily available nutrition necessary for keeping your immune system humming along.
  3. Hydrotherapy. Warming or “magic” socks work incredibly well to improve lymphatic and blood circulation, thereby accelerating various immune cells ability to clear infections. This is an excellent home treatment to use before and while sick. See my handout for more details.
  4. Go outside. Its much easier to adapt to the changes in season when we are a part of our environment. Get out for a walk or simply sit outside for 20min everyday. In our modern lives, many people go from cars, to homes, to buildings with minimal exposure to their external world. Head to a park, trail or even your backyard, and watch the leaves change and fall, witness how the plants and animals are preparing for winter. Breathe in the changing air and listen to what your body is telling you need at this transitional season.

Spring Time Detox

Why Spring cleaning should extend beyond your home…

daisies - www-free-for-kids-com

It’s the ideal time to support your liver and gallbladder in cleaning out your body. In Chinese Medicine philosophy, the transition in seasons relates to a transition in energy from different organ systems. Winter is considered “water” time or the period of dormancy, when our kidneys and urinary bladders (our essence) should be supported. We build up our stores, through rest and warm nourishing foods throughout the winter. Spring is “wood” time, when our livers and gallbladders become more active, which makes it the ideal time for cleansing.

Consider the saying “April showers bring May flowers”  – your body deserves a cleaning or shower to prepare it to blossom or flower. By supporting change during this time of year, you will be empowered to move forward and emerge in optimal health for summer.

 If you’re considering a cleanse at this time of year, check in with your Naturopathic Doctor for an efficient, individualized plan tailored to meet your needs.

Personal care products – alternatives to risky ingredients

While it may seem difficult to avoid harmful ingredients and still engage in personal hygienic practices, there are appropriate alternatives available. Below are some suggestions of safe and therapeutic solutions that can be incorporated as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.


Soap making or saponification, was once a simple process accomplished by combining an alkali substance (wood ashes, soda deposits, seaweed or potash and perlash) with waste fats to allow the splitting of the fat into fatty acids and glycerin and joining the sodium or potassium of the alkali to the fatty acid, thus making soap. But this once short list of soap making ingredients has become much more lengthy with the introduction of new synthetic compounds purported to improve cleansing.

There are still companies making basic traditional soaps though, such as Dr. Bronner’s castile soaps made with water, saponified organic oils, essential oils and vitamin E as a preservative. Their bar soaps include sodium hydroxide in the ingredients list, which is the source of alkali (lye) to allow the saponification reaction described above. Other traditional bar soaps can often be found at local farmer’s markets; such as Nature’s Natural Solutions (Nova Scotia) which emphasize goat’s milk for its moisturizing and soothing properties.

Men are often looking for a thick lather for shaving; which can be found in products such as Saltspring SoapWorks’ StoneBay shaving soap, with nothing but saponified oils, spring water, beeswax, glycerine, Fullers earth and essential oils, thus avoiding all the additional endocrine disrupting ingredients. Using an old style shaving brush helps, as it stirs up more lather.

Then there are the folks with super-dry, sensitive skin. For them, bar soaps are often too harsh and drying. Cream cleansers are usually recommended, but instead of products full of toxic additives, aim for products that focus on using natural oils. Golden Naturals makes a SeaBuckthorn cream cleanser with liquid castile soap and several naturally sourced oils for maintain moisture.


Sodium laurel sulphate gives those ample bubbles that convince us that our hair is squeaky clean. Its not necessary. Recall, saponified oils = soap.

Saltspring Works makes shampoo bars with nothing but saponified oils and essential oils. Most alternate liquid shampoos include coco glucoside, which is a natural surfactant from corn, potatoes or wheat. Sodium cocoate is another alternative often listed, which is the term for saponified coconut oil.


Coastal classic creations has a line of hair oils to be used instead of creamy synthetic-based conditioners. Most list one or two ingredients: Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil and Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) leaf oil or an alternate essential oil. Dr. Bronner has a few conditioners to choose from all with relatively short ingredients list, and none with ceteryl alcohol, sulfates or parabens.

Edible personal care

One of the safest approaches to personal care is to use only what one would allow yourself to ingest, because in slathering things on our porous skin things end up in our bloodstreams and can accumulate in adipose tissue and internal organs, just as anything that would be eaten or drank. Substances absorbed via the skin bypass the first pass effect of the liver, making them even more of a systemic danger. Venturing into the kitchen for materials for personal care is a great idea. Some very affordable, DIY options include:

The use of edible oils as moisturizers; Coconut oil is an excellent facial or body moisturizer with anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. Almond oil is a lighter option and olive oil, too (however the yellow/green color discoloration may be off putting for some skin tones). Rosehip oil is a powerful hydrator that also stimulates keratinocyte differentiation.

Having patients prepare good old fashioned oil infusions from our well-known arsenal of vulnerary herbs; Calendula officinalis (Calendula) and Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort) is a great alternative to expensive and often hazardous serums. Cooling herbs such as Mentha piperita (Peppermint) are ideal for TCM ‘heat’ conditions, such as acne or eczema.  Aloe vera is well-known for its vulnerary properties and also acts as an excellent acne treatment when used directly from the plant .

Green tea, has valuable astringent properties, that make it a worthwhile toner. Its potent antioxidant profile imparts anti-aging properties. Lastly, its a valuable resource for protecting against sun damage.

Yogurt can make a great cleansing mask for those suffering from acne. The probiotics help compete with the offending bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes). Honey, unpasteurized is well-known for its vulnerary and anti-microbial properties and can be mixed with yogurt or oatmeal into a paste for facial masks to treat scars and skin lesions.

The rich, fatty, nutrient-dense nature of avocado makes it an excellent hair conditioner or weekly hair treatment. And instead of drinking that next beer use it on your hair. Using it as a shampoo makes sense, as it is full of B vitamins that strengthen it; much like the brand of haircare that advertises its use of pro-vitamin B. Vinegar as a hair rinse is a great conditioner and shine-booster as it helps remove residues left by conventional hair products.

Clays help to draw out toxins in the skin, while muds help the skin by replenishing with minerals and nutrients. Zeolite is a particularly powerful clay. Its negative charge, attracts positively charged toxins, and its honeycomb structure allows it to bind the toxin effectively. Zeolite also absorbs moisture and neutralized odors, making its application as a deodorant highly effective.


While we know sweating is good; great detoxification, being ‘smelly’ can be cause social problems. The risks of absorbing aluminum through the surrounding lymphatic circulation pathways in the axillary area should deter anyone from using conventional deodorant and antiperspirants. Aluminum is a known neurotoxin and emerging evidence is revealing it likely plays a detrimental role in the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

More than any other personal care product, natural alternative deodorants are often rated as inferior in their effectiveness. This may be something our society needs to become more comfortable with; people smell. And the odours that we emit are important indicators of our well-being and our compatibility, consider the importance of pheromones. Rather than cover that up entirely – evaluating those smells and addressing them by treating one’s state of health may be more appropriate to encourage as Naturopathic Physicians.

Himalayan salt deodorants, from various companies, that contain nothing more than salt, have strong customer reviews regarding effectiveness. However, the application seems a bit tricky for some folks though and it may require repeated application. Thincskin makes ‘PITS!’ a natural deodorant with a short list of ingredients; shea butter, olive oil (infused with calendula and chamomile), macademaia nut oil, coconut oil, baking soda, arrow root and essential oil blend. It has also been given high ratings of effectiveness. Lastly, Soapwalla has a ‘deodorant cream’ with a list of clean ingredients including various organic oils, kaolin clay, organic corn starch, baking soda, and essential oils.