Circadian rhythms control daily cycles

Cold and flu season is arriving quickly. Marketing campaigns for flu shots are appearing as the nights become cooler.

From a herbal perspective

From a herbal perspective

Cold and flu season is arriving quickly. Marketing campaigns for flu shots are appearing as the nights become cooler.

In traditional forms of herbal medicine, the change of season is considered to be a time when one’s body, mind and spirit has to adapt to the change of temperature, light and activity.

If one does not pay attention to these changes, colds and flues take hold and force life to slow down. A study of circadian rhythms supports this traditional approach to medicine.

Circadian rhythms control sleep and wakefulness, bowel movements, digestion, blood pressure, body temperature and sex drive. Within each of these daily cycles other cycles exist.

For example, during sleep the daily wear and tear on the body’s tissue are knit back together. While awake, manual dexterity is accurate, problem solving areas of the brain fire rapidly, and muscle strength increases. The focus of the circadian rhythms is no longer repair but gathering the resources necessary for life.

One of the primary controlling factors of the circadian rhythms is light. As the quality of light and the length of the day changes, fundamental biological needs for health shift. Not adapting to the changing needs of the body sets the stage for colds and flues, or perhaps something worse.

There are many ways to adjust to the change of season with its drop in temperature and shortening days.

1. Even though the weather is getting cooler, journey outside everyday. Go for a walk with a friend, a run with a dog or putter in the garden. Once the snow falls, take up skating, skiing, tobogganing, snowshoeing.

2. Seasonal eating is essential for good health. Cool weather requires for warm foods. Enjoy hot cereal in the morning, soup at lunch and stews for supper. Bake a butternut squash, make apple crisp for desert and snack on pumpkin seeds. Although I love the crispness of a salad and live on them throughout the spring and summer, they rarely make it to my plate once the weather changes. I leave the coolness of raw food for the warm weather.

3. Sleep when tired. With the change of light, sleep patterns often change. Turn off the TV and sleep if tired. Don’t sleep in front of the TV. A friend of mine joked the other day about a Doctor Who episode he saw as a teenager. Pointing at the TV, he said in an other worldly voice, “TV sucks the life from you.” There is truth in this. Turn it off and go to bed.

4. Dress appropriately. If cold, put on a sweater. Take off the sweater if warm. If working out and sweating, have a shower immediately afterward and dress in warm clothes.

5. Let go of the need to get everything done.

No. 5 is possibly the most important adjustment one can make to maintain good health. The other day I came across this quote by Lord Bertrand Russell, “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”

Daily I see the illness resulting from not pausing during day, trying to get it all done before bed, pushing against time and physical resource because of the belief that one has to do it all. When pushed beyond its limits, the body rebels with illness. Most chronic illness, many disabling and some life threatening, can be traced back to doing more than one is able.

From a herbal perspective there are many herbs that can be used to help rebalance. Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus) supports exhausted adrenal glands which can not turn off the cortisol. Over production of cortisol interferes with the gentle peace deep sleep brings to the body, mind and spirit. Because of the intermingling of the adrenal glands with nervous system, nerve tonics such as sculcap (Scutellaria latrafolia) are essential.

Rebalancing other essential rhythms of life is often necessary. Bowels need to regulated with herbs like yellow doc (Rumex crispus). Yellow doc is the glorious red plant dotting the autumn landscape throughout the wet lands in Central Alberta.

Unfortunately, herbs in this case are rarely enough. The primarily medicine for this time year is the balance between rest and activity. Let go and breathe deeply.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit Arneson can be reached at

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