Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was developed thousands of years ago – long before technology could map out individual viruses – but when it comes to building up the body’s immune system and clearing out colds, its basic principles still hold up today. Relying on a logic that’s tied to natural phenomena and the body’s reaction to them, TCM can fill in the gaps that other healing modalities may miss. Here are a few key ways that you can help your body as we near the end of cold and flu season:
1. Bundle up
In TCM, the pathogens that cause colds especially like to attack the upper body, neck, and head, so wear a scarf, a thick jacket, and even a hat when you go outside, especially if it's windy and even if you don't think it's that cold. Keeping this area covered will also provide added benefits like decreasing allergy symptoms, neck stiffness, and upper back pain, as all of these issues can have a tie to the “wind” pathogen as well. If the weather is warming up where you live, think more in terms of blocking wind than keeping out cold and opt for light, airy scarves to keep your neck covered.
2. Use herbs that benefit the immune system
TCM believes there’s a big difference between boosting the immune system before you catch a cold and supporting it once you’ve caught one. It’s a great idea to use herbs like astragalus (huang qi) to tonify your immune system when you’re healthy, but remember to switch gears when you have symptoms like sore throat, feeling cold while being hot to the touch, or congestion. In TCM tonics will build up your body…but they’ll also build up a pathogen too. To prevent this, stop all tonifying herbs – i.e. astragalus, ginseng (ren shen), etc. – and switch to herbs that clear out pathogens, like peppermint (bo he), cinnamon (gui zhi), and ginger (sheng jiang). When in doubt, consult a Licensed Acupuncturist to know what category your favorite herbs fall in! (Of course, if you're a patient at our clinic, we'll keep careful track of your formulas and switch accordingly.)
3. Choose warming foods and drinks
Give your body the nutrients it needs to run at its best...but do so in a grounding seasonally appropriate way. Foods like watermelon and citrus are cooling and hydrating, which is why they're in season in summer. Winter produce like squash and potatoes are heartier and often need to be cooked anyway. Avoid tons of cold foods and opt for ones that make you feel warm inside and out.
4. Keep active
When a wind pathogen has recently entered the body – meaning you just woke up with a sore throat, have only been feeling achy for a few hours, or maybe don’t even have any symptoms yet! – TCM says the best way to get rid of it is to sweat it out. The wind pathogens that cause colds tend to get stuck on the exterior of our bodies, and opening the pores by making the body sweat releases them. While bundling up and eating warm foods will help with this, light exercise will guarantee that you’re perspiring…and give you a host of other health benefits as well.
5. Cut down on chemical fragrances
While not a principle of TCM because the ancient scholars didn’t have this issue, chemical fragrances are worth mentioning because they can have a significant impact on respiratory health. A British study found that the air inside homes could be more toxic than the air outside as people burned candles that contained synthetic chemicals that turned to formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. These chemicals irritate the respiratory system at any time of the year but can be worse in winter as the body's already taxed by changes in temperatures, dryness, etc. Decrease the amount of scented candles, plug-ins, and air fresheners you use in your home and replace them with fresh flowers, plants, and natural aromatics like essential oils. Not only will you be cutting your body’s toxic load but you’ll also provide it with the therapeutic benefits of natural products. Of course, once the weather warms up I highly recommend opening your windows and getting outside as well!
With any luck, this cold and flu season will be over soon, but in the meantime start putting some of these suggestions into practice and have the peace of mind that you’re giving your body extra support with millennia-old health “secrets”.
Kathleen Ellerie is a Licensed Acupuncturist and the owner of Beachside Community Acupuncture. She loves providing affordable acupuncture to the residents of Addison, Dallas, and Farmers Branch, Texas, and educating the general public on how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat everything from pain to infertility to stress and beyond. Click "Book Now" at the top of this page to book an appointment or feel free to contact her at (214) 417-2260.