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Home > Newsletters > July 2008 > External Wind and the Common Cold Explained

External Wind and the Common Cold Explained

By Jessica Chen, L.Ac.

Did you know that Chinese medicine can help you knock that cold on the head? Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are second to none in their effectiveness at treating the common cold and the flu. When I started formally studying Chinese medicine I was amazed that we had to study a 400 paged classic called the Shan Han Lun, which explains how to treat the common cold at its various stages. 400 pages just on the common cold! Together with acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy is used very effectively to combat the infection and inflammation produced by those wretched bugs. Antiviral and antibacterial herbs are used in much the same way as antibiotics prescribed by your regular doctor are, but it goes way beyond that and this is why.

How does this all work?
To further understand how acupuncture and Chinese herbs help combat colds and flu, let's take a brief look at how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views the common cold. The external pathogens responsible for cold and flu symptoms in a body are seen as invasions of wind. Say what? Growing up, my mother would always tell me to put on more clothing before leaving the house, or not to go out with wet hair, so I wouldn't catch wind. It was not until later when I started my studies of TCM that the theory of wind unfolded itself to me.

Wind is considered to be one of six external pathogens that can invade the body and produce symptoms. Our body is protected by what is known as the wei qi (defensive qi) also known as our immune system. This is our body's first line of defense. When we are strong and healthy, our wei qi stands guard, keeps the pores of our skin closed and prevents wind from entering. However when we are over-worked, highly stressed, lack appropriate rest, eat poorly or are simply inappropriately dressed for certain weather conditions, our defensive Chi becomes compromised, our pores open and wind enters the body. This explains why when we experience the beginnings of a cold we feel chills, sensitivity to the wind and body aches as this wind enters superficial meridians and blocks the flow of energy in them. Chinese herbs used to treat the common cold work as anti-viral and antibacterial agents and also have a diaphoretic action which repels wind out of the body. Furthermore wind can carry another pathogen with it and can thus present as wind heat or wind cold, which would be treated with two very different sets of herbs and acupuncture techniques.

This form is the milder of the two and appears when the cold is just in the beginning stages and there are not many heat symptoms. The 'bug' at this time is slightly dancing and teasing you on the surface of your skin trying to feel its way and see whether you are vulnerable for an attack or not. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • Sensitivity to cold or wind
  • Shivering
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Running nose with white-watery mucus
  • No fever or slight fever
  • Body aches
  • Stiff neck
  • No sweating
  • No thirst

This is a good time to load up on vitamin C, drink plenty of room temperature water, rest and stay away from icy cold beverages. Drinking miso soup with tofu and scallions is also excellent during this time. Taking a hot bath and immediately covering yourself up to 'sweat off' the pathogen is also helpful. But please make sure to change your clothes if they get damp and continue to cover up. This is also the best time to visit your Chinese medical doctor to get acupuncture to strengthen the immune system and start on medicinal herbal teas to ward off or to fight the beginnings of the cold.

Many of you wouldn't even see a wind cold condition, as symptoms present immediately as wind heat. The virus in this case invades the body quickly and its defensive response is to increase the body temperature in order to literally kill off the bugs. Some symptoms include:

  • Sensitivity to wind
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Sneezing
  • Slight body ache
  • Cough and running nose with yellow or green mucus
  • Slight sweating
  • Thirst

During this time, plenty of rest and water are essential. Cover up especially the head and neck area. Mint or chrysanthemum flower teas are helpful. Try to avoid stimulating foods like spicy, greasy, fried foods and sugar, as these foods create mucus and will further exacerbate the condition. Again, at the slightest hint of a sore throat or swelling of the glands around your throat, come and get some acupuncture and herbs.

At this point you may already understand how effective Chinese medicine is at treating the initial stages of a cold, but you are probably asking yourself, what if I have already had a cold for a week or I have not managed to shift the cold I caught last month? Herein lies the sophistication of Chinese Medicine as mandated by our 2000 year old classic "The Shan Han Lun," which indicates a clearly defined treatment protocol for colds and flu at every single stage of manifestation, from the full blown fever and chills at the initial stage, to the low grade sniffles that can linger for months.

As a form of preventative medicine, get regular acupuncture treatments during the flu season, or the changing of the seasons. Prevention is the key. If you are susceptible to catching colds easily, know that studies have shown how acupuncture helps increase white blood cell count resulting in a boost to your immune system. Finally, if you feel just the slightest indication of a wind invasion such as slight body aches or a scratchy throat, or if everyone around you is coming down with something, get some acupuncture, take the herbs, and watch TCM magic happen.

This Month's Articles

July 2008
Volume 6, Number 7

Self-Help for Low Energy

External Wind and the Common Cold Explained

Acupuncture Business Models and Styles

Recent Research

Ask The Doctor

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