Every year, millions of people become ill with the common cold and the flu, or influenza, most often during the winter months. These respiratory conditions are caused by viruses. The flu can cause much more severe illness than colds and sometimes requires hospitalization. There is currently no medical cure for a viral infection. Most treatment methods aim to keep patients more comfortable while the illness runs its course. TCM and acupuncture methods actually boost the body’s ability to defend itself from germs and viruses in addition to helping to alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu.
A strong immune system is able to fight off colds and flus, but if a person’s natural defenses are compromised, a simple cold or flu is apt to turn into something more serious, like pneumonia, bronchitis, or a sinus infection. TCM focuses on year-round prevention of these types of illness by offering herbs and treatments that help create and maintain a healthy immune system.
TCM for Cold and Flu
TCM has a history of treating illness going back thousands of years. For centuries, acupuncturists and herbalists did not charge their patients when they were sick, because it was believed to be their job to keep people healthy in the first place. The best offense has always been a good defense.
Sun Simiao, a well-known doctor of the Ming dynasty (6th Century A.D.), wrote a 30-volume encyclopedia called Prescriptions for Emergencies Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold. This work not only described herbal formulas (although it did detail over 4000 of them), but treatments for all types of conditions, including entire volumes on the care of women and children.
Sun Simiao was practicing during a time of widespread infectious disease in China, and he developed herbal treatments for all types of illnesses, including what he would have called “blood fever.” His pioneering work is the basis for treatments we still use today for treating viruses. TCM herbal formulae not only help reduce suffering from uncomfortable symptoms; they offer proven efficacy in helping to stave off and slow down the spread of pathogens in the body. They can also help for speedier and more thorough recovery from illness.
Acupuncture and Herbal Formulas for Different Types of Cold and Flu
Typical symptoms of a cold include a runny nose, sneezing, congestion, coughing, sinus pressure, watery eyes, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches. Signs of a flu usually include fever, chills, sore throat, congestion, fatigue, muscle and body aches, runny nose, dry cough, sneezing and watery eyes. Different people react differently to viral infections. The specific combination of symptoms each individual experiences depends on his or her own constitution.
In TCM, we generally categorize the causes of illness into four types: internal factors, external factors, injuries, and exposure to toxins. External factors generally account for colds and flus. There are six sources of pathogens according to TCM:
The external pathogens responsible for colds are seen as invasions of wind, sometimes accompanied by cold and other times, heat. Chinese herbs and TCM modalities like acupuncture, cupping and gua sha can all be utilized when a wind pathogen enters the body. Gua sha and cupping draw toxins from the muscles and the blood and bring increased blood supply to those areas; this can be useful in the event of a wind-cold invasion. Chinese herbs have antiviral and antibacterial properties that help ward off the pathogens. Some herbs induce sweating that helps expel the pathogens from the system. The other type of cold is the wind-heat invasion, which can cause fever and chills.
TCM is Preventative Medicine for Colds and Flu
Clinical studies have suggested that using acupuncture as a preventative approach to colds and flu can reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infection and shorten the length of the illness. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine work by rebalancing the body’s systems, regulating the body’s healing energies and enhancing the immune system.
One of the main theories supporting acupuncture and its treatment of colds and the flu is the concept of Wei Qi. Wei Q is a defensive energy, similar to the Western concept of the immune system. Wei Qi functions as a barrier, protecting and defending the body against foreign substances that cause disease. When Wei Qi is strong and abundant, we remain healthy. Stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet can have a negative impact on Wei Qi, leaving the body more susceptible to pathogens.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are natural and effective ways to support the body’s own healing systems. If illness does occur, acupuncture can help you get back on your feet again, helping to stave off prolonged illness without the use of medication and over-the-counter drugs.
The best way to stay healthy and keep your loved ones healthy, whether it’s just another wintertime “cold and flu” season, or a global pandemic, is to be well-informed about prevention, how contagion spreads, and first steps to take when someone around you falls ill.
Prevention of Colds and Flu
First, pay close attention to the changing of the seasons and how your body is affected.
- Dress appropriately for the cooler temperatures and brisk winds of the fall season.
- Don’t try to fight the early dying of the light each day. Instead, be gentle with yourself, and find seasonal routines that involve turning in early and rising with the sun.
- As always, drink tea for good health!
- Limit sugar intake. Sugar taxes the immune system, especially when feeling under the weather.
- Regular acupuncture treatments help keep your entire body, especially the immune system, functioning at peak efficiency, so that when you come into contact with pathogens, your body is ready to fight them off quickly.
- Maintain a healthy diet, with as little processed food as possible.
- Drink lots of clean water with good mineral content.
- Avoid chemical medications that suppress your body’s natural functioning to overcome illness.
- Get plenty of exercise, fresh air, and sunlight–Vitamin D is very important.
To help stop contagious illness from spreading, you should, of course, wash your hands thoroughly and often. Pay attention to your sensations and intuition. If you start to feel run-down, weak, head-achey, or feverish, don’t dismiss it and try to push through your day. Slow down, and take it easy. Make an extra effort to avoid eating junk food or consuming alcohol. Don’t drink caffeine, either, even if you think you need to keep your energy up. Caffeine produces false feelings of energy that can cause you to overexert yourself, when you should try to rest.
Regular acupuncture “tune-ups” throughout the year are recommended to keep your immune system at the ready whenever cold and flu season appears. And if you or someone in your home is already feeling symptoms, call us at Art of Wellness right away, before it becomes more serious.