Western medicine defines a cold as an acute, highly contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory tract-also called acute rhinitis. Thousands of different viruses and rhinoviruses can cause the common cold; individuals with lowered resistance due to disease, age, or inadequate diet and nutrition are most susceptible. The symptoms, which vary with the particular virus and the individual’s reaction to that virus, include a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, “stuffy” head, minor headaches, general achiness, sore throat, cough, and in some cases fever. The average cold lasts seven to fourteen days, with symptoms subsiding after three to four days.
Influenza (flu) is an acute infectious epidemic disease caused by several related viruses, with new strains appearing every year. After a brief incubation period, the symptoms appear suddenly, as the virus enters the respiratory tract and spreads through the body, causing fever, chills, headache, sore throat, cough, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal disturbances, and muscle aches and pains.
If you have a cold, your doctor will probably suggest that you get plenty of sleep, drinks lots of fluids, keep warm, avoid abrupt changes in temperature,eat moderately, and use over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, and antihistamines to relieve the symptoms. Although antibiotics are useless against viral infections, they are sometimes prescribed to prevent or treat complications of colds,which include sinusitis, middle ear infections, and lower respiratory tract infections.
For the flu, doctors will suggest the same general-treatment strategies with some modifications. Because of the nausea and vomiting that accompany the flu, you may be advised to avoid eating or restrict yourself to liquid foods. Antibiotics are also useless against flu viruses but may be prescribed to avoid complications associated with secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia.
Many doctors are becoming increasingly sensitive to the effects of nutrition, exercise, and general stress on immune function and offer their patients advice on dietary changes, nutritional supplements,exercise programs, healthy sleep patterns, and stress-reduction techniques. Increasing numbers of doctors are also becoming aware of the dangers associated with excessive antibiotic use-including the destruction of friendly bacteria, the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and generalized immune suppression, and prescribe these powerful drugs only when absolutely necessary.
If you are elderly, if you have chronic lung,heart, or kidney disease, if you are “immune compromised”by chronic immune disorders such as cancer or AIDS, or if you catch every flu that comes around, your doctor might suggest a yearly flu shot. Flu shots contain vaccines against three of the most common or expected strains of viral infections for a particular season, and they are administered before flu season begins. Unfortunately, flu shots offer no guarantee that you will be completely protected against all strains of flu.
Colds and flus can be extremely frustrating for both patients and doctors, because in the absence of a cure the basic advice remains: “Grit your teeth and get through it.”
TRADITIONAL CHINESE INTERPRETATION
The doctor trained in traditional Chinese medicine would interpret recurring colds and flus as indications of deficient wei chi, which in turn reflects deficient Lung and Kidney energies. The Kidneys provide fuel for the Lungs, which are responsible for creating wei chi from jing chi (inherited energy stored in the kidneys), gu chi (energy derived from food and drink and stored in the Spleen/ Pancreas), shen chi(energy obtained from our interpersonal relationships and stored in the Heart), and da chi (energy-synthesized from the air we breathe and stored in the Lungs). If the Kidney fires are depleted, the Lungs don’t have enough energy available to produce sufficient amounts of wei chi. When the wei chi is weakened or depleted, the Five Devils have an easier time finding their way into the body,where they can wreak havoc in the form of colds and flus.
The symptoms of colds and flus often reflect our affinity with a particular element. If the sinuses,throat, and upper respiratory tract are affected whenever you get a cold or flu, you might have a Metal imbalance, because these are the areas Metal governs. If the symptoms concentrate in your joints and muscles-areas ruled by Wood energy-an imbalance in Wood is suspected. A flu accompanied by digestive ailments suggests an Earth imbalance;heart palpitations, thought dysfunctions, and anxiety indicate a Fire disharmony, while lower back-pain, stiffness in the knees, lethargy, and recurrent urinary infections point to a Water imbalance.The symptoms will also vary depending on which Devil penetrates the system.For colds and flus, Wind/Cold and Wind/Heat are the most common manifestations of external invasion:Wind/Cold: Wind/Cold invasions begin suddenly(Wind) and include chills (Cold), an aversion to cold (Cold), and body aches and pains(Cold) that tend to migrate and move around(Wind). A runny nose is a Wind symptom, while clear or white mucus, a stiff neck, and headaches in the back of the head where the neck and skull join (the occipital area) are consider Cold symptoms.
Wind/Heat: Wind/Heat invasions begin suddenly(Wind) with fever and sore throat (Heat),runny nose (Wind) with yellow or green mucus(Heat), possible skin eruptions such as fever blisters,rashes, or hives (Heat and Wind), agitation,irritability, and dark urine (Heat).
The severity of the cold and/or flu symptoms depends on the virulence of the invading pathogen and the strength of the wei chi. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe that periodic colds or flus are actually beneficial because they challenge the wei chi, which, like most living organisms,can become lazy when untested and unprepared.All competitive athletes “test” their skills repeatedly before a major event, even to the point of straining muscles. The immune system also thrives on competition, and minor colds and flus are considered an important way to keep the wei chi on its toes.
However, if you catch every cold or flu that comes around, if your symptoms include severe fatigue or generalized weakness, and if your recovery time stretches into weeks or months, you are receiving strong signals that your immune system is weak and unable to meet the challenge. Numerous complementary treatments are available to help you restore health and vigor.
To ease the symptoms and speed up recovery from colds and flus, try these specific dietary strategies:
- Whenever you have a cold or flu, restrict your diet to easy-to-digest foods such as chicken broth,vegetable juice, apple juice, dry toast, and bananas.
- Garlic contains a potent antibiotic called allicin,which is released when the raw cloves are chopped,crushed, or chewed. (Cooking destroys the volatile oils.) To get rid of a cold or flu, crush one clove of raw garlic in a teaspoon of honey and swallow. Garlic is most potent when raw; in garlic supplements the herb’s volatile oils, which are responsible for its characteristic strong odor (and many of its infection-fighting agents), are often removed. Nevertheless,if raw garlic is too strong for you, garlic supplements are still effective in combating colds and flus. Take one capsule one to three times daily.Be sure to buy the enteric-coated capsules, which are easier to digest.
- You can also make garlic oil by chopping four to six cloves of garlic and heating them (don’t boil or fry them) in a pint of olive oil. Put one teaspoon of the oil in lemon juice or water, and drink it, repeating every hour as needed. (Garlic oil is also extremely effective for relieving the pain and inflammation of middle ear infections; use an eyedropper to put a few drops in the affected ear.)
- Grapefruit’s sour, bitter qualities support the Liver in its efforts to remove toxins from the blood.Grapefruit is also loaded with vitamin C, an extremely effective immune-supporting nutrient. Eat one or more grapefruits daily, with the pulp, to build immunity and fight off colds or flus.
- Drink hot lemon water throughout the day to replace lost fluids, break down mucus in the respiratory system, and provide extra vitamin C for your immune system. To make lemon-water, squeeze a fresh lemon into a cup of hot water;if you want, add honey as a sweetener. Drink four to six glasses of lemon water daily.
- A diaphoretic (sweat-inducing) tea will help your body break a fever by inducing sweat. Garlic,ginger, yarrow, and mint are wonderful herbs for both colds and flus; use any combination of these herbs that tastes (and feels) good to you. Boneset is particularly effective in breaking fevers and relieving the muscle aches and pains that accompany the flu; the name comes from the herb’s early use for relieving symptoms of breakbone fever (dengue)and has nothing to do with bones. These herbs and herbal teas are available in many health food stores.
- Be sure to drink plenty of water to replace fluids lost through perspiration and vomiting. Sip water regularly if you have the flu; when your stomach settles down, drink vitamin-rich beverages such as apple juice and vegetable juice. Chicken broth is always good for replacing fluids and making you feel nourished.
- Whenever you drink hot beverages (lemon water,teas, or broth), breathe deeply of the vapors to warm up your respiratory tract and make it less hospitable to rhinoviruses, which like a cooler environment.
For chronic and recurrent colds and flu, we recommend that you avoid strenuous exercise and follow your doctor’s advice to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. When you start to feel better,try gentle exercises like walking, swimming, or bicycling(twenty to thirty minutes daily) until you have regained your energy and can engage in more vigorous activities.
For acute flare-ups of colds or flus accompanied by chills, sore throat, stuffy head and chest, sinus congestion,headache, and/or fever, take the following supplements for five days:
- Multivitamin and mineral supplement: To make sure you get sufficient micronutrients, take a multivitamin and mineral supplement every day. Ask your health care practitioner or health food store owner to recommend a balanced, easily absorbed formula providing between 100 and 200 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowances for vitamins and minerals.
- Vitamin C: Numerous studies support claims that vitamin C boosts immune function and can prevent and treat the common cold; if you’re interested in learning more about this amazing vitamin, read Vitamin C and the Common Cold by two-time Nobel-laureate Linus Pauling.Take 1,000-2,000 mg. (1-2 grams) every two hours,up to 16-20 grams daily; if you experience diarrhea or loose stools, cut back on the dosage until the symptoms disappear. When your symptoms have subsided, return to a maintenance dose of 2,000-4,000mg. (2-4 grams) daily.
- Beta-carotene (vitamin A): Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the intestines, but unlike vitamin A it is not toxic even in large doses. Vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the body’s mucous membranes and helping the cells and tissues establish a natural impermeability to external pathogens. Vitamin A also supports antibody response, enhances natural-killer-cell functions,supports monocyte functions, and strengthens the activities of the thymus gland, which produces the immune system’s T-cells. Like vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium, beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant, protecting your cells and tissues against the irritating, potentially damaging effects of pollutants in the air, food, and water. Take25,000 I.U. daily. Note: If you have liver damage or disease, do not exceed 5,000 I.U. of vitamin A without consulting with your health care practitioner.
- Garlic: Crush one clove of garlic in a teaspoon of honey and swallow. Repeat every four or five hours. You can substitute garlic capsules for the raw garlic; take two capsules three times daily.
- Zinc: Zinc enhances thymus gland function, supports the production of antibodies, and enhances white-blood-cell activities. Take 30 mg. as a preventive,and up to 60 mg. daily when actively fighting a cold or flu. Chelated forms of zinc-zinc gluconate,zinc citrate, and zinc monomethionine — are more easily absorbed than other forms; we prefer zinc gluconate because it is less irritating to the digestive tract. If you have a sore throat, try zinc lozenges instead of the capsules; follow the instructions on the package.
To strengthen the immune system and prevent colds and flus:
- Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia or Echinacea purpura):Herbalists recommend taking echinacea as soon as you feel the first symptoms of a cold or flu- as many people have discovered, the symptoms often disappear thereafter. Recent research conducted in Germany and England showed that people taking low doses of echinacea every day for periods as long as two to three years had significantly fewer colds, flus, and other infections than a control group of the general population as a whole. (Low level doses are often recommended for people with cancer, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, and HIV/AIDS.)If you decide to try low-level doses, take ten to fifteen drops of the tincture daily, or two capsules every morning. If you use echinacea only when you feel a cold or flu coming on, take a teaspoon of the tincture every two hours, or two to three capsules three or four times (for a total of six to twelve capsules),daily.
- Astragalus: This extremely safe, supportive herb has been used for thousands of years to increase energy and strengthen resistance to disease. A combination of equal parts echinacea and astragalus will help prevent colds and flus or relieve the symptoms of the illness.
For acute flare-ups of the upper respiratory tract, a potent yet balanced formula would include equal amounts of the following herbs:•
- Echinacea, an immune-boosting herb with antimicrobial, antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal qualities•
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), a natural antibiotic and immune booster•
- Osha root (Ligusticum porteri), an anti-infective agent that has powerful healing effects on the entire respiratory system•
- Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), a gentle expectorant and antimicrobial agent that the Chinese call “the Great Unifier” because of its ability to bring out the best qualities of all the herbs in the formula.
For acute flare-ups affecting the stomach and bowels:•
- Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is the best herb available for the stomach and digestive tract. For colds and flus, ginger helps to reduce fevers by inducing sweating, and it generally soothes and heals the entire digestive tract. A good tonic for stomach or intestinal flus would include equal parts:Ginger, a digestive herb that alleviates nausea and promotes sweating
- Echinacea, an immune-supporting, antimicrobial herb
- Goldenseal, a natural antibiotic and immune system enhancer. Dosage: If you purchase your herbs in a health food store (either in tincture form or, as dried herbs, in capsule or pill form), follow the dosage instructions on the label. Because herbs in dried form tend to lose their potency rather quickly, be sure to check the label for the expiration date.
Complementary Herbal Formulations
(Traditionally, in both Western and Chinese cultures, the combining of herbs is of superior value than the individual parts. After over thirty years as an herbalist, the synergy of certain herbs became apparent and this understanding has been used to create our own Integral Health Apothecary formulas. We are also listing tradition Chinese herbal tonics which exemplify this synergy.)
- Jasons Famous Cold and Flu Formula developed over many years of practice, this formula is effective in alleviating cold and flu symptoms as well as boosting immune function. Effective as well as an immunolgical prophylactic during cold/flu seasons. This is our most popular and relied upon formulation that has found a trusted place in many of the medicine cabinets of our community.
- To strengthen your immune system and prevent colds and flus, we recommend Ginseng and Astragalus Combination, (Bu Zhong Yi Qi Wan -“Support the Center, Benefit Energy Pills”):This formula features ginseng and astragalus as the Emperor herbs, supported by eight attending herbs that work together to aid digestion, support the Kidneys, and balance Liver and Spleen energies.Take a full dropper full two to three times a day, or as directed by your health care provider.
- For acute flare-ups of colds or flus: Gan Mao Ling Pian (“Common Cold Effective Tablets”):Herbalists in China and throughout the world rely on this formula to prevent or combat the symptoms of colds and flus. The Emperor herb in this formula is isatis, which is famous for its antiviral qualities. Attending herbs (ilex root, evodia fruit,chrysanthemum flower, vitex fruit, lonicera flower,and menthol crystals) help the immune system neutralize and eliminate the invading pathogens. They relieve acute flare-ups of Wind/Cold (chills, aching muscles, nasal congestion, stuffy nose, sore throat,stiff neck and shoulders) and/or Wind/Heat (fever,swollen glands, headache). Take four pills three times daily, and continue until the symptoms have abated.
- Po Chai Pills (“Pill Curing Pills”): More than twenty herbs in this formula, which has been called”Chinese Alka-Seltzer,” work gently and effectively to combat the symptoms of acute stomach flus and dispel Wind/Damp conditions in the Spleen and Stomach, including gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. The pills are actually tiny pellets, with approximately seventy pellets contained in a small plastic vial. Take one vial every three to four hours as needed for relief of symptoms. This formula is considered safe enough for small children.
These gentle Chinese patent remedies can safely be combined with any of the following Western herbs. If you need help choosing the most effective formula or combination of herbs for your symptoms,consult an experienced herbalist.
- LUNG 9 (“Great Abyss”): The Chinese believe this acupoint offers a direct line to the Lungs. It is frequently used to activate and energize the Lung chi, helping to treat colds, bronchitis, asthma, and sinus infections; strengthen the wei chi (which originates in the Lungs); regulate the blood vessels, moving the blood through its channels to remove obstructions;support the yin (fluid) energy, helping to resolve anxiety, palpitations, and irritability; and balance Metal energies. Location: Lung 9 is located on the crease on the palm side of the wrist in the depression at the base of the thumb (about half an inch in from the side of the wrist).
- CONCEPTION VESSEL 17 (“Sea of Tranquillity”):This powerful immune-stimulating point provides strong support for the Lungs, which, in turn, produce the wei chi. It also nourishes the Heart, which houses the shen (spirit), thus relieving the anxiety and depression that so often accompany serious chronic illnesses. Location: Conception Vessel l7 is located between the nipples on the center of the breastbone, directly above the thymus gland (the originating source of the T-cells). Gently massage this point with your fingers, using circular, clockwise motions.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Recurrent colds and flus are a sign that the wei chi is weak and needs support. In a very real sense, they signal that the wei chi is languishing from neglect. Have you ignored your body’s cries for help, believing, perhaps, that your immune system is completely self-sufficient and doesn’t require your active support?
The following questions will help you focus on the ways in which you can buildup your defenses to prevent recurring illnesses. Focus on one or two questions that relate most directly to your particular situation:
- How do I neglect myself?
- In what areas of my life do I feel defenseless?
- How do my recurrent illnesses prevent me from dealing with certain conflicts in my life?
- How do my continual illnesses prevent me from achieving my goals in life?
- Is my illness asking me to take time off and think about the pressures and stresses that make me sick?
- What needs to be cleansed and eliminated from my life?
- Do I have a plan to maintain my health with diet,exercise, stress-reduction techniques, and other healing strategies?•
- Do I have a plan to heal myself when I first begin to feel sick?