As the weather dips into lower temperatures, we enter another cold and flu season. This is the time of year when the chances of “falling with something” increase.
If you find yourself with a cold or the flu, you can take a proactive approach to help your body recover as quickly as possible.
Although there is currently no cure for the common cold or flu, simply letting your illness run its course for about 10 days is not the only option.
For starters, getting the flu shot can go a long way toward prevention. On top of that, you can boost your immunity even further to potentially avoid catching something in the first place.
If you do end up getting sick, there are ways to lessen the severity of symptoms and speed up your recovery.
One way to do this is to use Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remedies that can boost your body’s natural healing abilities.
TCM is a type of traditional medicine system that originated in China. This involves a full toolkit of complementary practices, including:
TCM’s philosophy is generally based on the Chinese concepts of:
- qi, the vital energy believed 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 illness presents in each person.
“That means we treat differently depending on whether the patient’s symptoms are primarily presenting as heat, cold, or even dampness,” says Tang-Ritchie.
“In Western medicine, we describe it as a cold or flu,” says Debbie Kung, DAOM and licensed acupuncturist (LAc).
In TCM, she notes, the perspective focuses on the individual.
“We actually look at it as different scenarios,” Kung explains. “It could be a qi problem, a blood problem or a yin and yang problem – so it’s a bit different.”
Strengthening your immune system is the first step in preventing the common cold or flu.
“It’s best to keep your immune system healthy,” advises Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (DACM) Doctor Tom Ingegno. “Visits to 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 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 a patient’s constitution and prescribe a treatment plan to strengthen that element.”
She suggests getting a custom blend of herbs based on an evaluation by a licensed professional.
“While the individual herbs are great, the real magic comes from the Chinese herbal formulas,” says Logman.
“Chinese herbs and herbalism are basically the backbone of Chinese medicine,” says Kung. “Herbs are actually the best thing when it comes to colds and flu.”
Still, Kung warns that there are some important things to keep in mind when taking herbs, like:
- only take herbs suggested by a certified TCM practitioner
- tell your practitioner about any other medications you are taking or any conditions you have
- taking herbs regularly for the prescribed period of time
Board-licensed and certified TCM practitioners are required to memorize over 3,000 herbs, dosages, and interactions with other herbs and medications.
They can tell you:
- what kind of herbs you might need
- whether to take them in capsule, tincture, or tea form
- how often should you take them
Taking herbs regularly is key to getting the best results.
Some common herbal formulations include:
Jade windshield powder
This is a classic herbal blend used in China since the Yu Ping Feng San dynasty, which translates to “jade windscreen” in English.
The mixture is a powdered mixture of:
It is used to strengthen the immune system and protect the body against viral and bacterial infections.
Warming herbs like ginger, turmeric and cinnamon
When you are sick, you can easily make yourself a warming tea with these common kitchen herbs.
“When it comes to colds and flu, you want to sweat it all out,” Kung says. “These help warm up the body in a way that is not too dangerous. It pushes and sweats and helps warm up the body.
Ginger is already known to be antiviral and antibacterial, and it helps reduce nausea. Chop the ginger and infuse 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 packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. It can help fight bacterial and fungal infections.
You can prepare an herbal tea of cinnamon, Chinese dates and ginger 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 body 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 mild sore throat, Tang-Ritchie suggests the Yin Qiao San herbal formula. He understands:
The formula can help reduce thirst and fever and relieve sore throats.
“Honeysuckle flowers and forsythia have strong antiviral properties,” says Tang-Ritchie. “Sometimes Yin Qiao San is combined with a stronger 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 gentle, it is always best to consult a professional when taking any herbs regularly.
TCM emphasizes holistic well-being and balance, which means it often involves more than one approach.
The treatments below can support cold and flu prevention and recovery in addition to herbs.
Gua sha involves repeatedly scraping 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 your chest and upper back,” suggests Ingegno.
He notes that while we see many influencers using gua sha tools for facial treatments, one of its true uses is to break up congestion in the lungs.
“By scraping 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 a desired response.
It can calm inflammation caused by cold or flu viruses and help your immune system defend your body by promoting circulation, healing wounds and modulating pain.
TCM practitioners can use cupping to create suction and increase blood flow to an area by placing cups on the skin. This can ease muscle tension and promote cellular and connective tissue repair.
“Cupping and gua sha on the upper back can help clear congestion in the chest, 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 TCM practice of moxibustion involves burning moxa, a cone made from ground mugwort 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 holds an active professional license 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 of the Professions website to verify your practitioner’s credentials.
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) offers an extensive toolkit 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 medical professional. Never take any herbs or perform any of the practices mentioned on your own without consulting a practitioner.
Done correctly, TCM practices can get you through cold and flu season with a little extra support.
Virginia Duan is the entertainment editor for Mochi Magazine and you can find her work on various sites like 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 Asian American Desi Pacific Island creatives. Located in the Bay Area of California, she homeschools her four bilingual children in Chinese and English. You can follow her on mandarinmama.com.