As I write this, some children have already gone back to school. A second wave will start right after Labor Day weekend, and college students will be in class by the end of the month. Parents, teachers, and students know the drill. School starts. Immune systems mingle, fraternize, share drinks, and maybe even some slightly chewed pencils. Shortly thereafter, the viruses and bacteria begin their, hopefully, brief reign of terror.
My goal in writing this post is to help spread the word that East Asian medicine has a wide variety of herbal formulas, dietary strategies, and even acupuncture treatments to help protect against the common cold and flu, as well as shorten the duration when one does fall ill. Besides taking over the counter meds that mask symptoms of colds and flus, Chinese herbal formulas can both help with the aches, pains, sniffles, belly aches, etc, and act as bacterialcidal/viralcidal agents. Some of the herbs placed into various cold/flu formulas can kill viruses, which is a trait unique to herbal medicine. Antibiotics can only kill bacteria. Classically, the bulk of Chinese herbal formulas fall under the category of treating cold/flu related conditions. This is due to the thought process that small imbalances in health eventually dive deeper into the body and can cause major health problems down the road. You can see this idea in action when you look at the relationship between strep throat infections causing scarlet fever, glomerular nephritis, or rheumatic fever.
The way Chinese medicine approaches a cold or flu involves looking at symptoms, feeling your pulses, and looking at your tongue. It is important to differentiate between the symptom sets of colds /flus to properly treat it with herbal medicine. For instance, if you have body aches, get cold easily, feel the need to bundle up, and have a white tongue coat, then you need a completely different treatment than if you have a sore throat, feel hot and feverish, and have a yellow tongue coat. There are many more patterns of colds/flus, but I think we can all relate to having the type of cold where you want to throw off all of the blankets, versus the kind that no amount of clothing or bedding can make us comfortable. In Chinese medicine, you would use completely different herbs and acupuncture points to treat these two types of common cold.
If you are someone that gets colds and flus easily, then your immune system may be compromised. Your immune system can be compromised temporarily during a period of high stress, leading to a year or two of catching the common cold or flu easily. Their are acupuncture points and protocols to help boost one’s immune system if you are in one of those periods of high stress. The use of moxibustion at specific points to increase the immune system can be an especially important addition to your healthcare routine during periods of high stress, whether the stress is good or bad.
Cupping for bronchitis
Another tool that acupuncturists use during cold and flu season is cupping. Cupping uses a vacuum created in glass, plastic, or bamboo cups to gently pull skin, connective tissue, and muscle up into the cup. This treatment is clinically used to treat coughing related ailments, sports injuries, and pain from tight muscles. Cupping is clinically found to be useful when one develops bronchitis or pneumonia. If you are someone that historically develops bronchitis from nearly every common cold, then it can be useful to get cupping done at the first signs of contracting a cold.
What you can do for yourself at home to fight off a cold or flu:
Am I getting sick? When this question first enters your mind, try the wet sock treatment. This sounds weird and tortuous, I know, but bear with me. The wet sock treatment uses hydrotherapy to help spike your immune system into action. What you need: at least one pair of wool socks, and a second pair of socks (cotton, wool, or whatever). Before going to bed, take the ‘whatever material’ socks and run them under cold water. Wring them out, and put them on. It is cold and uncomfortable for a few minutes, but you’ll adapt. Put the dry wool socks on over the wet socks. Now go to bed. This temperature combo will cause your body to increase its body temperature and drive your immune system into overdrive. It will also make you sleepy as an added bonus. By morning your socks will be dried by your own body heat. Repeat while you feel on the edge of illness and for three nights after you feel like your awesome self again. Then you will truly be your awesome self again.
Common kitchen herbs that can help with the common cold: fresh ginger, cinnamon, green onions, garlic, lemon juice, honey, and hot peppers. If you feel the type of cold that causes body aches, tight muscles and makes you want to bundle up, then try making ginger tea with cinnamon, lemon, and honey. Or you could try pouring hot water over freshly chopped green onions with a dash of honey and garlic. Basically, if you feel muscle aches, a headache, and want to bundle up for all its worth, you want to induce a sweat. So drinking warming teas with herbs like ginger, green onion, cinnamon, etc will help you start to sweat. It is a great idea to bundle up in some cozy, flannel pjs or a few extra blankets and increase the sweat.
We all have our own fantastic, tried and true home remedies for getting sick. If you find yourself in a situation that your own tried and true methods just don’t seem to be working, I invite you to consider adding Chinese medicine to your arsenal against the common cold and flu.
Here’s to you health this coming autumn!