The flu season here in the northern hemisphere has made for a lot of surprising headlines in the news this autumn...reports have come of H1N1 vaccine manufacturers being given contractual immunity from liability, shortages of the H1N1 vaccine, statistical reports from Canada suggesting that people given previous flu vaccines are more susceptible to H1N1, and Andrew Weil being taken to task by the FDA for promoting an alternative medicine (an herb used in Chinese medicine, astragalus) to boost the immune system to prevent H1N1 occurrences.
But to a more important discussion: what can you be doing to prevent common colds and, yes, the H1N1 too, this year? As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I have a preference for many of the traditional Chinese herb formulas that treat common colds and quickly eliminate them. I'd like to share with you the basic premise behind what each of these formulas do for an early stage common cold--the chills, the feverishness, the body aches, the sniffles, the sore throat, the headache etc.
Sweat. That's it. Well, there's slightly more to it...this is different from going to the gym and simply breaking a sweat.
It's all about cooking herbs in water (like a tea) and drinking. And then getting into a pair of comfy sweatpants, maybe a robe on top, and staying wrapped up. It's about promoting a sweat to knock out the cold. One will usually feel an immediate lessening of the body aches and chills, and the head will clear.
And this is nothing new. It's been done by many cultures over countless years. But it has been largely forgotten. Is it comfortable? While no one loves sweating in clothes when not being active, it's really not that bad if one sits still. Consider watching a TV or a movie while wrapped up. The sweating does not need to be prolonged--I often find 30 minutes can do the trick. But I promise you it is much better than being sick for days followed by that residual wet cough and fatigue for weeks!
There is some anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of the Chinese herb formulas in the face of pandemics. In the flu pandemic of 1918, many in Oregon relied on the herbal formulas of Ing "Doc" Hay, a Chinese doctor in John Day, Oregon. He was trusted more than western doctors by the men and women of that area, largely because he had already successfully treated the diseases that were fatal at the time (such as snakebites and infections from barbwire cuts). In the subsequent years 1919 and 1920, Ing Hay never lost a patient to the flu, including many construction workers building a highway through a bitterly cold winter. He brought vats of the bitter tasting brew to the workers.
When it comes to saving you from the prolonged process of feeling miserable from a cold, timing is important. There are a few things I would recommend to always keep on hand in your home, to take as soon as you suspect a cold coming on:
Fresh ginger: about four or five slices (the thickness of a quarter) in a hot tea can often be enough to create sweating about half an hour later. I often add more hot water as I drink (it's a good idea to replenish liquids when sweating). Another great thing to do with ginger is to put a handful into a hot bath, then get wrapped up after as I have mentioned. This will also create a very therapeutic sweat to expel the cold.
If you feel more heat in your body (flushing of the face, a particularly sore throat, but still some body chills and desire to keep covered), add a mint tea to the fresh ginger.
The next item I would highly recommend is the Gypsy Cold Care tea from Traditional Medicines. This is available widely in grocery stores. It has a combination of many of the herbs we use in traditional Chinese medicine, and I find I can often fight off a cold at its first signs with several cups of this. This alone can create a very mild sweat and a warming sensation (throw in a little fresh ginger), but it's important to stay bundled up!
I have been fortunate to have had conversations with nurses, MD's, and acupuncturists from around the US, some who have been treating H1N1 cases, and others who are wishing to help in its prevention. I have followed with a keen interest the formulas currently being used in China both for prevention and treatment. As mentioned in a previous blog, vitamin D is very important. There has also been recent research indicating an increase in antioxidants is particularly effective in combating H1N1.
Chinese medicine has very specific protocols for boosting the immune system when not sick, and treating the sickness quickly when it presents. I encourage anyone in the bay area to use these helpful tips when beginning to feel sick, and to consider traditional Chinese medicine as a very viable way to increase health and prevent colds this season.