As the weather dives into lower temps, we enter yet another cold and flu season. It’s the time of year when the chances of “coming down with something” increase.
If you do end up with either a cold or the flu, you can take a proactive approach to support your body in recovering as fast as possible.
Though there’s currently no cure for the common cold or flu, simply letting your sickness run its roughly 10-day course isn’t the only option.
For starters, getting your flu shot can go a long way toward prevention. On top of that, you can boost your immunity even more to potentially prevent catching something in the first place.
If you do end up getting sick, there are ways to help reduce symptom severity and speed you toward recovery.
One way to do that is with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remedies that may stimulate your body’s natural healing capabilities.
TCM is a type of traditional medicine system that originated in China. It involves a comprehensive toolkit of complementary practices, including:
- diet therapy
- physical approaches like tai chi and qi gong
- gua sha
- massage, or tuina
- sports medicine
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 opposing energies of life
- Wu Xing, or five elements theory
According to Leng Tang-Ritchie, doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine (DAOM) and director of clinical services at Pacific College of Health and Science, different factors may lead to the common cold and flu depending on how the condition presents in each individual person.
“That means that we treat differently depending on whether the patient’s symptoms are predominately presenting as heat, cold, or even dampness,” says Tang-Ritchie.
“In Western medicine, we describe it as a common 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,” says Kung. “It could be a qi issue, a blood issue, or yin and yang issue — so it’s a little bit different.”
Strengthening your immune system is the first step in preventing the cold or flu.
“Keeping your immune system healthy is best,” advises doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine (DACM) Tom Ingegno. “Visits to your TCM practitioner during late summer and early fall can help build up your immune system with herbs and acupuncture that are specifically aimed at keeping you healthy.”
So how do you keep your immune system in tip-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 the patient’s constitution and prescribe a treatment plan to strengthen that element.”
She suggests getting a personalized blend of herbs based on an assessment by a licensed professional.
“Although individual herbs are great, the real magic comes in Chinese herbal formulas,” says Logman.
“Chinese herbs and herbology are basically the backbone of Chinese medicine,” says Kung. “Herbs are actually the best thing when it comes to the common cold and flu.”
Still, Kung cautions that there are important things to keep in mind when taking herbs, like:
- take only herbs suggested by a board certified TCM practitioner
- tell your practitioner about any other medications you take or conditions you have
- take herbs consistently for the prescribed period of time
Licensed, board 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 may need
- whether to take them in capsule, tincture, or tea form
- how often you should take them
Consistently taking herbs is key to seeing the best results.
Some common herbal formulations include:
Jade windscreen powder
This is a classic herbal mix used in China since the Yu Ping Feng San dynasty, which translates as “jade windscreen” in English.
The mix is a powdered blend of:
It’s used to bolster the immune system and safeguard the body from viral and bacterial infections.
Warming herbs like ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon
When sick, you can easily make yourself a warming tea with these common kitchen herbs.
“When it comes to common colds and the flu, you want to break a sweat to get everything out,” says Kung. “These help to heat up the body in a way that’s not too dangerous. It pushes and brings on the sweat and helps to warm up the body.”
Ginger is already known to be antiviral and antibacterial, and it helps with reducing nausea. Chop the ginger up and steep 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 full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. It can help fight bacterial and fungal infections.
You can make a tea of cinnamon, Chinese dates, and ginger to help with cold and flu symptoms.
Gui Zhi Tang
You might recognize the ingredients in Gui Zhi Tang:
This blend is recommended by Tang-Ritchie for a cold or flu that comes with:
- body aches
- clear nasal discharge
- slight sweating
“This formula will relieve body aches, encourage sweating, and act as a decongestant,” she says. “Patients should drink lots of warm fluids while taking this formula.”
Yin Qiao San
For colds that lean more toward a mild fever, chills, and a slight sore throat, Tang-Ritchie suggests the Yin Qiao San herbal formula. It includes:
- honeysuckle flowers
- peppermint leaves
- fermented soybeans, or natto
- bamboo leaves
- edible burdock
- balloon flower root
The formula may help reduce thirst and fever and relieve a sore throat.
“Both 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 (a common cold effective remedy) if the sore throat is more pronounced.”
Take only herbs prescribed by a board certified, licensed TCM practitioner. Even though many of the above ingredients are mild, it’s always best to check with a professional when taking any herbs regularly.
TCM emphasizes holistic wellness and balance, which means it often involves more than one approach.
The below treatments 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 unguent, like massage oil or balm. It can be performed by a TCM practitioner or you can do it at home if your practitioner shows you how.
“Try gua sha on the chest and upper back,” suggests Ingegno.
He notes that though we see many influencers using gua sha tools for facial treatments, one of its real uses is to break up congestion in the lungs.
“By scraping these areas and breaking surface capillaries, we increase circulation to symptomatic areas and stimulate a healing response, including an increase in white blood cells,” Ingegno adds.
Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into specific points on the skin to stimulate a desired response.
It may calm inflammation caused by cold or flu viruses and help your immune system defend your body by promoting circulation, wound healing, and pain modulation.
TCM practitioners can use cupping to create suction and increase blood flow to an area by placing cups on the skin. This can alleviate 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 ease breathing discomfort,” explains 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 of ground mugwort leaves, either directly on your skin or indirectly on acupuncture needles in your body.
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Always be 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 the professional licenses recognized by the state you live in.
If you live in New York, for example, you can use a tool on the Office of the Professions website to check out your practitioner’s credentials.
You can also check with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) to see whether your practitioner is accredited.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a broad toolkit of practices and herbs to help support you through the cold and flu season.
As with all medical and complementary treatments, always seek treatment from a licensed medical professional. Never take herbs or perform any of the practices mentioned on your own without consulting a practitioner.
Done properly, TCM practices can help you get 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 Pacific Islander Desi American creatives. Located in the Bay Area of California, she bilingual homeschools her four kids in Chinese and English. You can follow her at mandarinmama.com.