by Megan Odell, L.Ac., MS
We’ve all seen the headlines. We’ve heard our doctors, friends and families talking about it – the flu is here and it does indeed appear to be particularly virulent this year. “We are clearly at a high level of influenza activity in the state,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger, MD, said in a recent statement. It is easy to walk through our days with worry, cringing every time someone near us coughs.
And then… the dreaded thing happens: a tickle in your throat. A sneeze. A sniffle. And within hours you are in the full-on evil grasp of a cold, or the flu. You are miserable and tempted to throw rational thought out the window, along with your wadded up tissues.
What do you do then? First, stay calm. Seasonal influenza has always been a part of winter, and there are many ways to get well. You certainly can choose to manage the symptoms with a variety of over-the-counter medications, but many of us tire of this approach because it leaves us feeling dried-out, woozy and out of control. So what do you do if you are interested in avoiding pharmaceuticals, or, even better, if you want to find a way to strengthen your immune system and skip the sickness altogether?
According Chinese Medicine, cold and flu are interchangeable; both are caused by a weakening of the body’s defenses and the simultaneous invasion of a pathogen, usually through the nose and skin. Chinese Medicine takes a proactive approach to strengthen the body’s defenses before the virus can take hold. Then, if any pathogens sneak past the body’s defenses, we work to definitively get rid of it.
It bears stating directly: Chinese medicine practitioners do not believe in simply managing the symptoms.
Acupuncture and herbal formulas can do a lot of good for preventing and treating cold and flu, but there is a lot that you can do at home.
Strengthen your body
Chinese Medicine instructs us to tonify the Defensive Qi
- Wash your hands. Often. Dry cracked skin is not a sufficient excuse to avoid hand-washing. Splurge on a high-quality hand cream – whatever it takes to keep you washing your hands.
- Get plenty of sleep. Eight- nine uninterrupted hours each night is recommended.
- Eat foods that are nourishing and easy to digest. Choose broth-based soups and stews, cooked grains and vegetables, and some organic meat. Try congee (recipe is below). Replace coffee with green tea. Eat slowly, focusing only on the sensuality of your food. Avoid dairy, overly processed foods, sugars/sweets and fried, rich foods.
- Manage your stress, meditate and breathe.
- Bundle up! Wear your warmest clothes and keep your skin and nose protected from the wind (remember that Asian medicine believes the pathogen enters through these pathways).
- Get some acupuncture & Chinese herbs. Here at the Penny George Institute for Healing Outpatient Clinic, we strengthen the defensive Qi by needling specific points and prescribing herbal formulas ― both of which are customized to your body’s unique pattern of harmony and disharmony, balance and imbalance.
Manage the Acute Attack
Chinese medicine instructs us to expel the pathogen
- If the symptoms rear their ugly heads, decide whether they are more “hot” or “cold.” In Chinese Medicine, “cold” symptoms include sneezing, runny nose with clear or white phlegm, itchy throat, coughing up clear or white mucus, and an achey body. If you have them, Chinese Medicine says you have “wind-cold.” “Hot” symptoms include sore throat, more fever than chills, thirst, nasal congestion with yellow phlegm, and coughing up yellow sputum. These symptoms mean you have “wind-heat.” The categorization of symptoms can shift throughout your sickness.This knowledge will help you to know how to proceed with foods and herbs.
- Eat and drink to expel the pathogen. Eat plenty of broth-based soups and rice. Drink warm liquids. Then, if your symptoms are more “wind-cold,” add ginger, cinnamon, green onion and garlic to your foods. If your symptoms are more “wind-heat,” drink lots of peppermint tea and eat cooling fruits, like oranges and other citrus fruits. Regardless of the type of pathogen you have, avoid dairy, sugars/sweets, and rich or fried foods.
- Get cozy and rest! Keep wearing your warmest clothes and keep your skin and nose protected from the wind. In addition to warding off more pathogens, this will also help the body to sweat – a primary way that the body expels the pathogen. Rest. Sleep. Let the body use most of its energy to fight the pathogen.
- Acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Here in the Penny George Institute outpatient clinic, all treatments are customized to the exact pattern of symptoms that you are experiencing. I am pleased to report that most acupuncturists and herbalists are able to help your body “kick the symptoms” within a few days, especially if we’re able to get at it quickly.
- And finally, know when it is time to consult your family doctor. If you have an extremely high fever or if the fever lasts more than three days, if wheezing develops or you are finding it harder and harder to breathe – Go see your doctor (and I don’t mean Dr. Google).
As Health Commissioner Ehlinger said, we are indeed at a high level of influenza activity in Minnesota, but the commissioner finished his statement with a word of caution, “It’s important to keep this year in perspective: What is occurring has happened before.” These words deserve to be heeded. This is indeed serious and warrants taking your health and your family’s health very seriously – but we do not need to indulge any fear fantasies or “what if” scenarios gone mad. This has happened before and it will happen again. The most important thing is to keep yourself and your family healthy, conquer your symptoms as quickly as possible, and then get out there and enjoy your life. You will feel good again.
Congee is a rice porridge that is eaten in many Asian countries. In some countries it is primarily a breakfast food, often mixed with egg, and in others it is eaten anytime. Because congee is incredibly easy to digest, it is often used as the foundation for dietary therapy, with other ingredients added to boost the specific therapeutic results. This naturally sweet congee is designed to strengthen the body’s defensive Qi, making it an ideal food for preventing cold and flu — although be warned that eating this after symptoms appear could result in prolonging the life of the symptoms! Also, anyone with an autoimmune condition should avoid the ingredient astragalus.
- 1-2 strips of astragalus (can be found from herbalists or some co-ops)*
- 1/2 cup long grain rice
- 8 cups water or stock
- 15 small pitted dates, chopped
- 1-2 carrots sliced
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp cardamom
Simmer all ingredients in a large pot for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Enjoy!