Traditional Chinese Medicine theory approaches cold, flu and pollen seasons much differently than how western practitioners approach these rather nasty times of the year. From offering a range of Chinese herbs to boost immunity, to acupuncture points that address one's "defensive Qi", Chinese medicine can be incredibly powerful in keeping one healthy - and it's much easier and perhaps more natural than other over the counter supplements that we turn to when the weather turns (move over powdered vitamin-C packs: Jade Windscreen (Yu Ping Feng San) is mother nature's ultimate immunity blend).
Although we tend to think of colds and issues that spring up during pollen season as totally unrelated – one caused by nasty microbes and the other by small but mostly inanimate particles – there is a unifying explanation according to traditional Chinese medicine theory.
A Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to Catching a Cold
According to Traditional Chinese medicine theory, all of these assaults on the body by these seemingly ubiquitous pathogens and allergens are carried by the “wind.” Although it is hard to think of the climatic conditions being dangerous in the modern world of the microbe, we do have a vestige of similar notion in the English language.
Whenever your grandmother told you to close the window because you might catch a cold from a “draft,” she was speaking in a language very similar to that of Chinese medicine (your grandmother was actually talking about your Qi – read on!).
The concept of “wind” in Chinese medicine not only refers to the draughts of yesteryear, it is also expresses the suddenness with which they strike. One morning you awake and are off to work as usual, perhaps working next to a whirring air conditioning unit; by the afternoon you have left the office with a fever and chills. On another occasion you make a trip to visit some old friends; you feel fine for the entire journey, but the moment you step into your friends’ home and pet their sweet dog, you start sneezing uncontrollably.
Just like the gusts of air that swirl around us everyday, we can’t – nor should we want – to live in a world free of viruses and dog dander. The wind will always blow.
But there is another concept in Chinese medicine that unifies those of us who are particularly vulnerable to colds and allergies. When we all are exposed to the same conditions, but some of us regularly suffer and others rarely do, this is a sure sign that the vulnerable are “deficient,” in this case they are deficient in “defensive Qi.”
The concept of "deficiency" is central to Chinese medicine, yet it is almost impossible to find a corresponding term in Western medicine. According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, as a general concept, “deficiency” is a way of speaking about vulnerability or weakness in the body.
It can be brought on by chronic illness, but it may develop due to prolonged periods of stress, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, “hard living,” the demands of pregnancy and giving birth, and the many minor, unconscious ways that we fail or are unable to care for our bodies as we age. Perhaps the closest expression in English is the notion of a “weak immune system,” although this idea doesn’t come close to capturing the broadness of the term in Chinese medicine, the dozens of ways doctors have for specifying and treating the type and degree of deficiency a patient might have.
Don't Neglect Your Defensive Qi
Returning to those who are suffering from deficient Qi (those of us who seem to have more challenging cold seasons, pollen seasons, etc), their shared deficiency is an inability to ward off the dangers of “wind” because their “defensive Qi” is weak.
As discussed in the Emotional Balance article (based off the popular Chinese formula, Xiao Yao San), Qi is a term for describing the flows within the body. Qi can also be further subdivided into various types.
Defensive Qi refers to the Qi that circulates at the surface of the body, invigorating the skin, keeping the pores closed, fortifying the body against external pathogens. When it is deficient, the skin becomes vulnerable, the pores open, pathogens have greater opportunity to enter the body. One classic sign of this condition is excessive sweating, as defensive Qi is unable to retain bodily fluids. In our highly regulated indoor climates of the modern world, where we don’t have to regulate our body temperature in the ways that humans once had to, this symptom is not always present. Instead, we find individuals who are particularly susceptible to colds and allergies.
Dao Labs’ Immunity Support is based on a classic herbal combination known for treating this condition. This simple formula contains three items: atractylodes and astragalus for supplementing defensive Qi by strengthening the spleen, and fang feng for expelling wind. The simplicity of this formula belies its sometimes striking efficacy. Again, according to traditional Chinese medicine theory and when used preventatively, particularly for those individuals who have more challenging cold seasons, it can be taken safely for weeks or even months.
On the other hand, the Chinese theory surrounding Immunity Support can be used somewhat differently during pollen season (or in the company of pets!). In addition to being taken preventatively on a daily basis during times of peak seasonal change to provide maximum strength, it can also be helpful for immediate relief as well. Readers should be aware that allergies are complex and can be the result of deficiencies that are deeper and considerably more complex than a defensive qi deficiency. But for those who find themselves run down and suddenly vulnerable to allergy attacks, Immunity Support may offer fast and effective relief.
Care Consideration: Just a reminder that the above information is not a substitute for medical care and is not a substitute for medical advice or recommendations from a healthcare provider. This information is not intended to treat, mitigate or cure any disease. That said, we encourage you to connect with an Acupuncturist in your community to learn more about this and other Traditional Chinese Medicine options. If you’ve got questions about Chinese herbal medicine or getting started with an Acupuncturist, feel free to connect with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.