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TCM Advice on Nourishing Lungs in Autumn: Tips & Foods

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Orange, brown and gold leaves on leaves in autumn
Autumn leaves

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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) considers that everything, including the human body, follows the cycles of nature- after all, we have evolved to deal with different climates. So why is it important to nourish our Lungs (capitalised in TCM) in autumn?

The Lungs and our immune system

Woman sneezing, dog on couch
Caught a cold!

Autumn is the time of year that is associated with the Lungs and Large Intestine in TCM. It is the time to strengthen the organ that is most easily affected by pathogens, the Lungs, which includes not only viruses and bacterial infections but also Heat, Cold, Damp and Wind in TCM. Damp air can make breathing difficult. Cold wind often takes our breath away and makes our nose stream. Heat can dry the mucus lining in the nose and then dry the Lungs leading to a dry, hacking cough.

The Lungs circulate a specific type of Qi called Wei Qi (Defensive Qi) to protect the body from external pathogens. Wei Qi is circulated in the space between the skin and muscles called the Cou Li. If Wei Qi is insufficient then we become prone to catching every bug around and struggle to get rid of them!

The Lungs and our skin

The lungs and how they affect the skin. Glowing skin

The Lungs, according to TCM, are responsible for opening and closing the pores in the skin. This function not only allows us to release extra heat and pathogens through our sweat but also stops pathogens from entering via the skin.

The Spleen sends fluids to the Lungs which then convert this into a fine mist to be spread throughout the Cou Li. This mist helps to lubricate the skin and enables the pores to function.

The health of our skin is, therefore, determined by how effectively the Lungs are functioning. Dry skin may mean that Lung Qi and Lung Yin are deficient- both are needed for the circulation of body fluids and nourishment to the skin. If the skin is bumpy or rough this may be an indication that the Lungs need strengthening as Qi is not flowing smoothly. Puffy skin indicates fluids are not being dispersed or excreted effectively. Lung nourishing foods, therefore, also nourish the skin.

Which emotions affect our Lungs?

dog mourning by a headstone
Sadness affects the Lungs

Autumn is the time for letting go (think of trees letting go of their leaves), for reflection as well as a switch from the very Yang energy of summer to the Yin energy of winter. The emotions associated with the Lungs are sadness and grief. Grief shatters Qi whilst sadness depletes Qi. If the Lungs are not strong enough or the digestive system is weak leading to constipation, we can find it difficult to process these emotions, move from summer to autumn and become susceptible to illness. It is important to support the Lungs during a period of grief through diet, gentle exercise and acupuncture.

Foods to strengthen and support the Lungs

Chinese medicine advocates eating seasonal fruit and vegetables as nature provides the foods that help us deal with each season; warming foods in winter, cooling foods in summer, nourishing foods in autumn to get us ready for the cold of winter and food to support our Liver in spring when we become more energetic. The colours associated with the Lungs are silver and white. Fruit and veg which are white or light coloured are therefore beneficial for the Lungs.

Foods to nourish, balance and strengthen the Lungs are provided below. If you have a dry cough check the list for Lung Heat. If you have a cough which produces mucus or phlegm then check the list on Lung Phlegm.

Foods to strengthen the Lungs (Weak Lung Qi)

Pumpkin soup with cream and basil served in a bowl
Pumpkin soup

If you are prone to catching every bug around then the following foods help to strengthen and nourish the Lungs so that Lung Qi improves:

Range of vegetables which nourish the Lungs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Vegetables to support our Lungs

Veg: Onions, Parsnips, Carrots, Cauliflower, Leeks, Sweet potatoes, Asparagus,

White mushrooms, Turnips, Radish, Garlic, Ginger

Fruits to nourish the Lungs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Fruits to nourish the Lungs

Fruits to nourish the Lungs Grains to nourish the Lungs according to Traditional Chinese Medicinccording to Traditional Chinese Medicin
Grains to nourish the Lungs

Seeds & nuts to nourish the Lungs according to Traditional Chinese Medicin
Seeds & nuts to nourish the Lungs

Herbs & spices to nourish the Lungs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Herbs & spices to nourish the Lungs

Foods to avoid:

Sugary food

Citrus / Cold foods such as ice and ice-cream/smoothies /

Raw vegetable (salads included!)

Dairy / Tofu / Wheat / Greasy/fatty foods

Alcohol / Coffee/ Cigarettes.

Foods to clear a DRY COUGH (Lung Heat)

Foods to clear a dry cough according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Foods to clear a dry cough

If you catch a cold or bug and develop a dry cough focus on clearing Heat by eating foods which soothe the Lungs such as:

Soups Congee Watercress Cantaloupe Carrots Radish Seaweed

Cabbage Cauliflower Chard Green tea/peppermint tea Tomatoes

Mung beans Strawberries

Foods to avoid if you have a dry cough:

Foods which have a warming effect such as coffee, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, alcohol.

Foods to clear a cough which produces phlegm/mucus (Lung Phlegm)

Foods to clear a phlegmy cough according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Foods to clear a phlegmy cough

If you develop a cough which produces Phlegm then the focus is to clear Phlegm and Damp in the body initially as well as improving Lung Qi (foods listed above) so that Phlegm is no longer created:

Mushrooms Onions Radish Seaweeds Turnips Watercress Cherries Fennel

Flaxseed Cardamom Cayenne Cinnamon Garlic Ginger Horseradish Thyme


Foods to avoid:

Dairy / sugar /red meat / peanuts / tofu / fatty food / fried foods / wheat / oats

Exercises to help strengthen the Lungs

Exercises to strengthen the Lungs- Qi Gong
Exercises to strengthen the Lungs

Breathing exercises a couple of times a day help to ensure that any stagnant air in the Lungs is expelled and replaced with oxygen rich air.

Place your hands gently on the area of your abdomen just below your belly button. This area is called the lower Dan Tian.

Take a deep breath in for the count of 5.

Hold your breath for 4 seconds.

Then breathe out through your mouth for a count of 8. Focus on your lower Dan Tian, which should decrease in size. Squeeze the lower abdomen in as you exhale the last bit of breath. This will help to clear any air in the Lungs. Repeat 5 times.

If you need to sit for prolonged periods, slumping can restrict the air flow in and out of the Lungs. Choose two different times in the day to set an alarm or alert to remind you to stretch and take a deep breath in.

Protecting yourself from colds and bugs

man in winter clothes whilst outdoors
Protecting yourself from colds

Wear a scarf or cover the area at the back of your neck and avoid drafts/air-conditioning. The area just below C7 (where the neck meets the top of the back) is an important acupuncture point as this is where all of the yang channels meet. If cold, wind or damp weather are allowed to come in contact with this point then it leads to illness.

Drink and eat warm, cooked foods. If you love a great salad, eat something warm first. Cold and raw foods require more energy in the digestion process. This is the time of year to start conserving energy so that we have enough to keep us warm in the winter.

Reach out for support

Woman having cupping therapy on her upper back
Cupping to help clear a cold

If you are prone to catching winter bugs then acupuncture may be of benefit to you.

If you have experienced loss and are grieving then acupuncture combined with a talking therapy can be beneficial in helping you process your emotions.

Get in touch to book your acupuncture treatment

If you found this post helpful then please like and share it. I would love to hear of any great autumn recipes- pop them into the comments box.

Written by Yasmin Hodge, a licensed acupuncturist and Tui Na practitioner based in Streatham, London UK

Yasmin Hodge

Licensed Acupuncturist

Lic.Ac, Lic.Tui Na, MSc, PGCE, MBAcC

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