As the weather starts getting cooler in autumn, the incidence of colds and the flu increases. When you get a cold, it is necessary to strengthen the body’s protective qi in order to recover quickly. However, many patients take inappropriate measures when they catch a cold or flu, which causes the body’s protective qi to drop rapidly, making the cold worse.
In the view of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), many diseases are believed to be caused by forces in our environment. These forces are referred to as the six external pathogenic influences, categorized as wind, cold, heat, dryness, dampness, and summer heat. In TCM, it’s believed that a cold is also caused by the invasion of external pathogenic factors.
According to TCM theory, qi is life force or vital energy. To be balanced in life and free from physical or mental health issues, a person must have balanced qi.
Qi comes in many forms, including “protective qi.” This qi works primarily on the body’s surface, as a defense barrier analogous to anatomical barriers of the innate immune system. When a person’s protective qi is weak, he is more vulnerable to the pathogenic attacks, and more likely to fall sick.
The goal of many TCM treatments is to strengthen the body’s protective qi. Treatments are individualized, and chosen in accordance with patients’ individual conditions, because the physical conditions of each person are different.
The Right Time to Drink Ginger TeaFor thousands of years, Chinese people have treated the cold with natural herbs, some of which were quite simple, effective, and widely used by ordinary folk people.
Ginger is the root of the perennial plant Zingiber officinale. People have used ginger as an herbal remedy for centuries to treat many conditions, from arthritis to abdominal pain. Nowadays, people still often use ginger when they get a cold or flu.
One of my friends caught a cold and had a sore throat. He heard that drinking ginger tea could dispel the pathogenic cold from the body, so he brewed a pot of ginger tea and drank it. However, it didn’t work.
Why is that? Drinking ginger tea should be done in the early stages of a cold. It can then increase the body’s heat, dispel the pathogenic cold, and relieve symptoms.
However, my friend already had symptoms of sore throat, indicating that the pathogenic wind and cold had deeply entered the body, became inflamed, and turned into pathogenic heat.
Don’t Eat Raw, Cold FoodsVegetables and fruits are an important part of a healthy diet. However, raw and cold fruits and vegetables should be avoided when you catch a cold.
One of my patients had flu symptoms: a runny nose, cough, and diarrhea due to COVID-19. She believed eating more fruits and vegetables might be good for curing the flu, so she ate a lot of raw and cold vegetables and fruits, but her health did not improve. I advised my patient to instead eat warm rice porridge and put on more clothes; then she got well soon.
In accordance with Zhang Zhongjing (A.D. 150–A.D. 219), a famous doctor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, patients who catch a cold should avoid foods that are cold, spicy, or hard to digest.
When a person catches a cold, his gastrointestinal function worsens and is incapable of absorbing all kinds of nutrients. When cold water and foods that belong to the pathogenic cold factors enter the stomach, the stomach has to consume protective qi to heat the cold food before digestion, which is not helpful for recovery.
A 100-year-old TCM practitioner once told me that eating raw fruit during a cold would cause a persistent cough. Once I had a cold and fever, I tried a personal experiment and ate a little fruit. As a result, the protective qi of my body dissipated quickly, and made me feel even worse.
2 Types of Colds, 2 TCM RecipesThere are two major types of colds in TCM, that of wind-cold and wind-heat.
Wind-cold is characterized by chills, headache, sneezing, itchy throat, and coughing up clear or white mucus. This typically is the first stage of a cold and can last a couple hours or a few days.
A wind-heat cold is characterized by a sore throat, more fever than chills, and coughing up yellow mucus.
- 10 grams scallion
- 6 grams fermented soybean
- 3-4 slices ginger
- 3 grams chrysanthemum
- 6 grams Dragon Well tea