By: Matt Sutherland
As modern science continues to unravel the complexity of virus behavior on a cellular level in humans, cold sufferers should be reminded that the Chinese medical system has successfully treated viral infections, like the common cold, for several thousand years. Rather than try to eradicate the virus, Chinese medicine subscribes to a model of peaceful coexistence, believing the pathogens are a natural complement to our healthy bodies. If, however, the body’s defenses are in a weakened state and disease occurs, Chinese practitioners will seek to arouse the body’s own healing force to effectively expel the pathogen through sweat, urine, and feces.
The cold-prevention recommendations of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) fall under three categories: diet, emotions, and exercise. Briefly, here’s what TCM practitioners suggest to bolster the immune system, from The Common Cold: Help from Chinese Medicine, a recently released book from the Beijing-based People’s Medical Publishing House by Liu En-Zhao and Carl Stimson.
Diet: To benefit from TCM’s dietary recommendations as it relates to preventing colds, patients must first decipher whether they have a hot, neutral, or cold constitution. How does one know? Take ginger, for example. After eating a small amount of fresh ginger, do you experience “excessive internal fire, such as sweating, red swollen eyes, sore throat, thirst, dry mouth, and constipation”? If so, you lean toward a hot constitution (on the yang side) and should seek out cooling foods like watermelon, cucumber, soybean, etc., to balance. Otherwise, if you tend toward a neutral or cold constitution (yin-leaning, characterized by a predilection toward cold limbs, hypoimmunity, and an aversion to cold), you should balance by searching out warm or hot foods, such as chicken or beef, curry, garlic, wine, etc., to move back toward a balanced constitution. TCM also strongly discourages overeating. It believes diet can restore balance inside the body, improve the immune system, and act as an auxiliary therapy with other treatments.
Emotions: TCM recognizes seven emotions to keep in check because excessive (or passive) emotions will harm various organs. Those emotions include overjoy, anger, anxiety, overthinking, sadness, fear, and fright. Optimism is key for regulation emotions. To regulate your emotions, En-Zhao and Stimson suggest two methods: one, a brief centering/clear-the-mind technique; and the other, listening to calm-inducing music.
Exercise: Regarding exercise, TCM encourages slow, rhythmic, breath-centric forms of exertion, incorporating all parts of the body, as opposed to the Western approach, which typically isolates body parts and muscle groups and prescribes strenuous sets or repetitions.
When You Get Sick: If a generally healthy patient (without a weakened constitution) develops a cold, En-Zhao and Stimson write, “it is caused by exogenous pathogens trapped in the superficial layer; therefore, relieving the exterior method is applied to expel the pathogens through sweat.” To induce sweating, TCM recognizes two categories of plant-based, exterior-releasing medicinals: warm and pungent, and cool and pungent. Ephedra, perilla leaf and stem, fresh ginger, saposhnikovia root, and scallion bulb all fall under warm medicinals. The cool and pungent plants include peppermint, bupleurum, and chrysanthemum flower.
TCM doctors will observe a patient’s overall symptoms, factoring in the individualized warm or cold patterns, before prescribing a suitable medicinal formula. The above mentioned beneficial plants need to be minimally processed before use, usually boiled and filtered. You are advised to consult a reputable TCM source. The medicinals also can be purchased at a Chinese medicinal pharmacy.
Acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion (burning a medicinal substance like mugwort leaf, and placing the warmed remains on an acupoint of the body), massage, and cupping (drawing blood outward toward the skin through oxygen-depleted glass cups) are also part of TCM’s primary arsenal of treatments for the common cold. Their theories and practices are too involved to cover here, but they do require a trained TCM practitioner, knowledgeable in the body’s energy channels and collaterals.