It is that time of year again when many succumb to severe cold or flu. Whether you are one of these or you are simply trying to stay healthy whilst surrounded by spluttering, sneezing or feverish colleagues, family and friends, you should be reading this.
The causes of cold and flu from a Western and TCM perspective
In Western medicine coming down with a cold or flu is seen as almost inevitable when temperatures drop and germs abound. You might be lucky and stave it off if your immune system is strong. If not, and you find the strength to drag yourself into the doctor’s office, you’ll most likely receive the same prescription as everyone else with a recommendation to take something like ibuprofen or paracetamol, or antibiotics if there is an infection. I could give you a long list of reasons why I avoid the former, and I try to minimise the use of the latter -antibiotics should not be the first stop solution except when truly needed - but instead I’m going to share some information with you that goes beyond this.
First of all, it is important to stress that the cause of a cold or flu is not the same for everyone. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the causes can be multiple, based on your own particular body constitution, but in its most simplified form, cold and flu are seen as exterior conditions caused by either a heat-type or a cold-type condition in your body.
The symptoms of heat-type cold or flu are more commonly seen in spring/summer or in hot environments, and include nasal congestion, sneezing, fever, sweating, nasal secretions which are yellow and thick, and cough with phlegm, often accompanied by a dry mouth and sore throat as a result of the drying effect of the heat in your body.
If, on the other hand, you have cold-type cold or flu, which is more prevalent in winter or in cold environments (also AC induced!), symptoms will include fear of cold, absence of sweating, clear body secretions (runny nose with watery type consistency), nasal congestion, sneezing with clear discharge, no fever or low grade temperature, and muscular pain.
How to treat cold and flu naturally
As you can see the symptoms differ, and consequently so will the treatment. Also, for external pathogens to invade your body, TCM believes there must already be immune deficiency, which can be the result of overwork, poor sleep or bad diet, not just environmental factors. So, don’t just blame it on your sick colleagues!
Some of the home remedies used by alternative medicine practitioners are listed below:
1. Ginger – ginger has warming properties which affect the middle burner and in turn stops nausea/vomiting and warms the lungs to stop coughing. It directs heat from the inside out and reduces fever by inducing sweating, so it is good for heat-type flu only to help to break the fever, but in large quantities it will have the opposite effect and worsen your condition! If, however, you are suffering from cold-type flu then ginger can become your best ally.
2. Honey – it has a sweet flavour and a neutral nature which means it can safely be used for both heat and cold-type flu sufferers. It tonifies the spleen, stomach, lung and large intestine systems, can help relieve constipation (usually a heat sign), and is drying when there is extreme heat. Use it in teas, alongside ginger.
3. Garlic- used widely in Ayurvedic medicine for its anti-bacterial properties which help to expel harmful pathogens from the body and boost the immune system. However, it is warming in nature, so best avoided with heat-type symptoms.
4. Echinacea – a bright pink flowering plant native of North America, has been used by Native Americans for hundreds of years and has now become a common over the counter remedy. A study published in 2009 in Virology Journal proved it fights the flu in 99% of the strains studied. The best and most effective form is the standardized Echinacea Purpurea (there are 9 different types of Echinacea so read the labels!) extract (95% herb and 5% root). Failing that, pure Echinacea pills will also work. Its effects are compounded if mixed with propolis. For dosages refer to the labels.
5. Propolis – also known as bee glue, has been used since Aristotle’s time in Greece, as well as in ancient Egypt. It is an anti-microbial, antioxidative, anti-ulcer and can stop herpes (cold sores). It is readily available in tincture, spray, ointment or cream form, depending on the intended use.
6. Bone-broth- remember the chicken soups and broths your grandmother used to make when you were sick? Well, they work! How? Since your energy (or Chi) is depleted, as is your immune system, the broth made from animal bones containing bone marrow, acts as an energy booster and blood tonic. This is one of the best home remedies for cold-type flu or cold and to give you energy (see below for the recipe).
7. Lemon, honey and cinnamon – the combination of these three, in hot water, will help to prevent the build-up of mucus. Just remember that if you suffer from heat-type conditions, cinnamon is warming so you might like to skip it.
8. Chiropractic – the realignment of your spine has a direct effect on the correct functioning of all your internal organs. If you have ever had the beginnings of a sore throat, or an ear infection, or even a cold, and you have tried chiropractic, you will have noticed the symptoms decrease or completely disappear just after the adjustment and will help you fight them off long after.
9. Acupuncture – your body has the tools it needs to heal itself. Just as a chiropractic adjustment can help, acupuncture treatment can address the imbalances in your body and give it the boost it needs to fight off the cold or flu. Every little bit helps!
Other recommendations for a speedy recovery are to avoid sugar, foods that might contain heavy metals (eg tuna often has large quantities of mercury) and other hard to digest foods, as well as foods that cause inflammation in your body (processed meats, cheese and dairy, sugar…). You want your body to spend its time and energy fighting the pathogens, not trying to digest that burger with chips you had for lunch!
If I was asked to personally choose one from the above list, I would say Echinacea. Over the past 20 years, whenever I felt a cold or sore throat coming, I took Echinacea and stopped it in its tracks. Those couple of times when it was too late, it shortened the course of the cold or flu considerably.
Prevention is the best cure
Echinacea is not just something you can take to make you get better, but it is an immune system booster. You can take a small dose 6 days a week throughout the more stressful times (eg long trips in different climates, work induced stress etc) or during the colder winter months if you are prone to get colds and flu, as a preventative measure.
Similarly, bone broth doesn’t have to be something you take after you get sick, but can become part of your health plan during the colder months, taken by itself or used as a base for soups and stews to help boost your immune system.
Recent studies carried out in new Zealand have also shown that eating one Kiwi Gold per day can not only prevent the onset of colds and flu, but also helps to reduce symptoms and duration. Worth considering swapping that apple a day with a kiwi a day!
How to make your own bone broth
Once you have managed to get a few bones, either from the last large roast you had, or from your local butcher, making your own bone broth is just a question of time. Preferably you will be using good quality bones, from organic, grass fed animals, to get the most and healthiest nutrients possible.
Remember all those vegetable peels and bits you discarded from your organic vegetables throughout the week? You washed them in the bicarbonate and water solution before peeling them or removing hard stalks or other tough parts too hard to cook? I put all of these in a container in the freezer. When it is full, I take these and use them to make my own broth. Because there will be a mixture of many types of vegetables (carrot ends and peels, the tougher green tops of leeks, kohlrabi peel, cauliflower and broccoli hearts etc) the taste will be simply amazing and full of depth.
1. Just place all of these vegetables straight out of the freezer into a large pot with the bones. Cover in water and add a little salt, not too much as it might become too salty and you can always add more salt later. Put the lid on and bring to a boil. Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat so it just gently simmers away until it reduces by roughly one third. This could take anything up to 3 hours. But you don’t need to stand over the pot for this!
2. Once it has reduced, check the salt and add some more if necessary, mixing well whilst still hot. Allow it to cool down a little before straining it with a fine mesh strainer. Press the vegetables so they let all the liquid out. Your bone broth is now ready either to be drunk on its own (add a couple of teaspoons of grated parmesan on top for extra flavour!) or to be used as a base for soups and other dishes. Save the bones for use up to 2 more times.