Cold and flu season is already here, with winter right around the corner, we often get asked about what Chinese and natural medicine can do for these issues.
Colds and Flus from a Chinese medicine perspective
In some respects, Chinese medicine’s fundamental understanding is no different than Western medicine. For example, both systems agree that colds and flus occur from an external pathogen entering the body. Within a Chinese medicine paradigm, however, this etiology must be understood within the context of the individual’s constitution. Fundamentally, there must be some weakness (e.g. immune deficiency) for a pathogen to invade. Anything that weakens one’s resistance (overwork, not sleeping, eating poorly, etc.) can weaken one’s immune system and allow a pathogen to attack and enter, causing disease.
We all have seen two people get the “same cold” and have completely different symptoms. This occurs precisely because of this interaction. This is fundamental to Chinese medicine’s viewpoint and plays a crucial role not only in treatment but also in prevention of colds and flus.
Preventing Colds and Flus
Because of the complexity of each individual, there is no one supplement that can be recommended for the prevention of colds and flus. There are many single herbs, e.g. such as Astragalus (huang qi), that are touted to have this effect, and to be “immune boosting.” This is not necessarily incorrect; however there are a few problems with this type of thinking that must be understood in the context of Chinese medicine theory.
The ability to diagnose the individual and come up with a treatment strategy that fits that person’s underlying imbalance is paramount to boosting one’s immune system, rather than simply picking a medicinal that has a Western function of “boosting the immune system.”
In our clinic, we see quite a few patients with compromised immune systems (e.g. frequently getting sick, and lingering colds and flus) and we find that addressing the whole person’s constitution is essential in unraveling why these people frequently get sick. Consequently, such patients routinely report that they get sick less often and when they get sick it occurs for a shorter period of time.
Treatment of Colds and Flus
Firstly, Chinese medicine treats every cold and flu case differently. In general, Western medicine offers little for colds and flues except from symptomatic treatment such as decongestants etc (unless things get severe). In contrast, Chinese medicine takes a very proactive role in eliminating the pathogen and resolving the disease process, drastically shortening the time one is sick. This is important because Chinese medicine believes that many chronic diseases (for example asthma) come from repeated colds or flus that are not resolve properly.
Chinese medicine, even when there is a bacterial infection, always employs strategies to push out the pathogen and not just “kill it.” This is accomplished through an individualized blend of medicinals that fit the exact symptoms that the patient is presenting with, which pushes the pathogen out through the surface, while at the same time paying attention to the patient’s underlying constitutional pattern.
Even if one has a cold and flu that has been going on for some time (e.g. a week or two) and has gotten very severe, Chinese medicine can many times successfully reverse the situation, avoiding antibiotics. However, when necessary, Chinese medicine works very well to complement a Western medical approach of antibiotics.
Sometimes patients do need to take antibiotics during the course of a cold/flu. This may be especially true when one obtains a serious upper respiratory tract infection. Chinese medicine views this treatment approach as “killing the pathogen” and consequently if the pathogen is not fully eliminated, it can be pushed deeper into the body. We often see recurrent episodes (e.g. another upper respiratory tract infection or even a urinary tract infection) with this approach. However, if one combines this with Chinese medicine and uses a strategy that evicts the pathogen one can cut down on such instances.
Interested in a natural approach to staving off illness and boosting immunity this cold and flu season? Give us a call at (503)-287-4970 and let us see what we can do for you.