Cold and flu treatments from traditional Chinese medicine
As the weather dips into lower temperatures, we are entering yet another cold and flu season. This is the time of year when the chances of “falling with something” increase.
If you end up with a cold or the flu, you can take a proactive approach to help your body recover as quickly as possible.
While there is currently no cure for a cold or the flu, just letting your illness run for about 10 days is not the only option.
For starters, getting the flu shot can go a long way in prevention. On top of that, you can boost your immunity even further to potentially avoid catching anything in the first place.
If you do end up getting sick, there are ways to reduce the severity of your symptoms and speed up your recovery.
One way to do this is to use traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) remedies which can stimulate your body’s natural healing abilities.
TCM is a type of traditional medicine system that originated in China. It is a comprehensive toolkit of complementary practices, including:
TCM’s philosophy is generally based on Chinese concepts of:
- qi, the vital energy supposed to guide physical and mental processes
- yin and yang, the opposite energies of life
- Wu Xing, or the theory of the five elements
According to Leng tang ritchie, Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) and Director of Clinical Services at the Pacific College of Health and Science, different factors can lead to colds and flu depending on how the disease presents itself in each person.
“This means that we treat differently depending on whether the patient’s symptoms are mainly in the form of heat, cold or even humidity,” says Tang-Ritchie.
“In Western medicine, we describe it as a cold or the flu,” says Debbie kung, DAOM and certified acupuncturist (LAc).
In TCM, she notes, the perspective focuses on the individual.
“We actually see this as different scenarios,” Kung explains. “It could be a qi issue, a blood issue, or a yin and yang issue – so it’s a little different.”
Strengthening your immune system is the first step in preventing a cold or the flu.
“It’s best to keep your immune system healthy,” advises a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine (DACM) Tom ingegno. “Visiting your TCM practitioner in late summer and early fall can help boost your immune system with herbs and acupuncture that are specifically aimed at keeping you healthy.”
So how do you keep your immune system in tip-top shape?
In addition to prevention, TCM uses herbs and foods to help support your body’s natural healing function.
According to Irina Logman, DACM and owner of the Advanced Holistic Center at Carillon Miami, “Practitioners can identify weak links in the patient’s constitution and prescribe a treatment plan to strengthen that element.”
She suggests getting a personalized blend of herbs based on an evaluation by a licensed professional.
“While the individual herbs are great, the real magic is in the Chinese herbal formulas,” says Logman.
“Chinese herbs and herbalism are basically the backbone of Chinese medicine,” Kung explains. “Herbs are actually the best thing you can do for colds and flu. “
Nonetheless, Kung cautions that there are some important things to keep in mind when taking herbs, such as:
- only take herbs suggested by a certified TCM practitioner
- tell your practitioner about any other medicines you are taking or conditions you have
- take herbs regularly for the prescribed period of time
Board-certified and certified TCM practitioners are required to memorize over 3,000 herbs, dosages, and interactions with other herbs and drugs.
They can tell you:
- what kind of herbs you might need
- whether to take them as a capsule, tincture or tea
- how often you should take them
Taking herbs regularly is the key to getting the best results.
Some common herbal formulations include:
Jade windshield powder
This is a classic herbal blend that has been used in China since the Yu Ping Feng San dynasty, which translates to “jade windshield” in English.
The mixture is a powder mixture of:
It is used to strengthen the immune system and protect the body against viral and bacterial infections.
Reheat herbs like ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon
When you are sick, you can easily make yourself a warming tea with these common cooking herbs.
“When it comes to colds and flu, you want to sweat to get it all out,” Kung explains. “These help warm the body in a way that is not too dangerous. It pushes and makes you sweat and helps warm the body.
Ginger is already known to be antiviral and antibacterial, and it helps reduce nausea. Chop the ginger and soak it in hot water, adding honey or lemon to taste.
Full of antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory benefits, turmeric can be added to bone broth or taken in pill form.
Like turmeric, cinnamon is also loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. It can help fight bacterial and fungal infections.
You can make cinnamon, Chinese dates, and ginger tea to relieve cold and flu symptoms.
Gui Zhi Tang
You may recognize the ingredients of Gui Zhi Tang:
This mixture is recommended by Tang-Ritchie for a cold or flu that is accompanied by:
“This formula will relieve muscle aches, encourage sweating and act as a decongestant,” she says. “Patients should drink plenty of warm fluids while taking this formula. “
Yin Qiao San
For colds that lean more toward mild fever, chills, and a mild sore throat, Tang-Ritchie suggests the Yin Qiao San herbal formula. He understands:
The formula can help reduce thirst and fever and relieve a sore throat.
“Honeysuckle flowers and forsythia have strong antiviral properties,” says Tang-Ritchie. “Sometimes Yin Qiao San is combined with a more potent antiviral formula called Gan Mao Ling (an effective cold remedy) if the sore throat is more severe.”
Only take herbs prescribed by a certified and licensed TCM practitioner. Even though many of the above ingredients are mild, it’s always best to check with a professional when taking any herbs regularly.
TCM emphasizes holistic well-being and balance, which means that it often involves more than one approach.
The treatments below can help prevent and recover from colds and flu in addition to herbs.
Gua sha involves repeatedly scratching your skin in a downward motion with a tool after applying an ointment, such as massage oil or balm. It can be done by a TCM practitioner or you can do it at home if your practitioner shows you how.
“Try gua sha on the chest and upper back,” suggests Ingegno.
He notes that while we see many influencers using gua sha tools for facial treatments, one of its real uses is to break up congestion in the lungs.
“By scratching these areas and breaking the surface capillaries, we increase circulation to symptomatic areas and stimulate a healing response, including an increase in white blood cells,” adds Ingegno.
Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into specific points on the skin to stimulate the desired response.
It can calm inflammation caused by cold and flu viruses and help your immune system defend your body by promoting circulation, wound healing, and pain modulation.
TCM practitioners can use suction cups to create suction and increase blood flow to an area by placing suction cups on the skin. It can relieve muscle tension and promote repair of cellular and connective tissue.
“Cupping and gua sha in the upper back can help clear chest congestion, reduce symptoms and relieve respiratory discomfort,” says Tang-Ritchie. “We use a combination of these techniques depending on the specifics of each patient’s case.
The practice of TCM moxibustion involves burning moxa, a cone made from ground sagebrush leaves, either directly on your skin or indirectly on acupuncture needles in your body.
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Always make sure that you receive treatments like acupuncture, cupping, gua sha, moxibustion, and herbal remedies from a practitioner who is licensed professionally active to practice in your state.
You can search online for professional licenses recognized by the state in which you live.
If you live in New York, for example, you can use a tool on the Office des professions website to verify the credentials of your practitioner.
You can also check with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) to see if your practitioner is accredited.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has an extensive toolbox of practices and herbs to help you get through cold and flu season.
As with all medical and complementary treatments, always seek treatment from a licensed healthcare practitioner. Never take any herbs or perform any of the practices mentioned by yourself without consulting a practitioner.
Done right, TCM practices can help you get through cold and flu season with a little extra support.
Virginia Duan is the editor-in-chief of Mochi Magazine and you can find her work on various sites such as Scary Mommy, Romper, Mom.com, Diverging Mag, and Mochi Magazine. She reacts to K-pop on YouTube, hosts the Noona ARMY podcast, and founded BrAzn AZN, a series for American Desi creators from Asia-Pacific. Located in the Bay Area of California, she homeschool her four children in Chinese and English. You can follow her on mandarinmama.com.