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Chinese medicine: An herbal approach to flu, colds

Traditional Chinese medicine has dealt with colds and flu for thousands of years. Over time, theories were developed to explain the origin and manifestation of various illnesses. These explanations were followed by strategies to combat the illnesses the Chinese were faced with using herbs, acupuncture, massage techniques and food therapy.

Chinese medicine theory explains colds and flus as being exogeous diseases because they have origins outside the human body.

One approach to avoid illness, according to Chinese medicine theory, is by diet and exercise. By eating a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables and meats in moderate quantities, a person is able to cultivate energy for the body's usage.

The energy cultivated by regular intake of food is called "Gu Qi" - spleen and stomach energy - and is seen as the basis of whole body energy.

Proper maintenance of the body involves a regular wake-sleep schedule, mealtimes and a consistent exercise routine. A moderate exercise program with walking, tai chi and yoga can form the basis of this "preventative maintenance" program.

Food therapy in Chinese medicine involves using herbs while cooking to remediate deficiencies or build up whole-body energy.

Herbs such as Chinese dates (Da Zao), Chinese wolfberry (Gou Qi Zi) and astragalus (Huang Qi) are commonly used in various dishes.

Common strategies in the practice of acupuncture treatment for a cold or flu involve needles to release external pathogenics from the body and decrease nausea or other digestive system discomfort. Additionally, the acupuncturist can tonify the patient's body, making it strong enough to "throw off" the disease.

Herbal interventions taken as pills or teas are used to limit cold or flu symptoms, according to Chinese medicine theory. Traditional formulas, such as Yin Qiao San, Gan Mao Ling and Chuan Chong Cha Tiao San, contain herbs thought to be effective anti-virals. These herbs can help to limit the progression of colds and flu-like illness from the viral stage to bacterial infections.

Western herbal treatments for colds and flu, such as echinacea taken at the first signs of illness, seem to do a good job of limiting the duration and severity of illness. Large doses of vitamin C also seem to have a positive effect.

By maintaining a healthy diet and sensible exercise program, wearing appropriate clothing for the weather, as well as avoiding unnecessary exposures to those already infected, a person should be able to reduce their chances of becoming ill this season.

Philip A. Simpson is a licensed acupuncturist practicing at the Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic.
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