Secrets to fight the common cold using Chinese medicine

I started writing this post a few weeks ago, feeling pretty smug and self-righteous that I didn’t catch the cold that everyone around me was carrying. Most people I knew weren’t completely ill, but as their cold progressed it would fall off and become a chest problem, and they would have a big, looping cough that lasted a good four to six weeks. .

Then over the weekend I caught a cold, or what I would describe as the shadow of a cold. I wasn’t really sick, but I felt a little bad. I caught The Cough, but only for about a week. So yeah, I caught a cold, and now I don’t feel so smug. However, I believe what I had did not turn into a full blown cold/flu event due to the precautions I took.

There’s never a good time to catch a cold – it won’t kill you, but you’re still miserable. Not only do you feel bad, but you need your full attention to deal with it. It’s hard to focus on anything else when your nose is runny, your body aches, your throat feels like sandpaper, and you have a cough that sounds like a foghorn.

The reality is that you are exposed to viruses and bacteria on a daily basis that can give you a terrible cold or the flu. And yet, unless you’re really unlucky or your immune system isn’t doing its job, you don’t catch every bug floating around. Most of the time, you catch a cold or the flu when your energy is low, you’re stressed, or you’re overwhelmed. I believe most people can sense when they are about to catch a cold and in many cases have a day or two to fight it off.

In Chinese theory, your immune system works like a protective bubble or barrier. When you get sick, it’s either because that protective bubble is weak, or because the pathogen was particularly powerful. Either way, treating the common cold in Chinese medicine is all about keeping your outer bubble strong enough to ward off invaders from the outside.

In Chinese medicine, the strategy for avoiding a cold is to keep your protective barrier strong by keeping your energy strong. However, if you are fighting a cold, the strategy changes to prevent the cold from getting worse and making you really sick. If you do this successfully, you may be able to bounce back with just a scratchy throat instead of having the full event, coughing, hacking, runny nose.

The good news is that there are ways to increase your chances of staying healthy from a cold. Here are some of my top strategies for fighting a cold if you feel one coming on, plus some things you can do to feel a little better if you do catch one.

  • The classic Chinese remedy for fighting a cold is to have a broth with chopped scallions and grated ginger, then go to bed and sweat it out. (A hot shower or sauna will also do the trick) Green onions and ginger are hot herbs that help fight colds in the early stages. Moreover, this remedy is really delicious!
  • If you start to feel a cold, rest. It sounds simple, but your body uses energy to fight this thing, so give it a hand. Also, your body heals when you rest, so if you think you can get through it and avoid catching a cold, in most cases you’ll lose.
  • Consider using Chinese herbs. There are a number of formulas that can be effective, depending on what you have going on. A classic, Yin Chiao, is based on an ancient formula and is good for treating symptoms that involve a very sore throat and high fever. However, there are others that are better for drying up phlegm, resolving congested sinuses, and dealing with coughs. My best advice is to work with a qualified Chinese herbal practitioner to prescribe the best combination for your particular symptoms.
  • Try zinc. Research on zinc suggests it can shorten the length of your cold by a day or two. I have found zinc to be effective in fighting a cold if you take it early enough, within the first 24 hours of feeling symptoms. Zinc has antiviral properties, so at the first blush of a viscous sore throat, I start taking a little zinc, and in most cases I can avoid a full-fledged cold. A few precautions with zinc: it can upset your stomach, so take it with food and never more than about 25mg at a time. Additionally, zinc can impair your sense of smell, so avoid nasal preparations containing zinc.
  • Drink tea. Pushing tea is a good strategy whether you have a cold or are fighting a cold. Warm liquids help soothe your throat and loosen phlegm so it can drain. Some good choices are Throat Coat from Traditional Medicinals and Breathe Deep, made by Yogi. Both brands include a good combination of herbs to soothe a sore throat, help open your sinuses, and strengthen your lungs.
  • Give up the cough. I recommend Loquat and Fritillary Cough Syrup which can be found at most Asian grocery stores, herbal pharmacies or through your acupuncture practitioner. It calms coughs and contains herbs to dry up the phlegm that causes it. However, in a pinch, if I don’t have a cough syrup, I’ll use lemon juice and honey in hot water or tea.

During my last cold, I took zinc, lots of Chinese herbs, did the ginger and scallion thing, drank my fair share of tea, and took Loquat and Fritillary cough syrup. I ended up with some kind of cold, where I wasn’t actually sick, but I was constantly on the verge of staying there for about a week. I credit Chinese medicine with keeping me on this side of being really miserable.

Republished from AcupunctureTwinCities