Fighting Colds and Flu with Chinese Medicine
By Lorraine H. Harris, L.Ac., Dipl. O.M., & MTOM

In the face of colder weather and news reports about flu vaccine shortages, traditional Chinese medicine offers some time-honored wisdom to get you through the winter months. Although Chinese medicine is oriented towards preventing disease, there are many therapies to aid your recovery should you develop cold or flu symptoms.

The Chinese believe that pathogens enter the body through the pores and air passages, which are akin to an “open window” to the external environment. The all-too-familiar neck, shoulder, and body aches are usually the first indication that something has crossed the threshold. Fever and chills then signal that a battle is taking place to rid the body of the invading organism. The resultant sweating and coughing is the body’s way of pushing the pathogen back out through the very means by which it entered.

At the onset of the first signs of getting a cold or flu, try a hot bath, hot tea and a hot soup made from scallions and miso-a fermented soy paste that is readily available in health food stores-and then wrap up in blankets or towels to prompt the body to sweat. Keep the head, neck, and shoulders covered to avoid drafts. Consider laying low and staying in bed to rest and recuperate rather than slogging through your normal schedule at half strength. If possible, prepare your own meals, minimizing your exposure to other pathogens that might be present in foods prepared and served by many other people. And, surprising to many people, hold off on the vitamin supplements for a few days so that you do not nourish the pathogen as well.

In addition to these simple suggestions, a practitioner of Chinese medicine can reduce your recovery time by prescribing combinations of herbs and foods that are specific to your particular type of virus and using acupuncture to restore balance to the body’s systems. This is especially helpful for those who have a propensity toward asthma, bronchitis, or pulmonary disease. Chinese medicinal herbs that boost the immune system include various Asian mushrooms such as shiitake, reishi, maitake. Pears and apples are examples of foods that strengthen the lungs.

Working with your Chinese medical practitioner can help you navigate the stormy seas of the winter flu season and eliminate the constant concern of illness.