Preventing that next cold

Chinese medicine is powerful stuff, but we can’t say that we have that elusive “cure for the common cold.” We do, however, have some ideas about how to head it off at the pass.

In the Chinese medical model, a cold is an invasion of wind, which often brings either heat or cold and usually some dampness. Wind invasions first hit the body at a superficial level usually felt with a sore throat (a superficial aspect of your lung energy) and the skin, particularly at the nape of the neck (think about how achey you feel when you first start to get sick). Whether you have a wind-cold or a wind-heat seems to mostly depend on your constitution, but in my practice I mostly see wind-heat. Dampness often comes with a wind-cold or a wind-heat and physically manifests as phlegm. With wind cold, this phlegm is often white. Wind-heat phlegm is often yellow or green.

When you first start to feel like you might be coming down with something, the best thing you can do is to make yourself sweat. I prefer a passive sweat like a hot bath or a visit to a sauna. Two things happen when you sweat it out. One is that raising your body temperature helps turn the immune system on. The other is that a sweat expels wind from your body. Since external wind first lodges in your skin, opening the pores and sweating it out can expel that wind from your body.

In addition to having that hot bath/sauna, making a tea with fresh ginger can help make you sweat, too. Boil a few slices of fresh ginger for about 20 minutes to make a potent, spicy brew. Add some honey and sip (best is sipping this while you’re in your hot bath!).

If your cold has progressed beyond the early stages and into a yellow phlegm stage, skip the ginger tea and sip mint tea. Mint is cooling and can help expel wind-heat and mildly relieve some sinus congestion.

Sweating it out is best right at the very beginning of your symptoms. If you don’t catch it early enough, the wind can go deeper and be more difficult to dislodge.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs also can expel wind invasions, but only if you get a treatment in the early stages. If your cold progresses beyond the early stages, acupuncture and herbs will reduce your suffering and shorten the duration of your cold.

Of course, the true first line of defense is a healthy immune system. If you feel like you catch every cold that comes around, having regular acupuncture and certain herbal formulas can strengthen your immune system and help keep you well.

Read more about Chinese medicine here and here.

Medicinal Mushrooms

Mushrooms like Reishi, Cordyceps and Poria have long been used in Chinese herbal medicine as tonics for the body. Modern research has shown that these and other varieties of mushrooms have immune building, cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory capabilities. It’s important to try to include some in your diet–no need to try to over do it, just to have them be a regular part of your weekly or monthly diet.

Here’s a post from Dr. Andrew Weil about some mushrooms to try to incorporate into your life. Cordyceps is a great mushroom, but I haven’t had much luck finding it outside of my Chinese herb suppliers. When you can find it, it’s incredibly expensive (too expensive for me to stock it in my pharmacy). Reishi is pretty easy to find and much more affordable, so I would choose that over cordyceps. Shiitake and Maitake (also called Hen of the Woods) are expensive to buy fresh, but relatively inexpensive to buy dried. I add some dried shiitake and maitake to any soup stock I make (or, if I’m in a hurry, I boil them along with some whole garlic cloves in some Imagine Foods No Chicken stock for a quick almost-home-made tasting stock). I get my dried mushrooms from MountainRoseHerbs.com.

Here’s Dr. Weil’s post, and you can go the original here:

Mushrooms are a big favorite of mine because they’re delicious and often have medicinal properties. If you’re not allergic and don’t find them hard to digest, try these:

1. Cordyceps: A Chinese mushroom used traditionally as a tonic and restorative. You can add whole, dried cordyceps to soups and stews, or drink tea made from powdered cordyceps.
2. Maitake: This delicious mushroom provides anti-cancer, anti-viral and immune-enhancing properties, and may also reduce blood pressure and help regulate blood sugar. Find it dried or fresh in Japanese markets, gourmet stores or upscale supermarkets.
3. Reishi: Too woody and bitter to eat, reishi mushrooms are available in tea bags, capsules and liquid extracts. Animal studies have shown that reishi improves immune function and inhibits the growth of some malignant tumors. It also acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
4. Shiitake: The shiitake has been found to have immune modulating, anti-viral and cholesterol-reducing properties. Certain extracts of shiitake mushrooms are used in Japan as adjunctive therapy to strengthen the immunity of cancer patients during chemotherapy and radiation. Find it – fresh or dried – in grocery stores and Asian markets.

Note: I advise against the regular consumption of cultivated white or “button” mushrooms because they contain natural toxins that may act as carcinogens.