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Tips in Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment of Epidemics, Cold & Flu

In light of the concerns for the coronavirus and the common but dangerous flu this winter, I think it is useful to take a look at Traditional Chinese Medicine due to its long history of dealing with these health concerns.

Classical Chinese medical texts and medical records have multiple references to epidemic febrile diseases that exerted heavy burdens on Chinese populations throughout the ages. Because of the large impact of these pathogens, serious observational science went into crafting theories to understand these epidemics and then care was used to create herbal formulas to manage these epidemics, as well as less virulent pathogens like the common cold and flu.

The early classics of medicine (e.g. Huang Di Nei Jing, Nan Jing, Shang Han Lun, about 200 B.C.–220 A.D.) credited epidemic diseases to the invasion of the body by pathogenic cold and wind, classifying them as “cold damage disorders”.  This was essentially the origin of Chinese medical culture as we know it. Starting in the colder northern regions, they aimed to manage colds and flus which can be deadly if not treated properly. With the Shang Han Lun or Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders (written sometime before 220 AD) by Zhang Zhongjing, the “cold damage disorder” theory evolved into highly effective clinical principles regarding these environmental attacks. Considered invisible but dangerous material from the outside, these disorders usually entered the body in the form of 6 potential stages, with the internal health of the patient determining if the disease, here possibly a cold or flu, might move more quickly.

Much like we see in colds and flu now, one can often manage it by monitoring severity of symptoms and its aggression or latency.  However, Chinese medicine crafted complicated antiviral, antibiotic and antimicrobial as well as immuno-modulating herbal formulas to help stop these disorders.  These formulas from the Shang Han Lun work so well they are still used today all over the world. It is considered one of the greatest texts in herbal medicine, certainly in East Asia to this day (although as time moves on, many other classics now exist). Thus, while the common cold and flu are dangerous, Chinese medicine feels that if many more of us used the herbal formulas that have worked for them – and which are taken at the very first sign of trouble, and while practicing a healthy lifestyle, that many more people’s lives would be spared in the winter.

With the creation of the “School of Warm Diseases” (Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911), a new concept of epidemic diseases emerged: distinction between “warm diseases” and “cold damage disorders”, role of a warm “epidemic (or pestilential) qi” or “epidemic toxin” in their occurrence, body invasion through the mouth and nose, high contagiousness, specificity of the epidemic qi according to the species (human or animal) and the nature of the epidemic disease.  This is a result of Chinese culture and the kingdoms moving into the warmer and tropical regions, dealing with malaria and other very different and highly dangerous diseases. They recognized cold and flu formulas do not work in these cases and things were dire at times. These attacks are not stages like in cold disease theory, they fold into one of 4 stages and the disease was viewed as being able to move right into the deepest stage and are much more problematic if they get out of hand, thus they are more likely to turn into difficult to control and treat epidemics.  

Chinese physicians are a heroic sort and before these theories were understood doctors would go to villages and observe the people and issues.  In fact according to John Chen (PharmD, LAc, and scholar), classical Chinese physicians noted in writing that something “invisible to the senses is being passed between the people” a full 600 years before Western medicine would accept germ theory.  When they found a formula that was working to help, they would inscribe them on stone in the villages so the people and local doctors could have something they couldn’t lose or forget to get them started managing these epidemics. In fact, the Nobel prize for medicine was awarded a few years back to a modern Chinese biologist who also studies classical Chinese herbal medicine. Her findings came from isolating one of the compounds used in an herbal formula from in these older classical combinations.

It is worth noting in light of these theories that I have some colleagues who have other colleagues working in China modern day and dealing with coronavirus, and they sent over translated herbal formulas to let us know what Chinese medicine is currently using against the coronavirus.  Based on signs and symptoms, they do consider it a Warm disease which means it is more aggressive and dangerous if it gets out of hand. The climate of the disease does not matter. What matters is how the disorder presents through a patient’s collective symptomology. That being said, besides taking the herbs they would recommend for this disorder, observing the general rules for not passing germs and not exhausting your internal capacity to fight them back are important. 

To care for yourself is important. It is prioritizing your wellness. 

Here are some tips on how to stay healthy this winter:

  • Good sleep (before 11pm) for 8 hours or more
  • Eating a healthy diet also according to Traditional Chinese concerns (stop icing drinks, over eating sugar or fake foods, eating too much or little or unregulated times.
  • Proper hygiene, washing one’s hands (20 seconds), not touching one’s face, cleaning surfaces you use often, covering ones face and mouth if sneezing, coughing (incidentally this is where face masks are helpful, to stop you from touching your face, but in reality won’t do much else to prevent spreading or these viruses).
  • Not walking into cold or wind without proper protection of the body, especially the back of the neck and face and especially after opening the pores from exercise.
  • Use a saline nasal rinse and gargle with hot salted water (this is more Auyervedic but a nice way to keep this tissue healthy and clear out any material unwanted in the area).
  • Taking herbs to help strengthen the body (adaptagens) like ginseng (American ginseng is most balanced) reishi fungus and astragalus.
  • Talk to your doctor about optimizing your vitamin D, zinc, and vitamin C levels. These nutrients are particularly important for optimal immune function and may be depleted in the typical diet, and in the winter depending on location.
  • Stay hydrated. Water is at the foundation of our health. Clean/filtered water consumed regularly helps keep our whole system functioning optimally, including our immune systems.
  • Don’t panic! An outbreak is scary, but most people will experience COVID-19 as a mild illness. Prolonged, toxic stress inhibits immune function, so whether it is fear about the virus or excess stress at home or work, do what you can to give your system a break and restore. 
  • Exercise, acupuncture, nutritional and herbal supplements recommended by your healthcare practitioner, qigong/tai chi, yoga, meditation, or whatever your “go-to” to unwind must take priority now. These are not luxuries! Take care of yourself.
  • Flu is a concern more than coronavirus in terms of probability. Vaccines attempting to mitigate the flu are widely available. If you are around small children, or the infirm, or the elderly often, or are older than 65, this is highly recommended. Speak with your doctor and decide what’s best for you.
  • A way to stay in front of viruses daily is by taking herbal medicines used for centuries to fight off a viral infection as SOON as you feel you may be getting sick or – even better – take some to be preventative. 

I started my own cold and flu line called HERBS FROM EAST, to help my clients fight back against these issues and have these easily on hand in easy to administer liquid tinctures. They are based on the Warm theory formulas.    

Here are the names of the herbal formula I based on traditional ones to help the immune system fight off viruses and in some formulas secondary bacterial infections while benefiting the immune system:

PREVENTION – to protect yourself before you get sick. Filled with adaptogens to help immunity.

INVASION – take this as soon as you feel issues especially in the throat and sinuses and head Our most commonly sold item with strong antiviral herbs.

ELIMINATION – take this if the issues move into your chest and there is mucus and difficulty expectorating.

You can buy them here or in my offices for a $5 discount. Otherwise they are shipped to you with priority mail asap. You can order them from this link below or simply email me back. It come’s out to roughly a little over $3 a day to fight back against viral illness using good quality, third party tested, herbs (no animal products and quality controlled).

Needless to say I take my Chinese herbal tinctures every day, whether to strengthen my body or relieve something coming on.  I rarely get sick and have seen radical changes in my clients who learn to treat their cold and flu in the model I have been discussing.  

I have herbs prepared and ready to go if anyone needs a bottle – for clients or family or friends. I feel this information needs to get out.  We don’t handle colds and flus very well in the States I feel. Inoculate (get the flu shot) if you feel you need it – for certain for those with lower potential natural immunity, or if you live or work with them, then protect yourself at every turn with Chinese herbal medicine. This is the best method I have found. The reactions to these formulas has been often nothing short of astounding for many who take them.  The main goal and reality being one never gets fully sick and “dodges” these full on symptoms which would take you out of commission.

The ideas in Chinese medicine are that as soon as a virus (or pestilent qi) is in the body, attack it before it embeds itself deeper and it is more complicated to kill and the body is now compromised.  Close the door on the invading intruder in other words. While we don’t know if it fights off every strain of new flu, or the coronavirus specifically, these herbs have been helpful for centuries.

One bottle will last for many dosages and tinctures. They do not go bad on the shelf for years as they are partially preserved in alcohol. Take 2 to 3 half droppers full 2 to 3 x a day with a little water or add boiled water to evaporate the alcohol and then drink when cooled.

Of course integrative medicine is a smart way to be a modern human. So if these herbs are taken at first signs and your initial condition does not improve in 4 days, and particularly if it gets worse, you should contact your physician as usual. Lungs are “delicate organs” according to Chinese medicine and in reality.

The idea with adding Chinese herbs to your cold and flu regiment is not to sit idly by while it gets worse and instead fight back.  Also a reminder antibiotics don’t help initial viral infections (most all colds and flu) so be careful about asking for some. We don’t want to create a super-bug that is resistant to these drugs one day.

I hope this email is helpful for those of you curious about the evolution of medical perceptions on epidemic diseases through Chinese classics of medicine and how we can use them to help modern day concerns. Chinese medicine stresses the importance of the growing awareness of variations in local and regional environments, and how we can use these ideas to effectively fight back and aim to manage these issues while they arise.

Chinese herbal medicine and wisdom learned from managing epidemics have been used for thousands of years, but Mother Nature finds new ways to express these illnesses and there are times where there is a gap between what we know can work and what is working. Stay vigilant, as there are no guarantees in medicine – but there are best bets for fighting back.

Any questions please email me.

Warm regards,

Mitchell Harris LAc

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