The weather is turning soggy and cool and with it many people are complaining of feeling run-down and getting sick easily. Fortunately there are remedies that have been used successfully for thousands of years for just these conditions. One of the things we hear sometimes as acupuncturists from patients is that they are sorry but they need to cancel their appointment because they’re sick. Then they are pleased as punch to learn that not only should they not cancel their appointment but that getting acupuncture and herbs when you feel sick or exhausted can either stop the illness or reduce the severity and duration of the disease.
There are dozens of herbal formulas that accompany the many different diagnoses for the common cold and influenza. East Asian medicine developed an extremely advanced understanding of exogenous pathogenic disease thousands of years ago, with two prominent schools of thought being diseases of a Cold pathogenic nature and diseases of a Hot nature. The diseases of a Cold nature were formulated by the most famous Chinese healer of the last several thousands years. So detailed, applicable, and powerful, this approach to diagnosis is used for almost every type of illness imaginable and thus it’s scope extends far beyond the treatment of colds and flu. The Hot school of disease arose to treat complex epidemic diseases that wiped out entire populations of people in the days before vaccines and antibiotics. These treatments, primarily herbal, are so effective that now modern Western medicine is turning back to these herbs that are antimicrobial in nature but can actually work in cases of MRSA, and don’t contribute to antibiotic resistance, which is rapidly becoming a serious concern for future generations.
Link to NY Times Article on Herbal Antibiotics
When you see your acupuncturist for the common cold or flu you will most likely receive cupping or gua sha along with your acupuncture treatment and herbal formula prescription. Cupping involves the use of glass cups that a source of fire is held within to create a vacuum and is then placed on the skin, with or without oil. The suction that is generated by the fire then lifts the fascia, skin, and muscles to release adhesions and stagnation in these layers. Typically the upper back and back of the neck are the areas treated for colds as these are the areas where people first feel stiff and sore, one of the first signs that a cold is coming on. Gua sha has a similar purpose of releasing pathogens as well as stimulating the flow of Qi and Blood, but uses a blunt hand-held tool like a ceramic soup spoon in a scraping fashion. These are techniques that are widespread throughout Asia to this day and are practiced by parents and grandparents on their families for colds and flus as well as for aches and pains.
In traditional East Asian medicine the common cold is considered to be an invasion of Wind, typically with Cold or Heat along with it. Wind in this context indicates a force that carries an external pathogen into the body. Cupping, gua sha, acupuncture, and appropriate herbs all help to expel external pathogens and strengthen immunity. An important consideration in any sickness is the state of the person’s immune system, or Wei Qi. Not only is acupuncture inherently balancing to the immune system, stimulating it for deficient persons or soothing it for autoimmune disease, but there are many herbal formulas specifically designed to improve the Wei Qi and prevent colds and flu. You can also add foods like ginger, mint, and green onions to your meals can also help to expel pathogens. Lastly, please consider adding a meditation practice to your daily routine as a cold and flu preventative. Meditation, like acupuncture, allows your body to heal itself. Getting sick easily is often a sign that you've been overly stressed and need rest. Take the time to take care of yourself and be healthy.
By Victoria Branson, L.Ac.
Victoria is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and Oriental medicine practitioner in Beaverton, Oregon. She specializes in pain relief, digestive disorders, women's health, insomnia, and stress relief. Victoria loves to empower patients to heal themselves using meditation, tai ji, qi gong, nutrition, visualization, and affirmations. When not learning more about medicine and healing, you can find Victoria on adventures with her husband and dog, playing in nature, cooking, gardening, meditating, and getting suckered into giving her dog more food.