People often ask if Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat colds and flus. Although there’s no magic bullet when it comes to getting rid of those nasty winter viruses, Traditional Chinese Medicine can give us a unique perspective on how we treat them, reducing the severity, duration and frequency.
In some respects, Chinese medicine’s fundamental understanding of the common cold and flu is no different than Western medicine. For example, both systems agree that colds and flus occur from an external pathogen entering the body. In both systems, there must be some weakness (for example immune deficiency) for a pathogen to invade.
Anything that weakens resistance, such as stress or lack of sleep, can weaken one’s defensive qi (i.e. immune system) and allow a pathogen to attack and enter the body, causing disease.
However, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, pathogens can affect the different “layers” of the body:
- The outer layer is the surface of the body; invasion by pathogens results in headache, runny nose, sore throat.
- The next layer is the organs; symptoms of invasion include phlegm on the lungs, cough and stomach flu.
- Invasion of pathogens to the deepest inner layer results in body aches, chills and fever, even death if the pathogen is strong enough.
The goal in Traditional Chinese Medicine is to stop the pathogen from progressing from the outer to the inner layer and to have good immunity (defensive qi) to start with.
Prevention of Colds and Flus
The best treatment is always prevention. Immune deficiency in Traditional Chinese Medicine is often cold in nature, so dressing warmly (with extra layers on the legs and lower back to protect the kidneys), breathing through your nose (to replenish your qi-producing organs), eating healthy and warming foods (such as oatmeal and soup), and of course, getting lots of rest and exercise, can go a long way in staving off sickness.
Treatment of Colds and Flus
Sometimes we catch a cold or flu no matter what we do; however, we can still use Traditional Chinese Medicine to shorten the duration and lessen the frequency that we become sick.
If caught in the very early stages, acupuncture treatments will open the outer layer of the body, allowing the pathogen to be more easily expelled from the interior and preventing it from penetrating deeper into the body (i.e. chest symptoms or deep body ache).
Some people also turn to warming herbs in the early stages, such as ginseng (found in popular cold remedies, such as Cold-FX), which can be beneficial in cases where the body needs warming. However, ginseng should not be taken in cases of fever, or when a person suffers from night sweats, hot flashes and insomnia, as these symptoms are caused by an excess of heat in the body, and ginseng will make things worse.
Alternatively, in Traditional Chinese Medicine sickness can also be treated by “sweating it out,” a process that can be aided by consuming the following warming herbs and foods:
- Miso soup with lots of scallions – especially the white part of the stalk.
- Ginger tea – bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add three slices of fresh ginger, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Raw garlic – this is very effective as it tonifies the qi and detoxes the blood.
After you’ve tried these warming foods, take a warm bath and get cozy under some blankets to sweat it out – but make sure you replenish your sweat with lots of fluids. And, if possible, on your next trip down south pop into a Chinese store and stock up Yin Qiao – a great all-purpose herb that stops many colds dead in their tracks, if caught early enough.
Note that all of these treatments are warming in nature, so if you have a fever, do not use them. Wait until it is over and then work on building your immunity for next time.