Autumn is a common time of year to catch a cold, which relates to traditional Chinese medicine theory since each organ system corresponds to a particular season and wouldn't you know it lungs correspond to autumn. That does not mean you can only catch a cold in autumn just that colds are more prevalent especially if the lung system is weak or out of balance. Therefore fall is a good time to strengthen the lung system.
Why is a strong lung system necessary?
The lung system in Chinese medicine governs the nose, skin, breathing and is responsible for the circulation of Wei Qi, a protective energy closely related to the immune system in Western medicine. When this energy is strong the body is able to fight off disease, conversely when it is weak pathogens may enter the body leading to the common cold.
How can Wei Qi be strengthened?
Exercise, such as brisk walking outside can help circulate Qi and strengthen lung Qi. Proper diet and adequate rest also ensure that energy levels are maintained and restored. Some specific foods to strengthen Lung Qi are strawberry, glutinous rice, grapes, honey, tofu, garlic, carrots, oats, sweet potato, yam and fresh ginger.
TCM therapies such as acupuncture and herbal medicine can also strengthen the lung Qi. Acupuncture must be performed by a licenced acupuncturist, however there are common formulas that can be taken as tea, tinctures or tablets which taken regularly prior to cold season can improve immunity. Common herbs in those formulas are astragalus, ginseng, siler, atractylodes, angelica root, ginger and scallion. These herbs may also be used in treatment of the common cold.
How is it that herbs can both treat and prevent the common cold?
TCM approaches treatment from what is called root and branch, with the root being the underlying cause for the condition and the branch being the current symptoms. Therefore herbs will be chosen to alleviate symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, headache, body ache, sore throat and cough. Once symptoms are alleviated herbs to strengthen the body's Qi can be used. Reishi mushroom tea is a common immune tonic and is mild enough for everyday use.
Other everyday preventative measures include 20 minutes of brisk walking as mentioned above, using a neti pot to keep nasal passages clear, using a diffuser with essential oils such as eucalyptus and cedar, stretching to open the chest and yoga breathing techniques can all be beneficial.
Angela Foran is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine where she uses acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary and lifestyle recommendations to help clients achieve optimal health. Click here to learn more about her Vancouver acupuncture practice