Today VWJ chats with Elizabeth Ross, an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner based on Oahu. She graduated from the World Medicine Institute and has been practicing for many years in Hawaii. Recently, Dr. Ross and I came down with the same flu at the same time, so I was interested in her approach to making our bodies feel better when we are under the weather during flu season.
1. Firstly, how can we protect ourselves from the flu?
Protecting yourself from the flu is synonymous with protecting yourself from most diseases; the best you can do is to act in ways that support your immune system. It is the only thing that will protect you from sickness and help you battle the flu. There are many things you can do in order to have a healthy and strong immune system, but basically we need to focus on creating a healthy lifestyle, which begins with healthful foods. This is going to be slightly different for each person, but basically boils down to eating lots of vegetables, whole grains, your favorite protein choices combined with your healthy fats. I like Michael Pollan’s three food rules: Eat food, Mostly vegetables, Not too much.
As most if not all of your readers will know, refined grains, sugars, fats, deep-fried foods, alcohol and drugs need to be reduced and only enjoyed for special occasions (but it’s also important to treat yourself occasionally). Also, people who exercise regularly have much stronger immune systems, and usually one hour of exercise each day is recommended. Lastly, getting an adequate amount of sleep is a huge benefits to your immune system.
2. What are the first things you should do when you think you have the flu (aside from staying away from your friends!)
Even if you do all of the things I recommend above to build a super strong immune system, there are still going to be strong pathogens that make it through your defenses. When that happens, it’s important to catch the signs early to help your system respond to treatment. Cutting out sugar and alcohol is important, as is amping up your system with vitamins. I prefer Source Naturals Wellness Formula [highly recommended by us here at VWJ too!], but sometimes a good dose of Vitamin C and an early bedtime works too!
If you are not quite sure that you are getting sick, you can do a quick tongue diagnosis. Look at your tongue every morning, before brushing your teeth, drinking water, or eating. It’s normal to have a thin white coat on the surface of your tongue, which means that your digestion is working properly. Sometimes eating a lot of dairy, sugar, and/or drinking alcohol can also create coatings on your tongue, so make note of what is regular for your tongue. If you notice a thick white or yellow coating on your tongue that’s normally not there, it might show that your body is fighting something. The stronger and more established the pathogen, then thicker the coating might be. I don’t normally have a coating on my tongue, so if I am starting to feel more tired than usual, or if my throat starts to feel scratchy, or whatever, and I see even a thin coating on my tongue, I know that my system is fighting something.
3. How does TCM treat or recognize the flu?
Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes flu as a Wind invasion. Most illnesses start out as Wind invasions, but only stay as Wind invasions until they make it past the body’s defenses and establish themselves in the body. Then it will usually combine with other factors in the body, usually Heat or Cold, occasionally Damp, which your change your symptoms. If the Wind combines with Heat you will feel hot, you may have a sore throat, headache, sweating, thirst, yellow mucus or sputum. If it combines with Cold you will feel cold, have chills and body aches, occipital, neck, and shoulder tension, clear or white mucus or sputum, only very slight sweating, much less thirst or possibly not at all.
4. What are some TCM remedies for the flu?
My favorite remedy for the flu is ginger. I think if I was marooned on a desert island and I could only take one herb with me, it would be ginger. If I could have two I’d want ginger and peppermint. They are just amazingly useful. I like to use ginger in multiple ways: as a food soak, as a tea, and in soup.
Ginger foot soaks are amazing, especially if you are cold and/or have body aches. Take a three-inch piece of ginger, smash it up, and simmer in a large pot of water for 30-40 minutes. If you have a special foot tub, use that. Otherwise, just use the biggest bowl you have. Fill the tub with about four inches of cool water then slowly add the ginger water. You can add water as often as you like, but you should soak at least until you break a sweat. In TCM, this is called “releasing the exterior” which is the prescribed treatment for external invasions (i.e. getting sick).
To make ginger tea, drink some of the water from the pot before you stick your feet in it. You can also add lemon and honey for flavor. If you’re feeling warm, the soak and drinking the ginger is still good for you, but water it down and add some peppermint. If you are prone to sore throats, stock up on licorice root (which does NOT taste like black licorice) and make licorice mint tea to drink while you soak your feet. [Here's our recipe for Ginger Mint Tea.]
To include ginger in your soup, simply chop up and add to the broth. Simmer until broth smells and tastes gingery.
5. Can acupuncture be used as a preventative against the flu? Can it help once you’ve caught the flu?
Yes, acupuncture is great when you’re sick! There are many treatments and even more points that can be needled to help release the pathogen as well as manage your symptoms. If you had an appointment for something else and then you get sick, don’t cancel!
Thanks so much, Dr. Ross! Here’s to a happy, healthy new year for all of us! Check out our previous Learning from the Experts post all about chiropractic care.
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