As the cold and flu season approaches, it's time to turn to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In this blog, we’ll explore 5 cold and flu herbal formulas from TCM that can help alleviate and manage symptoms.
These Chinese herbal formulas for immunity support and cold and flu include: Yin Qiao San (Honeysuckle & Forsythia Formula), Yu Ping Feng San (Jade Windscreen Formula), Ren Shen Bai Du San (Ginseng & Mentha Formula), Zhi Sou San (Platycodon & Schizonepeta Formula), and Gui Zhi Tang (Cinnamon Twig Decoction).
We’ll cover each of these formulas, and how each combination of herbal ingredients is intended to provide relief from symptoms like coughing, congestion and fever. We’ll also share a few TCM-inspired self-care tips to help you maintain a healthy immune system throughout cold and flu season, and all year long!
But first, are you interested in understanding how Chinese medicine views the cold and flu? It differs from conventional western medicine in a few key ways.
Understanding the Cold and Flu in Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), cold and flu symptoms are viewed as external pathogens invading the body. The focus of TCM is on balancing or activating wei qi (or defensive energy), to relieve these symptoms.
TCM theory emphasizes the importance of wei qi, which acts as the body's first line of defense against these pathogens. Herbal medicine can help fortify this defensive energy, with various Chinese herbs containing properties that address specific symptoms to restore balance.
Recent studies and systematic reviews have suggested the effectiveness of TCM treatments, including acupuncture and herbal protocols, in managing respiratory infections. For example, acupuncture treatments have been found to stimulate the immune system, increase white blood cell count, and reduce inflammation.
If you’re seeking a natural way to support wellness while experiencing cold and flu symptoms, TCM offers a gentle, yet effective option that takes into account the body's overall balance and well-being.
The Concept of Wind Invasion
Wind is considered the primary pathogen in cold and flu infections, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. When the body is invaded by wind, symptoms such as fever, sore throat, runny nose, and cough can arise. TCM treatment aims to expel these wind pathogens from the body and restore balance. Herbal formulas, comprised of several Chinese herbs, are used to dispel wind pathogens and support the body's natural defenses. The concept of wind invasion has been an integral part of TCM since the Han Dynasty that continues to be studied and practiced today.
Differentiating between Wind-Heat and Wind-Cold
Differentiating between wind-heat and wind-cold is crucial in TCM for effective treatment. Wind-heat symptoms include a high fever, sore throat, and yellow phlegm. On the other hand, wind-cold symptoms manifest as chills, a runny nose, and white phlegm. TCM treatment aims to clear heat or warm cold pathogens, depending on the condition. The differentiation between these two conditions helps guide the treatment approach and ensures that the appropriate methods are used to address the specific symptoms experienced by the individual. By focusing on clearing heat or warming cold pathogens, TCM practitioners aim to alleviate symptoms and restore balance to the body.
5 Herbal Remedies for Cold and Flu & Herbs for Immunity Support
Let’s now explore a selection of 5 herbal formulas developed with cold and flu season in mind.
Yin Qiao San: A Time-Tested Formula
Yin Qiao San is a traditional Chinese herbal formula that has been used for centuries to address cold and flu symptoms characterized by wind-heat invasion. This formula contains honeysuckle and forsythia, which are believed to contain antimicrobial and antiviral properties.
By targeting the upper back and the throat, Yin Qiao San targets sore throat, cough, and fever commonly associated with cold and flu.
According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, Yin Qiao San works by strengthening the body's defensive qi and promoting the healthy function of the lungs and white blood cells; Yin Qiao San is often traditionally used as a preventive measure during flu season to strengthen the immune system and ward off respiratory infections. Recent studies and systematic reviews have suggested the efficacy of Yin Qiao San in managing cold and flu symptoms, including children with fever.
Yu Ping Feng San: Jade Screen Formula
Yu Ping Feng San, also known as Jade Screen Formula, is a traditional Chinese herbal formula that is highly regarded for its immune system support properties. With just three herbs – Huang Qi, Bai Zhu and Fang Feng – Yu Ping Feng San is intended to strengthen the immune system.
According to TCM theory, Yu Ping Feng San works by strengthening the wei qi, which is the body's defensive qi responsible for maintaining overall health and protecting against external pathogens. Modern research continues to explore the potential health benefits of Yu Ping Feng San, including its immuno-modulating functions, and its use in addressing pediatric allergic rhinitis. In recent years, Yu Ping Feng San has gained popularity as an over-the-counter remedy prevalent in health foods stores and online.
Ren Shen Bai Du San: Ginseng & Mentha Formula
The origins of Ren Shen Bai Du San trace back to the Song Dynasty, circa 1065. It is recorded in the Xu Shu Shi Gao ("Continuation of the Teachings of Eminent Physicians") compiled by Cheng Wu Ji. The formula was designed mainly to expel wind, eliminate cold, dampness, and clear phlegm through its warm, pungent properties.
Traditionally, it is used in cases of what is known in Chinese Medicine as a Wind-Cold-Damp invasion. This concept collaborates with the idea that external pathogenic influences (such as Wind, Cold, Damp) can invade the body surface and lead to disease.
In recent years, TCM practitioners have used Ren Shen Bai Du San during the recovery phases of COVID and long COVID.
Zhi Sou San: For Cough
Zhi Sou San is a traditional Chinese medicine herbal remedy formulated by TCM experts with the intention of providing relief from coughing. Its unique blend of ingredients, including apricot kernel, licorice root, and white mulberry root bark, work together to effectively moisten the lungs and support recovery with both dry and phlegm-related coughs.
This herbal remedy has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been the subject of recent scientific studies that discuss the formula’s benefits and safety.
Gui Zhi Tang: Cinnamon Twig Formula
Gui Zhi Tang, also known as Cinnamon Twig Formula, is a traditional Chinese herbal remedy used for exterior syndrome due to wind-cold. Gui Zhi Tang is said to be particularly noteworthy for its ability to either “promote or stop sweating.” This immuno-modulating function is derived from the temperatures, flavors, unique actions, and chemical constituents contained in all five herbal ingredients.
TCM practitioners prescribe Gui Zhi Tang for a specific set of symptoms including chills and fever (with or without sweating), stiff neck, aversion to wind, headache, and nasal congestion.
Techniques for Supporting Those with Cold and Flu Symptoms
In addition to Chinese herbal medicine, other TCM modalities can be used to help during cold and flu season, including cupping therapy, acupuncture and gua sha.
Cupping therapy is an effective technique in Traditional Chinese Medicine for supporting those suffering from colds or flus. This therapy involves placing heated cups on the body to create suction, which improves blood circulation and loosens muscles. Cupping also helps relieve congestion, reducing common symptoms like cough, headaches, body aches, and nasal congestion. It is a safe treatment option that can be performed by trained TCM practitioners.
Recent research has highlighted the benefits of cupping in improving symptoms and speeding up recovery. Cupping therapy has been used for centuries in TCM and is still widely practiced today. It is a complementary treatment that can be used alongside other TCM approaches like acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Acupuncture, another traditional practice, is suggested to not only boost immunity but to also provide relief for those suffering cold and flu symptoms.
By stimulating specific acupuncture points, acupuncturists aim to restore balance and harmony within the body, thereby enhancing the flow of qi, or life energy.
During an acupuncture session, thin needles are inserted into specific points on the body, causing minimal to no pain. This comfortable, virtually painless modality has been practiced since the Han Dynasty in China and has gained recognition worldwide for its effectiveness.
Recent studies have shown that regular acupuncture sessions may boost immunity, making it easier for the body to defend against respiratory infections. Additionally, some patients report that acupuncture can provide relief for common cold and flu symptoms such as sore throat and congestion.
Gua Sha: Ancient Practice, Modern Benefits
Dating back to the Han Dynasty, gua sha involves the gentle scraping of the skin using a smooth-edged tool like a spoon. This technique has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to release muscle tension, improve blood flow, and reduce inflammation.
When it comes to the cold and flu, gua sha can help with body aches and congestion by promoting circulation and stimulating the immune system. Several studies also also discussed the efficacy of gua sha in detail.
Immunity Support Tips for Cold and Flu Season
Lifestyle modifications are vital in boosting immunity during the cold and flu season. Adequate sleep, regular exercise, and a nutritious diet play a crucial role in maintaining overall wellness.
From a Traditional Chinese medicine perspective, it’s also important to avoid cold and damp environments, as these may increase the risk of respiratory infections.
Another great reminder is to practice good hygiene. Frequent handwashing, for example, can help prevent the spread of pathogens. Managing stress levels and staying hydrated are also important self-care practices.
Incorporating Chinese herbs, such as ginger slices and green onion, known for their medicinal properties, can further support immune health.
Embracing these and other self-care practices, alongside traditional Chinese medicine, can help you stay healthy and ward off cold and flu infections.
Lifestyle Modifications for Boosting Immunity
To boost immunity and prevent infections, a few lifestyle modifications can go a long way!
One key factor is getting plenty of sleep, as it strengthens the immune system. Regular exercise, such as brisk walking, enhances overall immunity by increasing the production of white blood cells. Consuming vitamin C-rich foods, like citrus fruits, supports immune function. It is also crucial to avoid excessive sugar and processed foods, as they can weaken the immune system. Incorporating immune-boosting herbs, such as ginger, astragalus, and garlic into the diet can also be beneficial.
By making these lifestyle modifications, you can play an active role in supporting your immunity and preventing – or reducing the severity of – the cold and flu.
When to Seek Professional Help
If cold and flu symptoms worsen or persist for more than a few days, it is advisable to seek professional help. Consulting a TCM practitioner can provide personalized treatment based on your specific symptoms. Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment can complement conventional medicine, and is often used as a complimentary therapy. TCM practitioners are well-versed in providing guidance on herbal medicine, acupuncture treatment, and other therapeutic options. They can offer valuable insights derived from their expertise and experience. By seeking professional help, you can ensure that you receive the most effective and tailored care for your condition.
Traditional Chinese medicine offers a holistic approach to supporting the body during cold and flu season.
By understanding the concepts of wind invasion and differentiating between wind-heat and wind-cold, you can better understand why TCM practitioners prescribe certain herbal formulas. These herbal formulas can play a important role in maintaining wellness, with time-tested favorites like Yin Qiao San and Yu Ping Feng San. Additional techniques such as cupping therapy, acupuncture, and Gua Sha can provide further relief.
Note that while herbal remedies can be effective, they should not replace over-the-counter medicines without professional guidance. Alongside these remedies, practicing self-care is essential. Make lifestyle modifications to boost your immunity and seek professional help when needed.
We hope this inspires and helps you to navigate through the cold and flu season with better health and well-being!
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This article is provided only as an educational resource - it is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, and the herbs and/or formulas within are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any diseases. This information is intended for only licensed healthcare practitioners.