Even as this article is being written in September, we at Tao of Wellness are treating our first cases of cold and flu this season. It is important for you to recognize the first signs of a cold or flu by paying attention to your body. For when we can treat a patient at the very first signs, we can help boost their immune system so they can fight the illness more quickly and effectively. Some common first signs include: a scratchy throat, sneezing, an achiness in your body or head, feeling unusually tired, a sensitivity to the wind or drafts, or even just not wanting to go outside without grabbing an extra layer of clothing.
As practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we are all familiar with these early signs, as well as what to do when we feel them. In addition to getting acupuncture as soon as possible, we keep on hand herbal remedies to boost our immune systems. It is good to have some in your medicine cabinet ready for such an instance (see the “Wellness Shop” section for details). Additionally, we use food as medicine, so even if you are traveling and are without access to acupuncture or Chinese herbs, there are still things you can do.
First, TCM classifies colds and flus into two primary categories, depending on whether the primary signs are more of heat or of cold. TCM refers to these types of illnesses as wind attacks. This is because we contract them from exposure to pathogens in our environment—carried on the wind, if you will—though some are certainly passed by physical contact. Common wind-heat signs include: fever/feeling hot, thirst, sweating, headache, painful sore throat, yellow/green nasal discharge and an aversion to heat. Wind-cold signs include feeling chilled, sneezing, a stiff neck, lack of sweating, clear/white nasal discharge and an aversion to cold. Once you have determined which version you have—cold or heat, you will be better able to treat yourself with some basic items from your local grocery store.
For wind-heat, you want to help your body cool while it fights the pathogen. Add ½ cup of chrysanthemum flowers and ½ cup of mint leaves to 4 cups of water and boil for 20 minutes to make a tea. To stay hydrated, certain juices will help. A good recipe for a fresh, cooling juice is as follows: 1 head of cabbage, 2 cucumbers, 2 oranges and 1 cup of dandelion greens.
For wind-cold, help your body vent the pathogen by using warming and dispersing foods that help you sweat. Have a steaming bowl of miso soup with extra scallions. You can also make a tea with: 1 chopped scallion, 3 slices of fresh ginger, 1 chopped garlic clove, some basil and a pinch of powdered cinnamon. Add to 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.
The best way to fight colds and flus is to avoid getting them in the first place. Wash your hands often; avoid touching common items in public places such as door handles with the palm of your hand—use your fist or elbow when safely possible. And very importantly, keep yourself warm, dry and well nourished so your body can use its energies to protect you. With these tools, any cold or flu you contract should be less severe with a shorter duration than one left untreated.