Flu vs. cold: the difference
Most of us have experienced a cold at some point in our lives and remember the symptoms of a sore throat, cough, sneezing and runny nose.
The common cold is transmitted by infected airborne droplets or direct contact with infected secretions (someone who is sick sneezes into their hands and then touches something you come into contact with, such as a door knob).
However, the similarities stop there. While colds are upper respiratory infections caused by adeno or corona viruses, the flu, or influenza, is caused by Influenza A or B virus. The flu is also spread through air and direct contact with infected droplets. And the flu usually lasts much longer, the severity of the symptoms are more intense and recovery can be prolonged for weeks.
Using Chinese Medicine to Treat the Flu
If you have access to a Chinese Medicine practitioner, I encourage you to call for an appointment. One of the beautiful aspects of Chinese Medicine is the way it references nature to differentiate treatment.
In Chinese Medicine, there is not just “one cold”; people exhibit different symptoms with different kinds of colds.
With “wind cold with dampness”, the person will feel cold, and have chills, headache and neck pain. They will desire warmth, wanting to drink warm drinks and stay under the covers.
With “heat and dry heat”, the symptoms will be a fever, sweating, desire for cool or cold drinks. The headache will be in the front of the head and the feet will want to be out of the covers.
These may be the same medical diagnosis, but in Chinese Medicine, they would receive different herb formulas and acupuncture treatments would also vary differently.
Integrative Treatment of the Cold and Flu
People are often told there is nothing they can do for a cold, but an integrative approach has a great deal to offer. Here is what I found on the shelves of Whole Foods which I know can help you lessen the symptoms and recover quickly.
Immune System Support
Zinc is involved in many basic cellular functions as well as several aspects of your immune system. When you are sick, your immune system’s requirements for zinc increase dramatically. The thymus gland, responsible for development of T-lymphocytes and T cells, is dependent on Zinc to function. T cells are extremely important for your immune health, for they defend the body from bacteria, viruses and fungi.
There are also Zinc lozenges which you can use to help relieve sore throat.
I recommend 15-20mg three times daily.
Turmeric or Curcumin
The medicinal benefit of this ancient spice comes from the curcuminoids present in the ground rhizome. Unfortunately, there’s often only 3% of curcumin by weight, so it’s important to read the labels when you are buying a turmeric product. Turmeric products often have black pepper in them. Black paper contains piperine, which has been shown to dramatically increase the absorption and effects of turmeric.
The flu is an inflammatory process, which explains the severe bone aching, fatigue and high fever. This inflammatory process involves a cytokine called TN alpha, or Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha. This cytokine stimulates interferon production, resulting in achy bones and body aches.
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and it specifically modulates TNF alpha 1, relieving the bone pain that so often occurs with the flu.
In the midst of an active flu, I would take 2 tablets 3 to 4 times a day.
Echinacea is a native plant that was discovered by the American Indians over 400 years ago. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, Echinacea was used extensively for its anti-bacteria properties.
There are two components of this plant. The above-ground component is used to treat colds, upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, and slow-healing wounds. It can be used as a gargle for tonsillitis and sore throat. The root, or below ground part, of the Echinacea pallida plant, is used to treat flu-like infections.
In acute phase, 2 capsules 4 times a day.
Echinacea also comes in tincture form, which some people prefer.
Take ½ tsp. in boiling water, let cool to the temperature you can drink it as a warm tea and drink 4 times a day
Oregano Oil or Spirits
Oregano oil is an herbal blend of the plant Origanum vulgare. It is specifically used with bacterial infections and its benefits are proving to be superior to some antibiotics, without the harmful side effects.
This herb provides antimicrobial effects and provide immune support when ill with a cold or flu.2
Oregano oil is available in a capsule or liquid, and the liquid form is also used as a gargle for sore throats. The liquid is bitter and spicy, I call it “a herby taste”; if you think you won’t like this flavor, it’s best to take the capsule.
Liquid form: 2-3 drops 4 times a day in an acute phase, and then twice daily as maintenance dose.
Capsules: 150mg capsule 4 times a day, and then twice daily as maintenance dose.
This her should not be taken during pregnancy or nursing, without consulting with your practitioner.
Vitamin D is often thought of as important for calcium and bone health. The truth is, Vitamin D is equally important for immune responses, for promoting antimicrobial responses to pathogens in macrophages and deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.3
5000 iu/day of D3
As a Chinese Medicine practitioner, Astragalus, or Huang Qi, is one of my most used herbs. In China, Astragalus has been used for thousands of years to boost immunity, and it is particularly helpful to prevent and treat colds, upper respiratory infections and the flu.
Astragalus is a warm herb. If you are sick with a cold or flu, and are feeling cold and chilled, Astragalus will not only fight the bacteria and virus, but it’s warming action will “warm your center”.
If you have been sick for a while with a chronic infection and your immune system is deficient, Astragalus can work to overcome or make the virus dormant.
Astragalus can also be used to treat inflammation but if you have symptoms of heat, such as a rash or high blood pressure, please don’t use Astragalus without seeking professional guidance.
As a tincture: 5-10 drops in boiled water (it removes the alcohol content) 3 times a day, during the acute phase. Decrease to twice daily for an additional three days, as you recover.
As a capsule: 2 capsules 3 times a day during the acute phase. Decrease to twice daily for an additional three days, as you recover.
You can also put the herb into chicken soup!
Lastly, here is my recipe for chicken soup!
Get an organic chicken and have them cut it into quarters and remove the skin.
Wash the chicken very well in cold water prior to putting into a large pot. Cover the chicken with cold water, then slice and add the following ingredients to the pot: (all organic, of course!)
- 3 Celery stalks
- 4 Carrots
- 1 Onion
- 2 Slices of fresh ginger, skin removed
- 1-2 Bay Leaves
- I head of Italian parsley, well chopped-just the leaves, no stems
- 1/2 cup of organic rice (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Simmer on a low heat for about 2 to 3 hours until everything is well cooked. You don’t want the soup to boil. As the soup simmers, remove the film that forms along the top of the pot.
Remove the large chicken pieces from the pot. Remove the meat from the bone, cut into pieces, and return to pot. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
When the soup has cooled down, put in refrigerator.
1. Curcumin: an orally bioavailable blocker of TNF and other pro-inflammatory biomarkers. Aggarwal BB et al. Br J Pharmacol. (2013)
2. Ayu. 2014 Jan;35(1):71-8. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.141944.
Anti-oxidant studies and anti-microbial effect of Origanum vulgare Linn in combination with standard antibiotics.
Bharti V1, Vasudeva N1, Kumar S1.
3. Vitamin D and immune function: an overview. – NCBI
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21849106Proc Nutr Soc. 2012 Feb;71(1):50-61. doi: 10.1017/S0029665111001650. Epub 2011 Aug 18.