for Respiratory Health During Cold and Flu
By Laurel Redmon, M.S.,
L.Ac. Dipl. Ac.,C.H., Fall 2006
Flu shots may afford many
a sense of security this time of
year. Those with a
holistic and preventive health, however, can easily see that many more
and effective measures can be taken to protect ourselves, families and
Frankly, herbal remedies
are superior to vaccinations and
remedial antibiotic or steroidal medications.
Not only are they less likely to be vulnerable
to widespread resistance
that these drugs have managed to foster in the last half century or so,
afford much greater symptomatic relief once an illness takes hold.
Please note that not just Oriental medical
pharmacopeias can boast this:
most acute upper respiratory illness can be effectively managed with
agents and dietary therapy found within close proximity to the homes of
Americans. In addition to our local herbal traditions, application of
reliance on medicinal plants by millions of Chinese people can reassure
us in a
culture dominated by a fear of lost productivity and secondary
As always, education is
vital in the process of
such as the elderly, immuno-compromised and chronically or acutely ill
benefit from the diagnostics and heroic measures of Western drug
We all suffer, though, from a public health
standpoint when these
standards of care are applied to people across the board, whether to
healthy adults. Abuse
applied to children is by far the more serious of these threats, one
feel is already playing out as a public health disaster.
diseases like asthma and emphysema are
at an all time high, not to mention the rise of antibiotic resistant
strains. No public
regarding immune system enhancement and preventive measures to keep
exists only after
As promoters of wellness
and prevention of disease, we know
that patterns of defensive (wei qi)
lung qi deficiency can
be detected far
before clinically relevant findings can be made by mainstream medicine.
time is to educate ourselves and others about protecting the wei
qi: we need this shoring-up now more than ever, as it can
protect us from
countless dread diseases, not just a “little cold”.
Let us discuss bolstering
of lung vital energy and
prevention of disease before remedial treatment.
The heritage of Oriental medicine teaches the
tonification and prevention as the superior path in medicine. Several
precede herbal treatment in this capacity.
Righteous diet and
lifestyle are primary.
Ample sleep and exercise are prime examples of
golden, yet free
therapies. I think
least seven uninterrupted hours of sleep in a peaceful and
(including feng shui, family
harmony, cleanliness et al.) space is imperative.
This also includes being in sync with the
rhythms: as diurnal animals, “shift work” can be very injurious to the qi.
Exercise is a broad term, and should be tailored to an individual’s
and blood to circulate in a healthy way is key.
The goal should be to grow qi
blood rather than to exhaust it in weekend-warrior or iron-man fashion.
Fall is a fabulous time
for food. The
glorious harvest happens to yield many foods that nourish
the lung and defensive qi.
Most important among these are winter squashes, root vegetables,
cruciferous vegetables, apples and pears.
including onions, leeks and garlic round this picture out.
These foods actually strengthen the lung
and spleen qi, enhance immunity,
reduce major disease risk, and decongest the system to prevent or
phlegm conditions. Phlegm
the circulation of qi in the
respiratory tract and can harbor pathogens that can increase the chance
infection and stall the healing process.
Happily, the cooking
methods we crave this time of year
potentiates the effectiveness of these foods.
Soups, stews, baking and roasting increase the
purifying and nutrifying
impact of these foods respectively. Common herbal libations like
nettle, linden, elder and plantain provide important minerals and
Soups and grains prepared
with the addition of astragalus,
seaweeds or dried shiitake are deeply nourishing.
Don’t fret about exact amounts and dosing—just
started and throw some in to taste.
fundamental whether or not we are sick, and replacing a couple glasses
or juice with simple herbal infusions is a great idea.
Bear in mind that it is not necessary to drown
oneself with water:
Oriental tradition dictates the more rational approach of sipping warm
throughout the day rather than gulping down concentrated drinks with
Drowning ourselves with a set number of ounces a day regardless of
especially with our commonly damp
conditions, is a dogmatic Western mistake.
Despite our best
intentions, lung disharmonies do
arise: the lungs are conceptualized as the
leaves of a tree, and the “delicate organ”. They are the yin
organ most intimate with the outside world and thus most
vulnerable to the six evils: heat,
cold, wind, dampness, dryness and
every respiratory malady can be attributed to one or more
of these factors.
Several other pathologies
besides the six evils are
clinically common: the two I see most often are lung
qi damaged by sadness, particularly grief.
This pattern can manifest differently for
different people, but it is
helpful to consider if a lung malady occurs in association with
healing from this involves proper emotional or psychological support.
Another problem is an improper diet that is
too cold, wet and congesting
(read ice cream float) that can also precipitate lung disharmonies over
Wei qi or lung
deficiency is the backdrop to many of the pre-and proceeding mentioned
conditions, so seasonal support with lung tonics like astragalus (huang
qi), ginseng (ren shen or xi yang
shen), cordyceps (dong xiao chong cha),
and the formula Jade Windscreen (Yu
ping feng san) is particularly important. In fact, it can
prevent many of
the subsequently discussed problems.
We will cover some sample
formulas that address several
common lung pathologies. I urge you to visit a licensed herbalist
to experience the power of a formula customized to your exact diagnosis
constitution, especially if rapid relief is not experienced with an
off-the-shelf patent medicine. You
can also talk to a licensed herbalist about a therapeutic dosage for
medicines, which are frequently underdosed.
This is a common cold or
flu. Traditionally wind-cold
preceeds this, but is less common clinically.
This situation is a window of opportunity:
with the proper herbs and
behavior including rest and guarding exposure to the wind, people can
sickness. Herbs employed here open up the surface of the body
exterior) in order to expel wind and heat evils.
Formulas like Yin
san do this, but also contain herbs to treat sore throat,
congestion and to prevent secondary infections.
A timeless, elegant mixture!
Phlegm-heat in the lungs
Here is a situation that
has penetrated the exterior
protective layer or wei qi and
hold as an interior condition. This is usually diagnosed in Western
influenza, pneumonia or acute bronchitis.
and phlegm can morph together as dual evils and create a challenging
for herbs. An entire category of the pharmacopeia is devoted to
alleviating hot phlegm. The
signature formula here is Qing qi hua tan tang,
which means clear the qi level (an
acute stage of Classical Wen bing,
or heat disease) and transform phlegm decoction.
These herbs enter the lungs,
clear and expectorate phlegm, reduce fevers and subdue rebellious
lung qi, which is akin to stopping cough and wheezing.
Lung Yin deficiency
This condition can be
caused by several things: most common
is a sequelae of a wind-heat type
infection that has damaged lung qi
yin resulting in a
nagging dry cough
and throat, often with sticky and difficult to expectorate phlegm.
It can also be equated with more chronic
problems like a smoker’s
cough, tuberculosis and even, I imagine, some forms of lung cancer. The
zao jiu fei tang contains a special group of herbs that
lubricate, cool and
transform phlegm. The
idea here is
to replace old, dry, sticky phlegm with soothing and beneficial
Damp-phlegm in the lungs
A wet, chronic
bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease or some types of congestive heart failure are the Western
interpretations of this syndrome.
all the colorful Chinese descriptions of symptoms we learned in school,
a favorite: “Chicken singing in the throat”. Presumably, windy,
cold, damp phlegm can accumulate in one’s throat and create
a chicken-like wheezy, choking sound. I think that pretty much sums it
Herbs used here not only expel wind
and dampness, but often have
warming qualities which assist in drying
and transforming cold phlegm. Er chen tang with
modifications is the simple and trusty solution with its
tangerine peel warms
and emulsifies phlegm with the rest of the ingredients, and treats spleen energy
to prevent more phlegm from being created.
Getting acquainted with
the energetics of
food, essential oils, acupoints and common
herbal beverage teas can be a
great way to assist these formulas. These measures can help in giving
you have an idea of the nature of your lung ailment.
Do some research on the eight parameters: try
to ask questions like, do
you have a hot or cold condition?
your situation need to be lubricated, or dried out?
What agents such as food or spices can you use
to counter this evil?
Of course, a qualified practitioner can take
the guesswork out of this
equation and make many helpful suggestions.
Try to learn more gradually from these
encounters, and you may gain
confidence to help yourself through the challenges of this season,
time to enjoy the beautiful and constantly changing cycles of nature.
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Churchill Livingstone. Edinburgh: 1994.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing
With Whole Foods: Oriental
Traditional and Modern Nutrition.
Atlantic Books. Berkeley:
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