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November 2, 2010

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TCM tackles the common cold

THOUGH there's no cure for the common cold, traditional Chinese medicine can build immunity, relieve symptoms and dramatically reduce severity and duration. Zhang Qian gets a prescription.

As the temperature drops, the common cold is upon us and there are plenty of sick people with sore throats, runny noses, sneezes, coughs and headaches.

There's no cure for the common cold in traditional Chinese medicine or in Western medicine. But herbal medicine, acupuncture (or acupressure) and nasal irrigation can help prevent colds or relieve symptoms and reduce the duration of colds.

In fact, acupressure and herbal soup in the very early stages can effectively halt the progression of a cold, if the person has a healthy immune symptom.

Staying warm is the best preventive measure. TCM doctors also recommend nasal irrigation, DIY acupressure and hot herbal drinks, such as ginger and brown sugar, to dispel what they call pathogenic cold and fend off colds.

"Healthy energy can effectively defend us against ailments like colds," says Dr Fang Hong, chief of the Respiratory Medicine Department at Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM.

"But when healthy energy is weakened by fatigue or other serious ailments, pathogenic elements from outside can easily invade the human body through pores, the nose or mouth and cause disease," Fang says.

Suddenly falling temperature leave little time for many people's immune systems to cope with the weather, that's why it's important to keep warm.

Today we know that colds are cause by viruses, as many as 200. Western medicine may recommend antihistamines, cough suppressants, aspirin, throat lozenges and other medicine. Drink lots of liquids, stay warm and wait it out.

TCM, which didn't have the benefit of microscopic analysis, divides colds into four categories, according to their causes - invasions of pathogenic cold, wind, damp and heat - and require different treatments.

Healthy immunity is important to prevent colds and that includes regular exercise and enough sleep.

Frequent proper hand washing and keeping one's hands away from the nose and mouth also prevent spread of germs and colds.

Here are simple things you can do

Nasal irrigation

Nasal cilia (very tiny internal hairs) help keep out germs, virus and bacteria; they also sweep them to the back of the throat where they are swallowed and neutralized in the stomach.

When mucus increases the cilia move less, which means cold viruses stay longer and reproduce. People catch cold when there's a mass invasion of virus. Colds often begin with an itchy nose and sore throat (back of nasal passages).

Nasal irrigation with cold water or cold salty water is an ancient therapy for health maintenance and prevention and treatment of colds. It's especially effective in a cold's early stages because it thins the mucus, freeing the cilia to sweep away germs.

It can also ease the symptoms of a heavy cold by thinning the mucus.

For prevention, nasal irrigation is recommended once in the morning and once at night. After catching cold, more frequent irrigation is needed.

Recommended drinks

A hot herbal drink before going to sleep can and boost yang energy and help prevent colds.

Green onions

Chop 100 grams of the white part of the green onion and prepare soup. Drink while hot.

Ginger and jujubes

Make soup with five slices of ginger and 10 jujubes. Drink while hot.

Ginger and brown sugar

Chop 10 grams ginger into thin slices and cook soup; add around 15 grams brown sugar. Drink while hot.

Orange peel

Cook 50 grams fresh orange peel with boiling water. Add sugar to sweeten. Drink while hot.

Rubbing nose wings

Rubbing the nose wings can also help get the cilia moving and sweeping out pathogens. For prevention, it's recommended twice a day. Rub firmly 15-30 times until the nose gets warm and red.

Rubbing hands

Da yu ji, the palm muscles at the base the thumb, are closely related with the respiratory system, according to TCM. To build immunity, rub them against each other for one or two minutes until both palms get hot. This improves circulation, accelerates metabolism and thus improves immunity against colds.


TCM holds that immunity can be improved by applying acupressure on certain acupuncture points like zu san li. Acupressure on feng chi and ying xiang can help prevent colds and relieve nasal problems.


TCM recommends "hot" (yang energy) foods to warm up the body, dispel pathogenic cold and help prevent colds. Ginger, brown sugar, garlic and green onions are on the list.

Drinking a hot, cooked ginger and brown sugar beverage is common in China to prevent colds and relieve cold symptoms. Many Chinese people drink it when they feel a cold coming on, after they get wet in the rain or stay out in the cold a long time.

The drink promotes sweating and prevents pathogenic cold from entering. People who are susceptible to colds can drink the soup once or twice daily in cold weather.


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