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  • Writer's pictureJaime Hernandez

Common Cold, Influenza, Chinese Medicine, and You

Chinese Medicine possesses a long and rich history in treating infectious diseases.  In fact it’s herbal tradition made some of it’s most significant advances by treating these kinds of problems.  Chinese Medicine therefore has much to offer to help people before, during, and after infection.

Historical Precedent

Approximately 220AD there lived a doctor by the name of Zhang Zhong Jing (AKA – Zhang Ji).  During this time, China was ravaged by civil war, and people suffered from crime, poverty, infection and death.  At this time there was also a severe epidemic plague in China were two-thirds of the population were infected, 70% of which died.  Zhang Ji was from a family of over 200 members and they were not fortunate enough to escape fatality from the epidemic.  Zhang Ji was devastated by the widespread losses of his family, as well as the impact the situation had on the community and nation.  He subsequently dedicated his entire life to studying and practicing medicine.

Dr. Zhang’s comprehensive studies resulted in the now classical texts “Shang Han Za Bing Lun” (Discussion of Cold-Induced Disorders) and “Jin Gui Yao Lue” (Essentials from the Golden Cabinet).  These works clearly established relationships among disease, progression, complications, treatment strategies, dosage forms, and herbal formulas.  Dr. Zhang’s work forever changed the practice of Chinese Medicine.  Over 1,700 years after their original publication, his works are still studied as required textbooks in Chinese Medical schools throughout the world.  Many of his formulas are still considered to be the standard herbal treatments for the kind of infectious diseases we still see today.

During  the late 1600’s and throughout the 1700’s a different school of thought developed from Dr. Zhang’s work.  This school was based on theory called “Warm Disease”.  The five medical experts who most significantly influenced the development of Warm Disease theory were Wu You Ke, Ye Tian Shi, Xue Sheng Bai, Wu Ju Tong, and Wang Meng Ying.  These prominent doctors wrote many books on the subject of Warm Disease.  This area of study is now known as Wen Bing Xue (Warm Disease studies).  Their ideas discussed at depth the role of certain infectious factors in the etiology of communicable diseases.

The western medical problems of common cold, influenza, and other bacterial/viral problems (measles, chicken-pox, German measles, poliomyelitis, smallpox, scarlet fever, whooping-cough, meningitis,  glandular fever (mononucleosis), and any non-specific upper-respiratory infection) fall within the study of these two schools of thought.   The major commonality between the two approaches are that they both consider disease a direct result of an invasion of the body by an “external pathogenic factor” (either heat or cold), and that the pathogenic factor then penetrates the body more deeply following  a very specific progression.  The stage of pathogenesis is differentiated by the person’s symptomatology and therefore successful treatment is dependent on correctly identifying the stage the disease is currently presenting at.  The result of this approach is a highly effective method of treating disease, especially that of infectious diseases.  It should be noted that China is currently using this approach with much success to address SARS, Avian Flu, and H1N1 (Swine Flu).

Chinese Medical Treatment Options for Influenza

It is best to categorize treatment options into three different phases.  What works during one phase will be minimally effective in another and in some cases counterproductive.   The three phases can be broken down into Prevention Phase, Initial Exposure Phase, and Advanced Phase.

During the prevention phase, prior to exposure, it is recommended that one support the immune system in order to prevent the virus of a future exposure from forming full attachment.  We are carrying two different herbal formulas to achieve this goal.   One of the formulas is the very popular “Jade Wind Screen Powder”, the other is a modern formulation combining Cordyceps, Astragalus, Reishi Mushroom, and several other Chinese medicinals.  Both formulas are effective for enhancing immune function and increasing energy and vitality.

If exposure is certain or probable, there is a small window of time to try and kill the virus before it has a chance to reach full strength replication.  The incubation period of most influenza is from 1-4 days before symptoms begin and another 1-3 days before replication has reached its peak.  The bottom line is that there are at least 2 days after initial exposure (and up to 3 days after symptoms have begun, as long as symptoms remain mild) to prevent the virus from growing to its full strength.  During this initial exposure phase, the previous two formulas can still be used with good effect, but you can also combine them with additional medicinals to increase chances for quick recovery.  Chang’s Chinese Medicine Wellness Center is carrying several specific formulas for this phase of care.  Properly prescribed herbal formulas will be dependent on the presenting symptomatology.  Formulas during this phase are effective if symptoms are limited to a tickle in the throat, mild lethargy, slight loss of appetite, or body aches, and a pulse rate that is less than 20 BPM over the person’s normal heart rate.

Viral replication reaches peak production within 72 hours after onset of symptoms, and the body’s immune response  is consuming all available resources .  The most characteristic symptoms are racing pulse, high fever, pronounced fatigue/weakness, loss of appetite, and chest discomfort with pronounced or mild cough.  Other, less frequent symptoms can include headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, sinus symptoms, diarrhea, or vomiting.   Treatment during this advanced phase is directed at relieving symptoms, restoring and regulating the body’s immune response, and purging the pathogen out of the lung tissue into the more superficial areas of the body.  As in the previous phase, formulas during this stage of care are prescribed according the presenting symptomatology so as to ensure successful treatment of the disease factor.

In closing, it is important to consider Chinese medicine as a viable method to prevent and also treat the seasonal health problems we experience throughout fall and winter.  With the expected shortages as well as controversial nature of flu vaccinations, we should explore all possibilities to stay healthy and/or prevent illness from becoming more serious in nature.  Chang’s Chinese Medicine Wellness Center carries a complete herbal pharmacy and has stocked up on the most common herbal formulas used to address these types of problems.  Additionally, we are carrying formulas and supplements to boost immunity as a preventative measure during this flu season.  Please contact us at 360-756-5866 for additional information.

Wishing you health and wellness,

Benjamin Chang, DTCM, ADS, L.Ac.

Bellingham Washington, 98225



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