Natural Treatments for Cold and Flu
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
ONE IN THREE AMERICANS SUFFERS a seasonal cold at least once a year. The incidence rate is higher in schoolchildren, the elderly, and immune-compromised individuals. Though considered common, a cold can have severe health repercussions. Colds occur more during the fall and winter seasons, and the influenza virus likes to make its annual visit sometime in the fall. The early symptoms of a common cold include general malaise, chills, stiff neck, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and headaches. As the condition progresses, fever, sore throat, cough, stomach disturbances, and diarrhea may occur. The flu, as a result of the mutating influenza virus, is a more severe form of the common cold. It displays most of the same symptoms, though with more intensity and with the addition of rapidly rising fever, body aches, and vomiting.
Chinese medicine classifies the common cold as a wind pathogen that invades from the exterior.
- Wind cold is differentiated from wind heat, based on the finer differences between a cold and the flu. Wind cold usually occurs during seasonal changes and as a result of exposure to drafts, or even excessive exposure to air-conditioning. At this early stage, Chinese medicine suggests that perspiration is helpful in removing the pathogen from the skin. Common warming foods are used for this.
- Wind heat, in contrast, is characterized by high fever, sweating, sore throat, cough, headaches, and a yellow nasal discharge. It requires herbal prescriptions to clear the pathogen and relieve the symptoms.
Acupuncture is widely used to treat the common cold, and there are many time-tested herbal formulations for upper respiratory infections. During the SARS epidemic in Asia, many hospitals and doctors’ offices were offering these formulas as preventives. During the cold and flu seasons, I see many patients in my office. In addition to administering treatments, I educate them on simple ways to avoid catching a cold or the flu.
Related Conditions: Cough, Sore Throat, Bronchitis
Here are some recommendations.
DIET FOR COLD AND FLU
For wind cold,
- warming and dispersing foods are encouraged to promote perspiration and expel the pathogen. These include ginger, garlic, mustard greens and seeds, grapefruit peel, cilantro, parsnips, scallions, basil, and cinnamon.
- Eat as little as possible so as not to burden the immune system, and drink plenty of warm fluids such as soups, porridges, and tea.
For wind heat,
- cooling, soothing, and heat-clearing foods are best. Favor fresh fruits and vegetables like cabbage, burdock root, cilantro, dandelion, mint, chrysanthemum flowers, apples, pears, and bitter melon. Drink plenty of room temperature water or tea.
For both wind cold and wind heat, avoid overeating. Avoid heavy, rich, greasy foods and meats and shellfish. Also stay away from astringent substances, such as vinegar, which close the pores and “trap the thief in the house.”
HOME REMEDIES FOR COLD AND FLU
For wind cold,
- make a tea by boiling 1 chopped garlic clove, 3 slices of ginger, 1 chopped scallion, some basil, and a pinch of cinnamon in 3 cups of water for 5 minutes. Strain. Drink the tea hot and get into bed. Cover up and prepare to sweat. Sweating opens the pores, releasing trapped pathogens from the skin. Drink at least 3 cups of this tea every day until symptoms subside.
- Fill an 8-ounce squeeze bottle with 1 teaspoon sea salt. For wind cold, irrigate your sinuses with warm salt water twice daily to clean your nasal passageways. Gargle with warm salt water to relieve sore throat and take hot baths with Epsom salts to sweat.
- For wind cold, make a tea by boiling 1 whole lemon, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1 tablespoon honey in 3 1/2 cups of water for 10 minutes. Strain, and drink 3 cups a day.
For wind heat,
- juice a head of cabbage, 1 cup dandelion greens, 2 cucumbers, and 2 oranges. Drink 3 glasses daily.
- Boil a pot of water and turn off the heat. Add 10 drops of Tonic Oil, which consists of oils of camphor, peppermint, eucalyptus, fennel, and wintergreen, traditionally used for opening passageways and relieving joint pain. Inhale the fumes deeply for 10 minutes, covering your head and the pot with a towel.
- Make a tea with 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves and 1/2 cup dried chrysanthemum flowers by boiling in 4 cups of water for 20 minutes. Strain, and drink 3 cups daily. Drink throughout the day.
DAILY VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR COLD AND FLU
- Up to 50 milligrams of zinc taken daily can help reduce the symptoms of a common cold.
- Up to 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C taken daily has been shown to reduce the duration of a cold.
- Vitamins E (800 IU), A (200 IU), and the B complex are antioxidants that help support healthy immune function.
- Thymus extract (200 milligrams) can help stimulate the immune system.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR COLD AND FLU
Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to askdrmao.com.
- Ginger, kudzu, osha, yarrow, garlic, and astragalus can help fight off a cold at the onset. Take at the first signs of a cold. Andrographis has been shown to reduce the symptoms of a cold and shorten its duration.
- Make a tea by boiling 2 tablespoons of dried elderberry in 1 1/ 4 cups of water for 10 minutes. Strain, and drink 3 cups a day until the symptoms subside.
- I recommend our Cold/Flu Elixir, a Chinese herbal formula that supports a healthy immune system and can temporarily relieve cold symptoms. It contains honeysuckle, forsythia, schizonepetae, siler, kudzu, isatis, arctium, peppermint, figwort, apricot kernel, licorice, and other Chinese herbs.
QIGONG FOR COLD AND FLU
When you have a common cold, excessive exercise will deplete the body of vital qi, which is needed to fight the pathogen. I recommend rest and calm.
A qi gong exercise called the Dragon Dance helps with circulation and promotes opening of the pores. It should be done indoors and not too vigorously. This exercise resembles a belly dance- it is a wriggling rhythmic dance of the torso that burns energy and promotes fat burning in the abdomen.
- In a comfortable, quiet place stand with your feet together and ankles touching, or as close together as you can get them. Place your hands over your head, with palms together and fingers pointing up. Be sure to keep your palms together during the entire exercise. Inhaling, push your waist out to the right side while keeping your head and upper torso straight. Simultaneously move your right elbow to the right, so that it rests at shoulder height.
- Exhaling, push your waist out to the left side while keeping your head and upper torso straight. Simultaneously move your left elbow fully to the left at shoulder height.
- Repeat this movement several times. Every time you move your waist to the right, bend your knees a little more, lowering your entire body as you squat. Be sure to keep your upper torso and head straight.
- With each movement to the right, move your hands lower, keeping your palms together and fingers pointing up. When your arms reach your chest, turn your fingers toward the ground and continue the movement. When your arms reach your knees, you should be squatting.
- Continue the movements, now rising with each right movement until you reach the standing position. When your arms reach your chest, switch the direction of your fingers so that they’re pointing up again.
- Throughout this exercise your hands should make an S-shaped movement and your body should perform a rhythmic belly dance.
- Remember to inhale on the rightward movement and exhale to the left.
- Do this exercise during the day on an empty stomach. Begin slowly and increase speed and vigor, warming up the whole body, but not to the point of perspiration
SELF ACUPRESSURE FOR COLD AND FLU
- Locate the acupoint Valley of Harmony (LI-4), in the web between your thumb and index finger on your right hand. Apply steady pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left hand. This is traditionally used to support immune functions and detoxification.
- Locate the acupoint Wind Pond (GB-20), in the natural indentation at the base of your skull on either side of your neck. Press and lift up toward the base of your skull with your thumbs and lean your head back. Use the weight of your head against your thumbs for a steady pressure. Hold for about 5 minutes, breathing deeply and slowly.
COLD AND FLU: WHAT TO AVOID
- Excessive activity, straining, and overeating. Get plenty of sleep.
- Alcohol, smoking, and caffeine, which adversely affect energy and immunity.
- Braunig, B., et al. 1992.
- Ni, M., and C. McNease. The Tao of Nutrition. Los Angeles: Seven Star, 1987
- Echinacea purpura root for strengthening the immune response in flu-likeinfections. Z. Phytother. 13:7-13.
- Caceres, J., et al. 1997. Prevention of common colds with Andrographis paniculata dried extract: A pilot double blind trial. Phytomedicine 4(2):101-04.
- Eby, G. A. 1997. Zinc ion availability-the determinant of efficacy in zinc lozenge treatment of common colds. Antimicrob. Chemother. 40(4):483-93.
- Hemila, H. 1992. Vitamin C and the common cold. Br. J. Nutr. 67(1):3-16.
- Ni, H. Attune Your Body with Dao In. Los Angeles: Seven Star, 1989
©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni
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