Dr. Michael Tierra L.AC., O.M.D.


Treating the Common Cold

What do I do for a cold?"What do I do for a cold?" It seems that no matter how often we experiencethe familiar symptoms of body chills, upper respiratory congestion, headache,neck and shoulder stiffness and possible fever we are still often unpreparedand in a quandary as to what is the best treatment.

Feeling invulnerable and unaware of stress and dietary causes, the averageAmerican experiences approximately 5.6 respiratory illnesses each year andyoung children, a startling 8.3! [1] Infact the common cold,[2] as one of aclass of upper respiratory diseases, accounts for 60% of all diseases.

With all the recent high tech advances of modern medicine and the billionsof dollars spent on research of far more complex and serious diseases such ascancer, one might at least expect a cure for the common cold. Not so easy,since there are more than 200 viruses, numbers of bacteria and even somefunguses that can cause cold-like respiratory problems. Because of this, it isnot likely that a vaccine can be developed for the common cold. This isparticularly true since more than any other disease, a cold represents acomplex series of energetic metabolic imbalances as well as various pathogeniccauses often unique to each patient.

Coryza, as the common cold is called in medical jargon, is considered aminor self-limiting illness mostly occurring during the autumn and winter withchills and dampness being predisposing factors. The standard medical treatmentis to spend a day or two in bed and take soluble aspirin 0.6 grams every 6hours or so to alleviate the minor discomforting symptoms.

A Holistic ApproachConsidering that not everyone who is exposed to cold pathogens,necessarily catches a cold, the deeper cause must exist at the levelof our immune system. This system can be in either a fundamentallydeficient or overly stressed state. The general maintenance of theimmune system according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) iscontrolled by a defined non-organ function that coordinates thefunctions of all the internal organ processes called the 'triplewarmer'.[3] This organ system canbecome out of balance as a result of the excess consumption of overlyrefined foods, lack of sleep, emotional stress, exposure to dampand/or cold.

Another factor to consider is that living and sleeping in overlyheated homes with lack of ventilation, does not allow ourTriple Warmer to help us make the proper adjustment to outer climaticconditions. As a result, we literally "catch a chill" when we stepoutside during the Winter months.

We must confess that there are in fact few cures for any disease,including the common cold. It was Hippocrates, the father of Westernmedicine who first observed how despite all our supposed cures andremedies, "the body cures itself." Given this, treatments and remediesgenerally focus on either managing the symptoms of discomfort, orideally to facilitate and optimize the body's ability to healitself. In natural medicine this is done mainly through the use ofdietary restrictions, herbs, various physio-therapeutic methods suchas inducing perspiration and of course, plenty of recuperativerest.

This is no great news for the impatient or self important, who feelthat under no circumstances can the relentless high-stress pace of hisor her daily life be interrupted because of an unexpected cold. It isfor such an individual that Western pharmaceutical medicine offersover-the-counter drugs in the form of variousantihistamines. Unfortunately, while they may temporarily relievecold-symptoms, they may also have undesirable side effects of eitherdrowsiness or excitement, lethargy, fatigue and even possiblecardiovascular collapse or respiratory arrest. Hardly a bargain inexchange for a cold!

From the perspective of holistic health, antihistamines insult thebody's life force and may have a negative impact in facilitating itsability to properly cleanse and regain health. When a cold finallyquits with such treatment, it is more an expression of despair inconvincing its host of the need to detoxify, slow down andrest. Assuming the prerequisite rest, judicious fasting or dietarylimitations, herbs and other natural therapies can give our body thestrength it needs to fully cleanse and recover.

A Home Herbal Immune Stimulant

Boosting the Immunesystem One excellent cold and flu remedy that you can make at home consistsof five herbs: echinacea, golden seal, garlic, chapparal and Chineseastragalus root. Scientific research has been able to confirm powerfulimmuno stimulatory capabilities of several herbs and this combinationcan be used both as a powerful blood purifier as well as a tonic forthe immune system.

How do these herbs stimulate the immune system? Echinacea (allspecies), today the most popular North American herb, has been shownto be both bacteriostatic and anti viral.[4] Golden seal root (Hydrastiscanadensis) has powerful effects in drying the mucus membranes andinhibiting a wide range of hostile microorganisms. Chaparral (Larreadivaricata) has strong anti microbial activity and has been shown tosedate inflammation of the respiratory and intestinal tract.[5] Garlic (allium sativum) containsallicin which has been shown to be not only antibacterial but antiviral against influenza virus.[6],[7] The powerful deep immunestimulating properties of astragalus (astragalus membranicus) will bediscussed further on.

To make your own herbal immune stimulant and cold and flu remedy,combine these herbs in equal amounts and blend approximately fourounces of the combination in a pint of gin or vodka. Allow to stand ina wide mouthed jar, shaking it daily. After at least two weeks, strainand bottle for use. Average dose consists of 30 drops to a 1 teaspoontwo or three times daily more or less as needed. During an acutecondition, I recommend taking a teaspoon steeped in a half cup ofboiling water every hour or two.

DiaphoreticsThe second approach to effectively treat a cold or flu is to induceperspiration. Herbs classified as diaphoretics and warming stimulantsgreatly assist the body throwing off the external invading pathogensthrough the pores of the skin. Herbal stimulants that are alsoeffective against colds and flu include ginger root (zingiberis off.),cayenne pepper (capsicum frutescens), cinnamon (cinnamomom cassia) andgarlic (allium sativum). Diaphoretic herbs include boneset (eupatoriumperfoliatum), elder flowers (sambucus nigra), yarrow (achilleamillefolium), lemon balm (melissa officinalis) and peppermint (menthapiperita).

Boneset was a once popular herb for influenza and fevers. It heldofficial drug status in the US from 1820 to 1950. It is diaphoretic,febrifuge (gets rid of fevers), emetic (in large doses), andlaxative. In mild, moderate doses it is diaphoretic, especially whentaken in warm infusion. Steep one oz. of the dried herb to 1 pint ofboiling water. Take a half cup every hour or two during an acute stageof cold or fever. After five doses or so, it should induceperspiration.

The popular name was inspired from its great value in treating aparticular type of fever ("dengue") with attendant bone pain called"breakbone" that prevailed in the US during the 19th century. It isstill widely used for treating colds and influenza by British medicalherbalists specifically for the treatment of influenza andfever. Because of its bitter, somewhat nauseant taste, it has falleninto recent neglect but considering the increasing virulence ofinfluenza viruses that have been visited upon us in recent times, itseems worth reconsidering the use of this old-time cold and influenzaremedy.

Choosing a Remedy

So what do we need to know to choose an appropriate treatment for thecommon cold? From the standpoint of energetic Chinese medicine, a coldcan be caused by weakness of the wei chi or external immunesystem. There are also different 'preferred' treatments for treatingindividuals who are constitutionally weaker or stronger as well astreating cold-like symptoms that seem to linger over a period ofweeks.

Now let's look at some individual herbal remedies.

Astragalus If an individual tends to be one of those who catches cold frequently,treatment between each bout should be to strengthen the immune system.Described as "internal cold" by TCM, the condition is generallycharacterized by a lowered hypo-metabolic condition (yin). Astragalusmembranicus, called huang chi is the most specific herb forstrengthening the surface immune system. Astragalus can be taken aloneeach day either in tea or with rice porridge. I recommend purchasingthis important Chinese tonic herb by the pound so that it is alwaysavailable to use as a dietary supplement.

It is sold neatly sized and packaged, resembling yellow colored tonguedepressors. As with many Chinese herbs, but more especiallyastragalus, there are many different grades from which tochoose. Ideally this process will be facilitated by knowing yoursupplier. Quality is determined partially by its larger size, thedepth of yellow color and most definitively by a noticeable 'sweetish'flavor when a piece of the root is chewed.

About 6 to 15 grams is taken or for convenience, around three or fourslices, of the root can be simmered alone or with fresh ginger in ahalf quart of water for approximately 30 to 45 minutes. This can thenbe used as tea or you can use it as stock for soup or to cook cerealor rice. Traditionally most Chinese families serve it in Winter to theentire family in soup once a week whether any of them immediately needit or not, somewhat like the way some Westerners regularly take adaily multi vitamin. For those who are actively working onstrengthening their immune system, it should be taken regularly onceor twice daily over a period of weeks or months as needed.

Because it has a metabolically warming and drying nature, astragalusis not recommended to use if there is any accompanying acuteinflammation, fever, or noticeable dryness of the skin and mucusmembranes. In general it is best to use it inter currently when thedisease is not in its most actively inflamed and acute stage.

Ginger Fresh ginger by itself is another good all purpose remedy for thefirst stages of the common cold. By gently stimulating the body'svitality and promoting diaphoresis (perspiration), fresh ginger teawith a teaspoon of honey or succanat[8]is an excellent remedy for the early stages of a cold, fever orcough. Drinking ginger tea by steeping a few slices of the fresh rootin a cup of water, adding honey or succanat to taste is an effectiveway to reduce the accumulation of phlegm and mucus that often precedesa cold.
Garlic Similarly, one can receive benefit from taking garlic and honey tea.Garlic contains specific properties that are both antibiotic and antiviral as well as its ability to relieve congestion by stimulatingcirculation and activating the immune system. This is simply made bycrushing a clove or two of fresh garlic and pouring a cup of boilingwater over it to steep, perhaps adding the juice of one fresh lemonand honey or succanat to taste.

In my own experience, I like to make fresh garlic oil by blendingseveral cloves of peeled garlic in olive oil. A teaspoon of this isthen taken every hour or two not only to relieve the immediate coldsymptoms but because of the anti-biotic and anti-viral properties ofgarlic, to at least help prevent the spread of theinflammation. Garlic oil is very effective for coughs as well asearaches. For the ears, simply moisten a wad of cotton and put it intoeach ear before retiring. Relief is usually overnight.

Boiled Warm Water One of the simplest treatments is to fast and take only boiled warmwater for the first two or three days of a cold. This at least allowsthe body to receive a complete metabolic rest and occasionally speedsthe body's healing and lessen the feeling of accompanyingcongestion. Many sages such as the Dalai Lama of Tibet, make a habitof drinking one glass of plain boiled warm water each day to maintainhealth. This approach is certainly the most economic and is a recoursethat is usually available to us when traveling or when our usual herbsor foods are unavailable.

Ginger, garlic and boiled water all fulfill the fundamentalprerequisite strategy for treating the common cold, to inducestimulation of the surface capillaries and break the cold by inducingperspiration. As previously stated, herbs that are classified eitheras surface stimulants or diaphoretics such as elder, mint, lemon balm,oregano, yarrow, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and garlic areused. The addition of sucanat or honey can serve as a valuablecomponent of treatment because it helps to replenish and nourish theenergy that is consumed with the use of herbal stimulants anddiaphoretics.

This is especially important for some vegetarians who may lack anynutritional reserve and generally respond poorly to the use of herbalstimulants and diaphoretics that disperse internal energy to thesurface. These individuals also respond especially poorly to the useof antihistamines and antibiotics that consume some of the body'sreserves.

Composition Powder A favorite old-time North American remedy used by the 19th centuryThompsonian and Eclectic herb doctors is called Composition Powder. This wasevidently a favorite of Dr. Nowell, who was one of the major teachers of thelate herbalist belovedly known as Dr. Christopher. Dr. Nowell's formula forComposition Powder is as follows:
Powder of bayberry bark (myrica cer.)4 ounces
Powder of ginger (zingiberis)2 ounces
Powder of white pine bark (pinus canad.) 1 ounce
Powder of cloves (caryophylum) 1 teaspoon
Powder of cayenne pepper (capsicum) 1 teaspoon

The ingredients are mixed and sifted. The dose is one teaspoonfulsteeped in a cup of hot or boiling water sweetened with raw brownsugar or honey. Cover and allow it to stand until cool enough to drinkthe clear liquid, leaving the powder.

Evidently upper respiratory complaints were at least as prevalent inthe 19th and early 20th centuries. It was Dr. Nowell's most commonlyprescribed herbal formula. He states: "We have made and usedComposition Powder for over forty years --- we regularly mixed it inbatches of sixty pounds -- As a remedy in colds, beginning of fevers,flu, hoarseness, sluggish circulation, colic cramps, etc. we believeit has done more good than any other single preparation ever known toman --- If this compound were kept in every home, and used as theoccasion arose, there would be far less sickness. Give it freely inyour practice and your patient will bless you."[9]

Herbal Uprising Since each doctor happened to have his or her own favorite version of thisformula, mine is a Planetary formula called "Herbal Uprising" and consists ofthe following:
Powder of ginger root 8 parts
Powder of cinnamon twig4 parts
Powder of white pine bark 2 parts
Powder of cloves1 part
Powder of bayberry bark 1 part
Powder of marshmallow root 1 part
Powder of licorice root 1 part

It is taken similarly to composition powder previously described but Ifeel the addition of licorice and marshmallow root gives it a smootheraction.

Cayenne Pepper In his years of practice and teaching Dr. Christopher carried on theearlier Thompsonian use of cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens) as asimplification of the therapeutic effects of using Compositionpowder. He recommended taking a dose of 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cayennepepper two or three times daily and more often if treating acold. While this can have a mildly harsh effect on the gut ofsensitive individuals, it is generally a safe common folk remedy forthe treatment and prevention of colds and other upper respiratorycomplaints. It may be taken alone or mixed with a little olive oil tosoothe its passage through the digestive tract. Interestingly, cayennepepper is taken by certain African natives on a daily basis to preventsickness.
Elder Flowers, Mint and Yarrow TeaOne of the most common herbal remedies described in severalcontemporary herb books consists of a combination of equal parts elderflowers, yarrow and peppermint. If you don't mind the flavor, bonesetmay be added to this combination because of its specificanti-influenza properties. One ounce of the combination of these herbsis steeped in two cups of boiling water, covered and allowed to steepuntil cool enough to drink. It may be sweetened with raw brown sugaror honey to taste. One or two cups are taken before retiring. Severalbed covers should also be provided to further help induceperspiration. If taken at early onset, I have personally seen this teawork wonders.
Lemon BalmLemon balm (Melissa off.) tea is a pleasant tasting relaxing diaphoreticthat is especially suitable for treating colds and flu of children as well asmost adults. It has the added benefit of helping to calm the restlessnessassociated with colds and some fevers in young children.
Citrus TeaIn so far as adding citrus to one's cold regime, if you are sure of havingorganic unsprayed citrus, juicing and boiling the entire fruit, rind and all,is the most effective. While the inner pulp of citrus has a cool, moist energy,it is balanced by the warming and drying quality of the outer rind (the partusually discarded). A simple tea of grapefruit rind is also a good treatment todry mucus associated with colds and sinus congestion.

Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine has several formulas that effectively treatcolds. Interestingly enough, most of these are similar to those previouslydescribed, not so much in terms of the individual herbs that are used, but thebasic therapeutic principle of treatment being to stimulate circulation andinduce perspiration.
Cinnamon Twig TeaCinnamon Twig Tea (Gui Zhi Tang) was first described inthe most important clinical manual of TCM composed by Chang Chung Ching (A.D.142-220). It consists of the following:
Cinnamon Twig (cinnamon cassia) 6-9 gm.
White peony (paeonia lactiflora)6-9 gm.
Fresh ginger (zingiberis off.)3-6 gm.
Honey baked licorice (glycyrrhiza sp.)3-6 gm.
Jujube dates (Zizyphus jujube)3 to 5 pc.

This combination is especially suitable for patients of a more delicateor frail constitution. After taking one or two cups of the tea, one shouldretire to bed to sweat. It should then be followed by a bowl of rice porridge ahalf hour or so after sweating to replenish any lost vitality.

The Shang Han Lun of Chang Chung Ching, from which thisformula is taken, was essentially dedicated to treating colds andother contagious diseases caused by cold. The reason as stated byChang in his preface, "two-thirds of my relatives (more than twohundred) succumbed to disease, seven-tenths of which (deaths) were dueto an epidemic fever." Evidently colds leading to more serious upperrespiratory problems were also an issue in 2nd century China aswell.

Medical inefficiency must also have been a problem since part of theintent of the book was to reform 2nd century Chinese medical practice. TheShang Han Lun consists of some 113 predominantly herbal formulasoriginally intended to treat acute, externally contracted disease such ascolds, flus and fevers. Their therapeutic efficacy have since been more deeplyunderstood and broadened so that they have become the core formulas of clinicalChinese herbalism as well as Japanese Kanpo herb medicine.

TCM tends to differentiate constitutionally between delicate, mediumor strong patients. Delicate patients tend to be underweight, colder,frailer and more susceptible to external diseases. Medium patientshave a medium build and are neither pronouncedly delicate or excessivein build. Strong patients tend to have a large bodily frame, strong,excessive manner and less vulnerable to cold.

Pueraria DecoctionWhile Cinnamon twig formula followed by rice porridge is for thedelicate patient, Ge gan tang (Pueraria decoction) is for the patientof medium strength. It has many widespread uses, especially foraccompanying symptoms of stiffness or tightness of the shoulders andneck, one of the specific uses for pueraria, popularly known asKudzu. Pueraria combination consists of the following:
Pueraria 6-9 gm.
Ephedra 6-9 gm.
Cinnamon twig 6-9 gm.
White peony 6-9 gm.
Dried ginger 3 gm.
Licorice 3 gm.
Jujube dates 3 to 5 pcs.

This is slowly simmered in 2 or 3 cups of boiling water for 30 minutes ina covered non-metallic vessel. One cup is taken two or three timesdaily.

Ma HuangThe TCM formula for the strong constitution patient with larger bodilyframe and seeming "energy to burn". It therefore uses Ma Huang (ephedra) as the major adrenal stimulant to induce perspiration. Thisformula can also be used to prevent and treat acute asthmaticattacks. It consists of:
Ma huang (ephedra) 6-9 gm.
Cinnamon twig 6-9 gm.
Apricot seed 6-9 gm.
Honey baked licorice 3-6 gm.
Bupleurum and Cinnamon CombinationOne of Chang Chung Ching's formulas that is particularly useful fortreating the common cold is called Bupleurum and Cinnamon Combination(Chai hu kuei chih tang). It consists of the following Chineseherbs:
Bupleurum4.0 gm.
Pinellia 4.0 gm.
Licorice1.5 gm.
Jujube2.0 gm.
Cinnamon2.5 gm.
Scutellaria2.0 gm.
Ginseng2.0 gm.
Peony2.5 gm.
Ginger 1.0 gm.

This formula is good for those with a somewhat delicate constitutionwho have a tendency towards fatigue, gastrointestinal weakness,headache, heaviness in the head, neuralgia, fever, chills, floatingpulse, distention beneath the heart. It is primarily used for treatingthe common cold, influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis and pleuritis.

Green OnionChinese herbal medicine is based on a rich unbroken herbal folktradition. Just as I mentioned the use of garlic tea for the treatmentof colds besides using simple fresh ginger tea, Chinese folk medicineuses the milder white bulbs of green onions (scallions) to treat thecommon cold and accompanying headache. One remedy uses 1 or 2 ouncesof the lower white portion of scallions, with a few slices of freshginger steeped in a covered cup of water for 20 or 30 minutes. One ortwo cups is taken before retiring.

Chinese Patented Cold Remedies

Gan Mao Pian

Yin Chiao San

Two patented Chinese herb formulas I like to have on hand are GanMao Pian and Yin Chiao San. These are in the form ofherbal tablets available from Chinese herb pharmacies especiallyuseful for treating symptoms of cold and flu. Gan mao in Chinesespecifically refers to the common cold. These pills consist of herbswith antibiotic and antiviral properties that are very effective, notonly for treatment, but to take occasionally for prevention duringpeak cold and flu season. Yin Chiao San is an herbal compoundcontaining honeysuckle and forsythia blossoms, two herbs used by theChinese because of their strong anti-inflammatory properties. It isparticularly useful for treating influenza.

An Ayurvedic Remedy For Colds

Sito PaladiIn India, the vegetarian Hindus use a revered Ayurvedic preparationcalled Sito Paladi Churna for colds. This preparation depends on theuse of certain herbs mixed with raw brown sugar to supplementnutritional energy. Most of the herbs in sito paladi are readilyavailable and consists of the following: raw brown sugar, bamboomanna, pippli long pepper, cardamom and cinnamon. It is a primaryanti-kapha or anti-mucus remedy especially good for internal coldnesswith accompanying clear or whitish mucus. This delicious preparationis available from Indian import stores and is readily taken bychildren and adults. The average dose is a teaspoon of the powder twoto four times daily or as needed.

Bamboo manna (phylostachys nigra) is the inner sap of bamboo. It iscalled zhu li in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is similarlyused to clear inflammation and phlegm from the lungs. Pippli (piperlongum) called bi ba in TCM, along with the other ingredients insito paladi are hot and counterbalance the cooling energy of bamboomanna. Although, not as preferred, one can substitute black pepper forpippli in this formula. These herbs tend to stimulate circulation andraise the body's resistance to external cold pathogens.

A simplification of this combination is readily made by combiningpowdered black pepper, cardamom, echinacea root (either purpurea orangustifolia) and, if available, adding kudzu starch powder. The driedherbs should be finely powdered and mixed with warm honey to form athick goupy consistency. In this form, it can be stored in a smallwide mouthed jar and will keep indefinitely unrefrigerated. A teaspoonof this combination can be taken three or four times a day followed bya cup of boiled warm water.

What to Eat or not Eat When Treating a Cold

Resting the Digestive SystemFinally, a question frequently asked is whether or not to eat during acold. Usually one is not hungry but that mere fact may not besufficient reason for some of the more glutinous to feel that theymust eat no matter what. Considering that the object is to give thedigestive and nervous system as much of a rest as possible, it isadvised to eat as lightly as your particular frame and constitutionwill endure. If you are one of those frailer and more malnourishedtypes, you should eat light nourishing soups or thin rice porridge. Ifyou are more excess, complete fasting for a day or two, taking onlytea or boiled warm water is in order. For the middling, thin riceporridge (or any warm whole grain cereal) is best. In general, blackbean chili and rice soup with the addition of coriander, cumin seed,chili and garlic is a good dish to take when treating a cold orflu.

Since the beginning of recorded history, people have been vulnerable tooccasional colds and flu. As a result there is a wealth of practical dietaryand herbal wisdom for us to draw upon from many cultures. As we have seen,proper treatment of a cold can range from the simplest use of drinking boiledwarm water to a complex Chinese herbal formula from the second century A.D.Once established, a cold might have to simply run its course. Even then, itsduration and discomfort can be reduced considerably with therapeutic diet andherbs. Proper treatment will also help prevent what might at first be a simplecommon disease from developing into a more complicated life threateningproblem.

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