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The Practical Herbalist

The Common Cold

Man has been trying to beat the common cold since the dawn of time. There are countless viruses that can cause the common cold, and fighting each type has proved very difficult. Viruses are everywhere. Our bodies have an immune system that regularly protects us from various viral and bacterial infections. This is the most important aspect of preventing and treating a cold.

In Chinese herbal medicine the way to prevent a cold is to strengthen the immune system. This is not done as many people suspect through the use of specific immune boosting herbs. It is done by using whatever herbs are appropriate for the specific dynamics of the patient. Some people do not need herbs that boost the energy of the im- mune system, they need herbs that help regulate what they have. Chinese Medicine also takes into account the depleting effects of stress and lifestyle and how those things can weaken a person, making them more susceptible to catching a cold. Weather also is seen to play a factor. Science has long ago proven that weather does not cause a cold. How- ever I always see an increase in common colds in my patients during times when the weather is shifting rapidly. This is not because of the weather directly, but rather the adding of another stress factor to a mix of stress and lifestyle factors that have already weakened the patient. Also, weather changes, especially cold weather, happens when we have kids in school who can easily pass the colds from family to family. The other factor is patients who do not dress for the weather or are caught underdressed as the weather rapidly changes.

All of these things play into the susceptibility to a cold. We should think about how to manage our lives to minimize colds and use the tools that best help us recover when we do get one. The best answer is to get a Certified herbalist to help you understand your particular weaknesses and situation. Short of that here are some basic ways to prepare for and treat the colds of the upcoming season.

Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, reduce stress, do fun things. Make hand washing a habit and teach kids (and adults) to sneeze and cough into their elbow. This will reduce the likelihood that the "bugs" will be passed in a handshake or to a doorknob. Assume the worst when weather is changing, and don’t get caught underdressed.

When you get a cold, take the time to fight it. Stay home from work or school where it is likely to be passed to others (and where stress makes it tough to fight the cold). Dress warm and eat foods the help expel the cold. For a cold marked by clear sinus drainage, headache and dry throat. Use hot soups overly spiced with hot pungent spices like ginger, garlic, black or cayenne pepper, or mustard. If the cold is marked by a fever, hot swollen sore throat and yellow nasal discharge, use cooler dispersant spices like fresh mint or chrysanthemum tea, dark green vegetables, and green spices like basil, marjoram, and mint.

There are many classic herbal formulas that can help a patient clear a cold quickly. If you are taking herbs for a cold make sure they are appropriate for the types of cold symptoms you have. Also stop taking any herbs for the treatment of a cold shortly after you are sure you are clear of the cold. Many herbs that claim to be "immune boosters" for treating a cold, are actually dispersant in nature. Long term use of these types of herbs can weaken and stress your system making you more susceptible to a future cold. True immune strengthening herbs are generally inappropriate during a cold and are best used to help the body recover after a cold has passed.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066