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The Root of the Problem

November 30th, 2014

Cold season is upon us. Increasingly, patients have been asking me what they can do to keep from catching colds this season. Some feel like they catch every cold that comes around, and as soon as they have recovered, it seems they are hit with another one. Others find that the one cold they do catch each year develops into a sinus infection or bronchitis that frustratingly lingers for weeks.

When you catch a cold, what is the root of the problem? From the point of view of biomedicine, the root of the problem is the virus or bacteria. If the symptoms are caused by bacteria, then the biomedical approach would be to eliminate the bacteria by using antibiotics. Recently, however, physicians are prescribing fewer antibiotics because widespread overuse of antibiotics is resulting in new stronger bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. The current western medicine approach to most colds and flus is to recommend medicines which will alleviate the symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, cough, phlegm, headache) while the weak immune system struggles to catch up. This approach may offer some relief, but it does not seem to get at the root of the problem.

In Chinese medicine, the root of the problem is not the virus or bacteria. It is the weak immune system, and its failure to mount a proper defense against the outside. The goals of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in this type of case would be to strengthen the immune system, and the overall vitality to support the immune system. The points and herbs to be chosen depend on where the imbalance is. Is there fever, or chills? Is there phlegm, and for how long? Is the person sweating constantly, or is there no sweat at all? Is the pulse superficial or deep? Is there congestion in the chest, or in the sinuses? All of these are important considerations in determining proper treatment.

In the meantime, here are three things you can do to avoid catching colds. Bundle up – wind, cold, and dampness are three external influences which make one more susceptible to getting sick. Eat to stay warm – soups and root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, beets), which are warming to the body, are better than uncooked salads and ice cream (which causes congestion in a lot of people whether or not they have a cold). And get good sleep – the less sleep you have, the less energy you’ll have to spend on fighting off the bacteria and viruses.

Stay healthy, and happy new year!