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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

A Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to the Common Cold: Dr. James Moore discusses prevention as well as ways to strengthen one's immune system.

Jan 30, 2016 12:36PM ● By Dr. James Moore

It seems that no matter how often we experience the familiar symptoms of sore throat, chills, upper respiratory congestion, headache, neck and shoulder stiffness and possibly fever, we are still often under-prepared and in a quandary as to what is the best treatment.

Considering that not everyone exposed to common cold pathogens catches a cold, the deeper cause must exist at the level of our immune system, which can be either fundamentally deficient or overly stressed. The general maintenance of the immune system, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is controlled in part by two defined energetic organ systems. Lung qi, is responsible for the body’s ability to fight off an external attack by a pathogen; in TCM called wind-heat, or wind-cold, etc., and in modern scientific terms called virus or bacteria.

The san jiao, or triple warmer, coordinates the functions of all the internal organ processes, which can get out of balance as a result of the consumption of overly refined foods, lack of sleep, emotional stress, lack of exercise and exposure to damp or cold. Other factors to consider are rapid changes in the weather, genetic constitution or living and sleeping in overly heated homes with a lack of proper ventilation. This type of person may catch a cold easily that is caused by a weakness of the wei qi, or protective qi of the lung.

The primary objective is prevention. Careful attention to lifestyle considerations is paramount. A doctor of Oriental medicine would utilize specific acupuncture points and herbs to strengthen certain aspects of the immune system that are deficient. For example, a person with weak protective qi could take a combination of astragalus root, white atractylodes root and siler root; this is a classic Chinese formula that has been used for thousands of years for this purpose. To this, a Chinese herbalist might add another 10 herbs in order to individualize the formula on a case-by-case basis.

Some possibilities include reishi mushroom, Siberian ginseng, cordyceps or schizandra berry. Traditionally, about 100 grams of these raw, dried herbs are simmered covered in a quart of water for an hour. The beverage is strained and the tea consumed daily. Tinctures and extracted herb powders are frequently used for convenience.

There are several steps to take at the first signs of common cold. First, eat a light, bland diet. Second, don’t overexert the body; mild exercise and a little fresh air are helpful. Third, induce sweating, except in cases of high fever over 101 degrees F or when already sweating. Make a strong cup of peppermint tea or use fresh ginger, yarrow, elder or lemon balm. While the tea is steeping, draw a hot bath adding salts, oils such as eucalyptus and tea tree, seaweed and a sack of herbs that includes Echinacea or dried honeysuckle.

Relax in the tub, immersing as much of the body as possible for 20 to 25 minutes while sipping the tea. Next, dry off and wrap in dry, cotton sheets until well-insulated. Sweat like this for 10 to 15 minutes, dry off, put on fresh clothes and get plenty of rest.

Fourth, begin herbal therapy. Honeysuckle antimicrobial complex is a stronger variation of the Chinese classic Yin Qiao San for early stage symptoms of chilled feeling, scratchy sore throat and possibly fever, sweats, sneezing, clear runny nasal discharge, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, achy muscles, stiff neck, headache or fatigue. This is similar to the Airborne over-the-counter product. Thirty drops of Echinacea tincture every three hours or so works well with this regimen, as do propolis, golden seal, oil of oregano, olive leaf extract, probiotics and micronized silver. Remember it is important to start the therapy at the first symptoms of a cold, such as a tickle in the throat or a sneeze or sniffle.

There is a wealth of practical lifestyle and herbal wisdom to draw upon from many cultures. Once established, a cold might have to simply run its course. Even then, its duration and severity can be reduced considerably by following the proper therapeutic guidelines.

Dr. James MooreJames Moore is a doctor of Oriental Medicine at Synergistic Therapies, in Phoenix. For more information, phone 602-923-6310 or visit

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