Holistic Cold/Flu Prevention and Care

by Liz Miller, L.Ac., MSOM


According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, germs don’t make you sick. Instead, your body’s inability to defend against germs and foreign invaders is what results in you or your child succumbing to illness. Illness and disease can only result when our body provides a hospitable environment. This is the reason why the same cold or flu can go through a school and some child get sick but others don’t.


To Stay Well:

Knowing how to keep your immune system strong, even during the heart of cold and flu season, will be the best tool for staying well. Your diet and sleep play a key role in your immune function. Because the immune system starts in the gut, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and proteins will keep your body and immune system strong. Probiotics are also an important part of the diet (through fermented food, kombucha or supplements) and balance healthy gut flora, which play a critical role in keeping our immune systems strong. Along with improving your diet, proper rest is as much of a basic need as food or water. The body needs to sleep to repair, strengthen, and incorporate the events of the day into memories and sequenced events. The immune system relies on sleep to stay strong. Studies have shown that even just 1 night of missed sleep can reduce elements of your immune system function by 25%. Finally, incorporating supplements into your daily routine is a great way to maintain a strong immune system that will be ready to fight any germs that enter the body. A list of these supplements is provided below.


TCM categories cold and flu symptoms into two groups:

Wind Heat is characterized by a sore throat, swollen tonsils, and a stuffy nose with yellow mucus, accompanied by a fever, sweating, and thirst. To recover from a wind heat, try peppermint or chrysanthemum tea and avoid adding heat to the body by reducing coffee, spices, red meat, sugar, and dairy.

Wind Cold is characterized by a scratchy throat and stuffy nose with clear runny mucus, body aches, sneezing, lack of sweat, possible headache, and a fever with predominating chills. To recover from a wind cold, incorporate ginger or cinnamon into your food or tea, avoid overly chilled foods, raw vegetables (steamed or baked is best), ice cubes, ice cream, and dairy.


To Get Well:

If you do catch something, don’t panic. Your body is made to heal, catching a cold and allowing your body to heal from it builds and strengthens your immunity. It’s important to act quickly the moment you notice the onset of cold/flu symptoms, as it is a lot easier to fend off a tickle in the throat compared to strep throat or tonsillitis.


Start with diet shifts by increasing simple foods that are easy for the body to digest and turn into useful energy, such as soup, stew, congee, and steamed vegetables. Avoid sugar, dairy, greasy food, excess animal protein, caffeine, and alcohol at this time.


If fatigue is an issue, allow yourself or your child to go to bed early and/or sleep in. It’s important to listen to your body. If you’re not up for work, class, or the gym, skip it and opt for a gentle walk or time spent meditating instead.


The neck and upper back are considered the “Wind Gate” in TCM; keep this area covered by a scarf or jacket when exposed to air conditioning or the elements. Keep the temperature in your home moderate (68-70) and use humidifiers to avoid drying out the air. Essential oils, like thieves, lemon, and eucalyptus are great for strengthening the immune system, diffuse them throughout the house or add a few drops to a bath or shower.


Acupuncture, gua sha and cupping greatly assist the body in healing, and we always recommend to our patients to make an appointment at the onset of a cold/flu or if there is something going around. The more proactive you are about your health, the easier it will be to avoid or heal from an illness. Incorporating supplements and herbs into your routine is another powerful way to boost your immunity. Vitamin C, Zinc, grapefruit seed extract, and lysine are key preventative supplements, but can also be increased at the first sign of illness. Herbal medicines such as Cold Quell, Wind Breaker, or a custom formula are recommended to help the body quickly recover from illness. It is important to act quickly and take supplements and herbs diligently at the onset and duration of a cold or flu. Once you start feeling better, reduce the dosage slowly and continue for a few days after the symptoms subside.


What to have in your medicine cabinet:

-Vitamin C                                          -Probiotics

-Vitamin D                                          -Zinc

-Grape seed extract nasal spray     -Herbal cough syrup

-Cold Quell                                         -Wind Breaker (for children)


Secondary Supplements:

-Umcka                                               -Vira Stop

-Fire fighter (for children)             -Bi Yan Pian

-Quiet Cough (for children)          -Essential oils- Raven, Chest Relief, Immune Shield


Western Medicine View:

Viral Infection:

Symptoms are less severe. Upper respiratory infection- runny nose, cough, low-grade fever, sore throat, and trouble sleeping. Influenza- accompanies the same symptoms with intense body aches and high fever. (No “cure” but flu vaccines and antivirals are often prescribed.)

Bacterial Infection:

Can be more serious illness or a secondary infection. Sinus infections, ear infections, pneumonia, urinary tract infections are all bacterial. Bacterial conditions last longer than expected, present with higher fevers, or the fever gets worse after a few days instead of getting better. (Typically treated with antibiotics.)


Western medicine and medication are wonderful tools when used appropriately. Knowing when to shift from Eastern to Western medicine is important for recovery when serious symptoms occur. Holistic medicine is best used as a preventative measure to keep your immune system strong. It is difficult and takes longer to come back from an illness when you only turn to holistic methods after you have gotten sick. Western medicine is best when you or your child are unable to sleep, have a prolonged fever or aren’t responding to natural measures. Antibiotics should be reserved for severe cases to avoid building a resistance. Speak with your doctor or health care provider about all of your options and how to best incorporate Eastern and Western medicine into your and your family’s health regimen.

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