Traditional Chinese medicine can be an effective approach to cold and flu care and prevention, either on its own or in combination with Western medicine. An ancient tradition with a rich history and intricate healing processes, Chinese medicine offers alternatives to fend off illnesses like colds.
Chi (qi) is the basic principle of life-giving energy in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s often described as life-force energy that performs different functions in different realms of the body.
For cold and flu prevention, the focus is on defensive chi or wei chi. Its role is to protect and defend against anything foreign that might attack your body from the outside.
First Line of Defense
Chinese medicine equates strong defensive chi with good immunity, which can be strengthened by eating well, getting good sleep, exercising and managing stress. If you don't take care of yourself, your ability to create and maintain strong defensive chi also suffers. This can leave you more vulnerable to health issues, including colds and flu.
If you suffer from recurrent colds and flus, consider trying an herbal formula that's been around for about 800 years. Yu Ping Feng San, or jade wind screen powder, is composed of just three herbs and designed to support the body's immunity. The chief ingredient is astragulas root, known for boosting energy in the body as well as strengthening the lungs.
In Chinese medicine, many diseases are thought to be caused by forces in our environment. These forces are referred to as the six external pathogenic influences, categorized as wind, cold, heat, dryness, dampness and summer heat.
Wind combines with either cold or heat to form two well-known patterns called wind cold and wind heat. With wind cold, most of the symptoms appear at the onset of a cold or flu when the pathogenic influences are just beginning to take hold. The first symptom tends to be feeling cold in a way that makes you reach for a blanket even if it's hot day. Other symptoms can include deep body aches, tight neck and upper back muscles, runny nose, headache and a general feeling of malaise.
The best remedy at this stage is to rest, stay warm and drink plenty of warm fluids. Try sipping hot ginger tea sweetened with honey while wrapped in a warm blanket. Eating homemade chicken or miso soup is also great because they’re warming, nourishing and easy to digest.
If you can identify these symptoms and act quickly, it is possible to purge the wind cold pathogen. But if you try to push through it without taking care of yourself, the wind cold stage can move into the next pattern, which is called wind heat.
At this stage, there are more symptoms, possibly including fever, sore throat, cough with yellow phlegm, thirst and a general feeling of irritability. As with wind cold, it’s best to get lots of rest and hydrate with warm fluids. Focus on drinking tea in the mint family or herbs that have a cooling effect rather than ginger.
Traditional Care Options
Chinese medicine offers many options for herbal support at each stage of a cold or flu. There are dozens of formulas, and all Chinese medicine practitioners have their favorites.
Gan Mao Ling is an herbal blend used for wind cold or wind heat stages. It's considered one of the most effective formulas, especially if started within the first 24 hours of symptoms.
If your cold and flu symptoms aren't getting better or are getting worse, book an appointment with an acupuncturist to help fine-tune your treatment plan. Acupuncture can also be effective in supporting your chi and removing any blocks along the meridian pathway.
Another effective tool is called Gua Sha, a folk medicine practice used to help the body expel toxins through the skin. It’s especially useful in the early stages of a cold or flu. A light scraping technique, Gua Sha typically involves a tool with a rounded edge and oil. This treatment also is fantastic tool for relaxing tight, stiff, or achy muscles that come with colds and flu.
Consult With Your Team
There’s never just one path to healing, and as we continue to live in a time of COVID-19, it’s even more important to consult with trusted providers for advice and wisdom. When you experience symptoms of a cold or flu in this environment, you may be concerned that you are suffering from a more serious infection, including COVID-19. In these cases, consult with your Western allopathic doctors, and, if appropriate, get tested for your safety and for the safety of your community.