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November 24, 2009

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Brewing anti-flu potions with TCM herbs to boost immunity

HERBAL tonics fight flu As the world battles H1N1 and seasonal flu, it's important to stay healthy and boost your immunity. Herbal potions, hot ginger foot baths and rubbing your belly and knees can help. Zhang Qian prescribes.

By boiling 10 herbs into a potion to boost qi -- and thus immunity -- Trisha Lin hopes traditional Chinese medicine therapy can prevent her family from catching H1N1 flu.

She just started brewing this herbal soup from scratch because she read the recipe on the Internet and through SMS. She concocts the mixture every two days.

Those who are not in priority high-risk groups probably won't get the limited H1N1 vaccine, so they are looking for other ways to stay healthy. The Internet is loaded with suggestions.

The potion (see recipe right) uses mulberry leaves, reed root, liquorice, chrysanthemum, honeysuckle, forsythia, loquat leaves, kudzu root, pearl barley and dyers woad leaf. It tastes medicinal but not bad.

It's all about strengthening your wei qi, defensive qi, so your body can resist invasions of pathogenic energy, according to TCM.

Hot foot baths using ginger can help, so can acupressure on two points (see right) below the navel and on the sunken area at the outside of the kneecaps.

Lin is using a popular herbal prescription from Dr Zong Jiaxi, director of wei bing (warm/infectious) disease department of the No. 1 Affiliated Hospital of the Guangzhou University of TCM. It was reported in the Southern Metropolitan Daily and has swept the Internet.

Dr Zong was head of the TCM expert team during China's handling of the SARS epidemic in 2003.

He says his prescription, a herbal soup, isn't too "cold" (too much yin energy which can upset digestion) and is well-tolerated by almost everybody.

Take it once or twice a day for three days -- and you will begin to improve your immunity, he is quoted as saying. Then continue to take it to boost your qi.

"They say this can help prevent the flu," says 37-year-old Lin. "Since it's not difficult to cook, I think it's worth trying."

The basic recipe is available in packets in Beijing pharmacies, some specifically compounded for children, the weak and elderly, pregnant women and the general popular. Packets are harder to find in Shanghai.

Winter officially arrived on November 13, the earliest day in 30 years. This change to cooler temperatures is always accompanied by respiratory ailments of various kinds, including the seasonal flu and now the highly infections H1NI flu.

The latest statistics in Shanghai: By Friday (November 20), 1,688 cases have been reported since the first case was found in May. Also, 1,459 have fully recovered. No deaths have been reported.

More than 80 percent of the recent cases are H1N1 flu, according to Lu Hongzhou, vice president of the Shanghai Expert Panel on Preventing and Controlling H1N1 Flu.

Many cases are mild, but some people come down with high fevers. In serious cases, there can be respiratory damage. High-risk groups get H1N1, including primary and middle school students and teachers, medical personnel, public service staff. Those over 60 usually get seasonal flu vaccine.

Shanghai plans to administer five million doses by the end of February for both H1N1 and seasonal flu. Nationwide, as of November 18, more than 18 million people have received the H1N1 vaccine, according to the Ministry of Health.

However, some people, especially young parents hesitate to have their kids vaccinated because of concerns over the safety of the domestic vaccine.

"The swine flu vaccine was developed within such a short time and it takes time to know the side effects. I just don't want my kid to be a lab rat," says Cindy Wu, mother of a six-year-old girl. Wu hasn't yet decided.

Many others consider it worth getting the vaccine. Wang Ning, 55, has signed up her 82-year-old father for the seasonal vaccine.

"I also heard questions about the safety, but since so many people have already taken it, it should be safe for most," says Wang.

Getting a H1N1 flu vaccine is so far the most effective way to prevent catching it, says Dr Ni Wei, chief physician at the respiratory department of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM.

"The antibodies produced by the swine flu vaccine can best protect the body against the flu," says Ni. "Seasonal flu vaccine may help a bit, but it's not as effective as the specially made one for H1N1."

As the vaccine is limited, many people are gearing for DIY prevention. Some cook herbal soups, like Lin. Others work at staying healthy, eating right, getting enough rest and exercising.

"It is impossible to keep yourself away from city crowds, so improving your own immunity makes more sense," says Zhao Yun, 27, who restarted her weekly swimming a few weeks ago.

"All these measures are positive and can help protect against flu," says Dr Ni. "TCM believes that if the healthy qi is strong inside, then no pathogenic qi can affect the body.

"There's always a lot of respiratory infection as the season changes, but some people are never affected -- that's because of their healthy qi, what Western medicine calls immunity," says Dr Ni.

He recommends a nutritious diet, regular appropriate exercise, plenty of sleep and some TCM reinforcement like herbal soups/teas.

Acupuncture, moxibustion or acupressure on acupuncture points like zu san li (sunken area on the outside of kneecap), guan yuan (three inches below the navel) and qi hai (one inch below the navel) can activate the wei qi (defensive qi).

Foods that nourish and strengthen the lung function are especially recommended, including pears, yams, white fungus and lily root.

Other immunity-reinforcing practices include rubbing or combing the scalp (in one direction), patting and rubbing various body meridians (torso, shoulders, back legs), washing the face with cold water and taking hot foot baths with ginger.

"You don't have do everything, any one or two methods can improve your qi if you practice regularly," says Dr Ni. Boost Immunity With Herbal Soup, Acupressure, Ginger Foot Bath


Ingredients: Mulberry leaves (12g), chrysanthemum (12g), honeysuckle (12g), lianqiao (forsythia, 12g), loquat leaves (12g), kudzu root (15g), pearl barley (15g), reed root (15g) dyer's woad leaf (15g), liquorice (6g)

Method: Cover with water and soak all ingredients for 20 minutes. Boil for two minutes.

Drink often.

Benefits: Boosts immunity.


Zu san li

Location: Sunken area on outer side of kneecaps, both legs.

Guan yuan

Location: 3 inches below the navel.

Qi hai

Location: 1.5 inch below the navel

Method: Rubbing each of the three points for a few minutes before bedtime or when waking up.

Benefits: Activates wei qi (defensive qi) and protects the body from pathogenic energies.

Ginger foot bath

Method: Boil a few slices of ginger in a saucepan for two to five minutes. Pour into a foot basin. Add cooler water to adjust temperature, but it should be hot.

Soak until skin turns red.

Soak daily before bed.

Benefits: Strenghens blood circulation and health qi.


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