Alternative medicines for cold and flu prevention

As the weather gets chillier and we find ourselves spending longer hours indoors, the increase in coughs and sniffles soon becomes evident. It’s that time of the year again: cold and flu season.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

As a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Dr. Judy Zhu explains that if one’s chi (life force) is strong, one’s body will function well. However, if the chi is depleted the body will be unable to fend off illness. She advises that to maintain one’s chi: sleeping, eating, and exercising regularly are essential. Dr. Zhu believes that emotional reactions to stress and over exercising contribute to a decrease in chi.

“The Chinese believe in balance,” she says. “In the Western world, people believe more [exercise] is better, but too much exercise will consume chi and you will not have enough to defend yourself.”

Dr. Zhu suggests two main techniques to ward off colds: the first, is to boil vinegar and let the resulting steam kill off any cold-causing viruses in your home; and the second, is to chew raw garlic. Dr. Zhu says that these techniques work due to the well-known antiviral properties of vinegar and garlic.

Dr. Zhu also warns against treating colds with untested home remedies, such as drinking ginger tea. She explains that, as everyone’s body type is either “hot” or “cold,” certain techniques may or may not work for all individuals. The key is to always achieve balance in the body.

“If your body [type] is cold, then you will need to consume more ‘warm’ food,” she says.

Dr. Zhu further explains that different foods have different energies, which are also either hot or cold. Understanding one’s body type is critical to an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan in TCM.

Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic medicine aims to support the body’s ability to heal itself and optimize health, according to naturopathic physician Dr. Rida Wang. She recommends preventative measures, including drinking water to remain hydrated during dry winters; managing stress; staying well-rested; and getting plenty of fresh air. Another treatment she suggests is using salt water or saline rinses to moisturize the nasal passageways, and clean out viruses and bacteria that easily get in when it is dry.

As a special tip for Vancouverites, Dr. Wang says that extra doses of vitamin D are a must since she believes nine out of ten people in Vancouver will be deficient during the winter. In addition to helping the body absorb calcium, vitamin D is also necessary for the immune system to function properly.

In naturopathic medicine, many treatment plans include supplements that help strengthen the body’s immune system. According to Dr. Wang, one such common treatment is the Myer’s Cocktail, which includes many antioxidants and minerals such as: selenium, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and also includes various vitamins; she explains that these ingredients help stimulate the body’s immune system so that it can fight off colds and flu faster.

Frustrated with conventional Western medicine and its reliance on drugs to treat ailments, Dr. Wang took up naturopathy after receiving a degree in acupuncture.

“I think patients love being empowered to have some control over their health instead of relying on someone [doctors] to dictate it,” she says.

Dr. Wang believes that people want to be educated about their health, and she feels that naturopaths establish a partnership with their patients so that they can improve the patient’s health together.

“I can tell you what to do and why, but it’s up to you [the patient] to do it,” she adds.

A doctor of TCM performing acupuncture on a patient. | Photo by NYCTCM, Flickr

A doctor of TCM performing acupuncture on a patient. | Photo by NYCTCM, Flickr

Getting to the root of the problem

Skeptics abound when it comes to alternative medicine. Bernice Ma was one of them.

“I generally view western medicine as providing more quick fixes to my health problems,” she says.

However, after receiving successful treatment for painful menstrual cramps, her outlook has changed. In fact, she has continued her visits to discuss other ailments. Ma states that the holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment as well as the more personal doctor-patient relationship has helped her become more mindful about her health.

Whether you choose TCM or naturopathic medicine the next time you are sick, they do have one thing in common.

“[Both] try to find out the cause of the problem instead of just treating the symptoms,” says Dr. Wang.