The ABC’s of Health: “C” is for Colds | Ron Elkayam

It’s inevitable. I’m treating a patient for back pain or acid reflux and they will call the clinic to tell me they can’t make their appointment because they have a cold. Of course, I would let them know how acupuncture is great to help treat colds. But I also would educate them about how to take care of themselves to prevent colds.

Since I am an acupuncturist by training, I will talk about colds from a Chinese medicine perspective.

First of all, it is important to know, ancient Chinese people were dealing with infectious diseases all the time and their traditional doctors got good at treating them with needles and herbs. There are several significant lineages in the study and practice of Chinese herbal medicine that are only focused on, well, colds, flus, and their more serious relatives.

Having seen and treated many patients with colds, here is the spiel that I give to them.

If you are getting a cold, it means that your immune system is weak.

If you get a cold, it is not because you spent time with or were exposed to sick people. Not everyone who is exposed to a sick person gets sick. So the question is, why did one person get sick, and the other, not?

Of course, it has to do with the strength of your immune system.

Think of your immune system as a force field, like the kind you see in science fiction movies. When you are strong and healthy, your force field is strong. When you are stressed and weak, it is down, and you are susceptible to getting a cold.

Therefore, you can think about a cold as feedback to you, and it is say: “Hey, you are not taking care of yourself! Slow down!” In other words, if you don’t take time to rest and nourish yourself, your body will get a cold and it will force you to take some down time.

What this means is that during cold season, you have to be extra-focused on tuning into yourself and taking care of yourself.

The second concept I teach my patients is this:

Colds and flus are a part of life and they are not necessarily bad.

My old Chinese medicine mentor used to tell me that getting one or two colds a year is normal, and even healthy! He used to say that if you meet a person who says, “I haven’t gotten a cold in 30 years!” then that person may actually develop other health issues.

In Chinese medicine, there is a concept of latent, or dormant, infections. The understanding of Chinese medicine is that people who never get colds are suppressing the expression of the infection, which in turn weakens their body.

I remember one time, a woman came to my office for the treatment of infertility (which acupuncture is very good at treating). After a few acupuncture treatments, she got a pretty serious cold (acupuncture is a good way to release those “dormant” infections) and was “out” for more than a week. She told me that during this time she slept a lot and her body released a lot of phlegm.

Magically, after trying for years to get pregnant, within a month, she reported that was pregnant! From a Chinese Medicine perspective, the cold helped her release toxins that were preventing her from getting pregnant (this is simplifying it a bit, but we have limited space here).

You can think of getting a cold as a way to “exercise” the immune system. This is the logic behind what is called in Western medicine the “hygiene hypothesis”, which proposes that exposure to germs is important to the development of children’s immune systems. In Chinese medicine, this kind of thinking is also applied to adults’ immune systems, and so, we can think of colds as “normal.”

Actually, when you think of it, it’s actually amazing. Colds are a fact of life for humans, who are social creatures, and ensure that people take care of themselves.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we need to look forward to getting lots of colds.

My Chinese medicine mentor used to tell me that although it is normal to get a few colds a year, healthy people only experience 2-4 days of downtime due to a cold, whereas people who are weak generally will have more downtime because of a cold.

So, if you get a cold, instead of being bummed out, use the experience as feedback, and ask yourself:

  1. Am I stressed? What can I do to address this?
  2. Have I been eating enough? Am I eating quality food? Am I overdoing the caffeine and sugar instead of eating whole foods (like unprocessed grains, vegetables, fruit, and some meat/eggs/fish or other good protein sources)?
  3. Am I sleeping enough?
  4. Do I get some form of exercise? It doesn’t have to be the gym. It could be walking 20 minutes a day.

And by doing this, you can be sure that you can avoid having frequent colds, and if you do get one, it will generally be milder.

Until next time, stay well!

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