What to do When You Catch a Cold or the Flu and Tips On How to Avoid Them

Compiled by John G. Connor, M.Ac., L.Ac. , Edited by Barbara Connor, M.Ac., L.Ac.


Chinese Medical View of Colds and Flu
Useful Foods
Useful Herbs and Nutrients
Other Recommendations

·      Barbara and I hope that the following tips help prevent you from catching a cold or the flu; or if you already have one to minimize the discomfort and speed up the recovery process.

 Prevention! is the first thing we think of when we realize we are entering into cold and flu season. Some of the most important things you can do to help build up your resistance and prevent colds and flu are:

    • Avoid getting unduly stressed out, as stress can lower your immunity.
    • Build up your immune system with proven herbs and supplements such as astragalus, ganoderma and vitamin C.  There are some excellent Chinese herbal formulas we use which we have great success with for preventing and treating colds and flu.
    • Craniosacral acupuncture treatments help keep your immune system strong, especially during times of stress or change in seasons.
    • If you must be around persons who are suffering from cold and flu symptoms, wash your hands immediately after being with them.
    • Make sure you have a warm sweater, jacket, scarf and cap handy in case of sudden onset of cold temperatures whenever you go out.

·        In Chinese medicine colds and flu are classified as invasions of exterior Wind which may manifest as Wind-Cold, Wind-Heat, Wind-Damp-Heat or Wind-Dry-Heat.  By far the most common types we see in our practice are Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat.   The combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs is very effective in treating these types of exterior Wind invasions. 

□   Symptoms of exterior Wind Cold include aversion to cold, shivering, occipital headache and/or stiff neck, runny nose with white discharge, sneezing, possibly a cough and itchy throat, no sweating and slight or no fever.  

□   Symptoms of exterior Wind Heat include aversion to cold, shivering, fever, sore throat, swollen tonsils, headache and body aches, slight sweating, sneezing, cough and runny nose with yellow discharge.

 ·         According to Five Elements the season of fall is Metal (Lungs) so it is also a good idea to strengthen your Lung energy at this time; which we can do through acupuncture, craniosacral and visceral work, herbs, diet and therapeutic exercises.

·         Eat much less food and use a more simple liquid-based diet.  Drink soups if chills predominate and drink vegetable or fruit juice if fever predominates.  Drink plenty of fluids, especially fresh juices, herbal teas, soups and quality water to prevent dehydration and help flush out the body.  Take hot chicken or turkey soup.  Add lemon and honey to the teas.  Avoid eating sugar and sugar-sweetened fruit juices.  Avoid dairy products as they can produce mucus.

 ·        Useful foods include cabbage with hearts, green peppers with their insides, parsley, carrots, broccoli, turnips, kuzu, parsnips*, horseradish*, scallions*, garlic*, lemon juice, grapefruit and most fruits.  Celery juice combined with a little lemon juice is a remedy for common cold when fever is more prominent than chills.

 ·        If chills predominate, use the herbs and foods marked with an asterisk *.  When fevers predominate, the other herbs and foods mentioned above are more effective.  If chills and fevers are of equal strength, any of the foods and herbs recommended above are helpful.  Once the exterior symptoms pass, then gradually introduce normal foods in order to build strength.


·         Andrographis can be used to treat symptoms of the common cold. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study158 persons with colds received 1200 mg daily of an andrographis extract (standardized to contain 5% andrographolide) or placebo for 4 days.  By day 2 of treatment, and even more, by day 4, persons given andrographis extract experienced significant improvements in symptoms compared to the placebo group.  The greatest response was seen in earache, sleeplessness, nasal drainage and sore throat. (Caceres et al, 1999)

·         Andrographis can be used for prevention of the common cold.  A 3-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 107 persons found that prophylactic treatment with andrographis at the low dose of 200 mg/day significantly reduced the risk of infection. (Caceres et al, 1997)

·         Sambucol, a product containing elderberry flower as well as small amounts of echinacea and bee propolis, was shown in a preliminary double-blind study to reduce the recovery time from a particular strain of epidemic influenza by almost one-half. (Zakay-Rones et al 1995)

 ·         Echinacea:  The following studies show the beneficial effects of echinacea on the prevention and treatment of respiratory infections and colds.
o        Individuals with recent onset of a respiratory infection showed significant benefit from Echinacea. (Brinkeborn et al, 1999)
o        Echinacea significantly reduced the length of the upper respiratory tract infection. (Dorn et al, 1997)
o        Echinacea was found effective at reducing the duration and severity of recent-onset respiratory infection. (Lindemuth et al, 2000)
o        Echinacea resulted in a statistically significant decrease in progression to a “real cold” in the treated group as compared to the placebo group, as well as symptomatic benefit in individuals that did develop colds. (Hoheisel et al, 1997)

·         Garlic –  In a study done on garlic those who received garlic were almost two-thirds less likely to develop upper respiratory infections than those who received placebo.  Furthermore, participants who did develop an upper respiratory infection recovered about one day faster tin the garlic group as compared to the placebo group. (Morcos & Camilo, 2001)

·         Ginseng – A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 227 persons using 100 mg daily of Panax ginseng showed a statistically significant decline in the frequency of colds and flus in the treated group as compared to the placebo group from week 4 to 12. Antibody titers and measure of NK cell activity were also higher in the treated group.  All participants received flu vaccine. (Scaglione et al, 1996)

 ·         Lemon & Lime:  Their antiseptic, anti-microbial, and mucus-resolving actions make them useful during colds, flu and hacking coughs.  The robust person in need of their properties can tolerate nine to twelve lemons daily. 

·         Nutrients:  Vitamin C fights cold viruses and strengthens the immune system.  Zinc lozenges boost the immune system.  Vitamins A, C, and E, Selenium and Zinc are useful.  Vitamin A helps heal inflamed mucous membranes and strengthens the immune system.  Echinacea, ginger, pau d’arco, slippery elm and yarrow tea are good for the flu. Grapefruit seed extract is also useful in the case of flu.  For more details on what you can do to enhance your immune system please read our article entitled Immune System Enhancement on our website.

·         If you have the flu, sleep and rest as much as possible.  If you have a common cold, remain as active as possible – moving around helps to loosen built-up mucus and fluids.  Wash your hands often and refrain from close contact with loved ones to avoid spreading the viruses.

·         Sweating therapy is beneficial.  It is, however, contraindicated if one is weak or emaciated.  To sweat, drink hot diaphoretic herbal tea, take a hot bath, drink more tea, then cover in blankets and sweat.  Do not sweat to the point of exhaustion.  After sweating, change damp bedding and rest.  If necessary, sweating can be repeated twice daily until exterior signs lift.

·         Be Patient:  Do not expect immediate relief.  In fact, the cold symptoms may temporarily worsen because natural healing methods assist the body in healing itself rather than suppressing the symptoms.


Balch, James F., M.D., Balch, Phyllis A., C.N.C., Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Garden City Park: Avery Publishing Group, 1997

Bratman, Steven, MD & Andrea M. Girman, MD MPH, Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs and Supplements and their Therapeutic Uses, St Louis: Mosby, 2003

Maciocia, Giovanni, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingston, 1989

Maciocia, Giovanni, The Practice of Chinese Medicine, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingston, 1994

Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1993

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Compassionate Acupuncture and Healing Arts, providing craniosacral acupuncture, herbal and nutritional medicine in Durham, North Carolina. Phone number 919-309-7753.


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