A stuffy nose, a lump in the throat that refuses to go away, a throbbing headache, body aches… chances are, you’ve experienced one or all of the above before. With cold and flu season coming up, are you ready to resist the flu bug or are you resigned to downing cold remedies?
Flu, According to TCM
Flu is a respiratory illness that is caused by viruses. And its symptoms are all too familiar: nasal congestion, running nose, sneezing, sore throat, coughing, fever, headache and fatigue.
From the perspective of TCM, flu and its symptoms are not just the body’s internal war, but is caused by six external pathogens: “wind”, “heat”, “dampness”, “fire”, “dryness” and “cold”. Acting on their own or in combination with “wind”, each person may experience different flu symptoms.
Fun fact: the two common types of flu are the “wind-cold” type and “wind-heat” type.
The “wind-cold” type occurs more often in cold environments or seasons, with symptoms such as running nose with clear mucus, severe aversion to cold, chills, fever, and coughs with white phlegm. While the “Wind-heat” type flu occurs more during the hot and dry seasons, with symptoms like sore throat, fever, running nose with yellow mucus, cough with yellow phlegm, deep yellow urine, and dry or hard stools.
In battling these pathogens, having a strong “vital qi” (正气) is essential. With strong “vital qi” or immunity, external pathogens cannot enter the body easily. On the other hand, if one’s “vital qi” is weak, the body will be more susceptible to environmental changes, thus allowing external pathogens to enter through the nose and mouth.
Tips to Prevent Flu
Prevention is always better than cure, so practice these tips to help take down germs.
#1. Basic Hygiene
The most basic step to prevent flu is maintaining good basic hygiene. This means:
• Washing your hands often, avoiding contact with your eyes, nose and mouth
• Having sufficient rest
• Staying hydrated
• Avoiding crowded areas and close contact with sick people
• Covering your coughs and sneezes with tissue paper
• Wearing a mask if you are already down with flu
#2. Exercise Regularly
Like to sleep in? Too much sleep and rest can actually slow down circulation of “qi” in the body, allowing the virus to attack. To unwind, squeeze some exercise in instead! Not only will it release endorphins (the “happiness hormone”), the workout will also increase “qi” circulation and boost your immunity.
As a recommendation, do some moderate exercise such as jogging, swimming or hiking for at least 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week. Even climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift can help improve your “qi”. Time to get those dust-collecting sports shoes out!
#3. Have a Balanced Diet
TCM herbs like American Ginseng and cordyceps* can boost your overall immunity, keeping the flu bugs at bay. In addition, having a healthy balance of “yin” and “yang” goes hand in hand with good dietary habits. Eating spicy, oily and deep-fried food in excess causes ‘heatiness’, while ingesting too much cold food and drinks can harm the body’s “yang”, affecting your digestive functions.
If you’re already down with the flu, these easy recipes can help:
Brown Sugar Ginger Tea
• Ginger: 6 slices
Winter Melon Chrysanthemum Porridge
*Disclaimer: ‘qi’ tonics like ginseng and cordyceps are not recommended to be taken when one is down with the flu.
#4. Medical remedies
If you find yourself down with the “wind-cold” type of flu, prepare a warm cup of Ge Gen Tang (葛根汤) for yourself and drink it while it’s warm. Known as one of the best choices in relieving cold, Ge Gen Tang (葛根汤) also works well in easing muscle aches and generate fluids for a quicker recovery.
However if you are down with the “wind-heat” type of flu, characterized by sore throat and/or yellow mucus and phlegm, Ban Lan Gen (板蓝根) can help dispel unwanted heat and toxic substances from the body to make your body feel less “heaty”.
#5. Improve Circulation with Acupressure Point Massage
Even while you’re sitting in the office or at school, try these acupressure point massage techniques to boost your immunity and circulation:
1. Zu San Li (ST36) is found 4 finger widths below the knee, and 1 finger width outside the shin bone. Massaging this point can tonify the spleen and increase immunity.
2. Fengchi (GB20) is found in the depression between 2 major muscles (sternocleidomastoid muscle and the trapezius) at the back of the neck, at the base of the skull. Massaging this point expels external Wind pathogens, relieves neck pain and headaches.
3. He Gu (LI 4) is found on the back of the hand, in the webbing between the thumb and index finger. Massaging this point can promote the circulation of the entire body’s Qi and blood, thereby enhancing immunity and expelling external Wind pathogens. This point should not be used on pregnant women.
4. Ying Xiang (LI 20) is found beside the wing of the nose, at the meeting point with the nasolabial line. Massaging this acupoint dispels wind and relieves nasal congestion.
So the next time you sense a cold or flu coming on, try these tips to end the year strong no matter what comes your way!
Contributed by Li Guang Jun, Associate Senior Physician, Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic @ Eastpoint Mall and Serangoon NEX