Avoiding and Treating the Common Cold

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) divides the common cold into two types: Wind-cold and wind-heat. Some practitioners confuse these, thinking they represent two different pathogens. In fact, each represents the body’s reaction to a given pathogen as the pathogen progresses from the exterior of the body to the interior of the body. In the initial stages of a cold you experience headache, perhaps chills, and often clear nasal discharge. As the pathogen progresses deeper into the body wind-heat signs become more apparent: Scratchy or sore throat, a more serious cough with phlegm that is difficult-to-expectorate, fever, and sticky purulent yellow or green nasal discharge.

Many TCM practitioners believe it best to avoid herbs when you have a cold, the theory being that supplementing herbs will strengthen the already virulent microbes. They contend that the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic of Medicine – a seminal Chinese medicine text) says not to supplement while evils [pathogens] are still present. This is an incomplete reading and understanding. In fact, the authors of the Nei Jing further state that, “… unless the righteous qi has been damaged, and then one must supplement and drain at the same time.” In addition, the Nei Jing says, “If the righteous qi exists internally, evils cannot strike,” and, “[If] evils are present, the qi must be vacuous.” Taken together, these passages mean that if you are sick with a cold, your qi is, by definition, depleted. In that case, your acupuncturist must supplement the vacuity (depleted qi) and drain the pathogen from your body in order for your body to be able to fight the pathogen and return to health.
Here are some hints about how to beat it and what to do should you come down with a cold.

Cold Quell. Cold Quell is a Chinese herbal formula in capsule form that both supplements qi and drains the offending pathogen(s). In particular, it is partially composed of a formula called Si Wu Tang that supplements blood, making it particularly useful for women who are susceptible to catching colds at period time. But it can be used by either men or women, both as a preventative and therapeutically.

Yin Qiao San. Yin Qiao San is an ancient Chinese formula for wind-heat symptoms (see above). It is quite helpful for “fast-forwarding” the cold cycle.


The chart at left displays a typical time-frame for the main symptoms of a cold. With normal dosing, Yin Qiao San will assit your body through these symptom cycles, gently easing symptoms along the way. In my experience, more aggressive dosing with Yin Qiao San (under the direction of your license acupuncturist) can cause the body to ramp-up leukocyte (white blood cell) activity, part of the immune system response for resolving symptoms of a cold.

Early and aggressive dosing with Yin Qiao San may shorten the period for each of these symptoms by a day or two. Keep in mind that by revving up the immune response, duration of symptoms may be shortened, but the symptoms may also be a bit more intense during the shorter period. For example, facial lymph nodes may temporarily swell as the leukocyte activity is more quickly shunted into the lymph fluid and to the nodes where waste is filtered.
Push Fluids. It’s critical to drink copious amounts of water when you have a cold. This helps keep a fever in check and also supports elimination of the pathogen(s) from your body via diaphoresis (sweating) and via the urine.
Push Fluids. It’s critical to drink copious amounts of water when you have a cold. This helps keep a fever in check and also supports elimination of the pathogen(s) from your body via diaphoresis (sweating) and via the urine.
Sleep. Go ahead and stay home from school or work and catch-up on sleep for a couple of days. Your body needs sleep to allow its energies to focus on fighting the pathogen, as well as the opportunity for a full recovery once the pathogen has been eliminated. You’ll also avoid infecting others.

Diet. During one or two days of the cold cycle, you may simply want nothing to eat. This is the body again attempting to avoid being overwhelmed. It wants to concentrate its energies on eliminating the offending microbe(s) and also support the systems (mucus production, sneezing, coughing, etc.) by which it attempts to kick the pathogens to the curb. So if you’re not hungry – don’t eat. But keep drinking lots of water! Your appetite should return in a day or two, at which point start with diluted juices, then progressing to thin soups, and finally to healthy, more substantial fare. Low-sugar yogurt will help replace good bacteria. Many fish contain zinc, and mushrooms can also bolster your immune system.
Avoid greasy, fried, and cloying foods. They are difficult to digest and thereby divert energy that the body needs to heal. Plain, easy to digest, fluid and semi-fluid foods such as soup and congee (porridge) are suitable.

The following recipe helps treat influenza and coughing with phlegm. It treats cold and flu with cough, chronic dry cough, diminished / weak lung function, sore throat and headache, and lack of energy and difficulty breathing. It nourishes the lungs, clears heat in the lungs, resolves phlegm, astringes cough and promotes vital body fluids.

Snow-Ear Mushroom, Fritillariae and Pear Soup

Fritillariae Cirrhosae (chuan bei mu) 川貝母 – 5 grams. (Chuan Bei Mu is quite expensive. One is more likely to obtain Zhe Bei Mu(浙贝母), which has similar effects. Either is available from HealthPoint.)
Snow-Ear Mushroom 20 grams
Asian (or other) pear One
Honey To taste
  1. Crush Bei Mu into powder (HealthPoint can provide it as a powder)
  2. Rinse and soak mushroom for 30 minutes. Cut out bottom brown stem and separate into smaller pieces.
  3. Skin pear, cut into halves and hollow out seeds in the center.
  4. Put Bei Mu powder in the center of pear and put pear in a casserole.
  5. Add mushroom and enough water to cover the pear (about 1.5 cups). Add honey to taste (about 2 spoonfuls) and cover casserole with lid.
  6. Use a slightly bigger pot with water and a stand at the bottom to steam the casserole for about an hour. Add hot water regularly to the cooking to prevent drying.
  7. Serve warm and be sure to eat it all for full therapeutic effect.
Take once a day on an empty stomach. This recipe is suitable for all ages.

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