Warding Off a Cold

My first experience of acupuncture was at the beginning stage of the flu, with a high fever, severe body aches, and burning eyes. It was the type that used to put me in bed for at least a week. The acupuncture sent a rush throughout my body, and I instantly cooled down and became more relaxed. This sensation was what my teachers referred to as “releasing the surface and pushing the pathogen out.” After the session, I felt 90% better. I went home and cooked up my herbs, and the next day I felt fine. It seemed miraculous, and spurred my interest in this medicine even further.

Nature provides us with many remedies for warding off a cold. But not all colds are created equal, and understanding the different types and stages is key to choosing the one that will be most effective. Chinese Medicine differentiates common colds based on symptoms such as chills, fever, sweats, body aches, location of symptoms, amount of fatigue, digestion, and quantity and quality of phlegm.

The main objectives when trying to ward off a cold are:

  • Shield against the elements of cold and wind, and exposure to pathogens.
  • Move blood and lymph, so that the immune system can work more effectively.
  • Release and clear pathogens and toxins from the body.
  • Support the body’s natural defenses.

Here are some tips to accomplishing these objectives:

  • Keep neck, shoulders, ears & head warm, and protected from wind & cold.
  • Massage the neck and shoulder area with an herbal salve or oil to invigorate the blood and lymphatic system. If you are chilled used something with warming qualities, such as cinnamon or ginger.
  • Create a sweat. Sweating is one of the ways the body clears toxins and fights pathogens. Try a sauna, hot tea and soup, and wrapping up in blankets. Be sure to take in plenty of clear liquids.
  • Drink hot herbal tea. Mint is a good ingredient for early stages of a cold. Depending on the qualities of the cold, herbs may be chosen to relax the neck and shoulders, open the air passages, clear the sinuses, dissolve phlegm, sooth the throat, ease coughing, support the immune system, invigorate the blood, clear pathogens and toxins, and warm or cool the body. Be careful not to use too many strong cooling herbs and supplements (such as vitamin C, zinc, and goldenseal), especially if you do not have signs of heat (fever, hot swollen sore throat, green phlegm). Although these can be very helpful, if overused they can damage digestion and counteract your body’s natural responses to fight off the pathogen.
  • Eat warm soup. Try a miso soup with slices of fresh ginger and scallions at the beginning stage of a cold that starts with a chilly feeling and clear runny nose.
  • Avoid phlegm producing foods, such as milk, cheese, ice cream, and orange juice. (Oranges increase phlegm, but lemons and limes reduce phlegm.) So, the old remedy of hot water with honey and lemon is great for a cold.