Chinese, Tibetan, Indian, Daoist, Buddhist, whatever whatever medicine… they all have strikingly similar theories about the typical common colds and flus, how one gets them, how they play out, and how they resolve… if at all. The theories are a significant departure from the modern conventional view.
In an oversimplified nutshell, here’s the difference:
- Modern medicine sees the problem to be the airborne pathogen, e.g. the virus that invades your body due to contact. Aside from diagnosed depressed or insufficient immunity, the fault lies in the virus, not in the body and its defenses. One is a helpless victim at all parts of the process if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and are exposed.
- Traditional Eastern medicines, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), see it very differently. They describe these pathogens (the modern correspondence being an airborne virus, for example) as ALWAYS present in varying amounts. An infection (cold/flu in this case) comes from an opportunistic vulnerability in one’s immunity. This in itself is not entirely different from the modern conventional view, however. What’s different here is how and why one’s immunity is interrupted and becomes vulnerable. The answer, in brief, is abusive (often unknowingly) eating & drinking patterns: one’s diet.
Now, I’m not going to try and convince anyone here. This view is hard-earned and becomes crystal clear after sufficient clinical experience is gained. This argument would never sound reasonable to me either had I not accumulated some 16 years of clinical experience of watching people’s health struggles through the eyes of Traditional Chinese Medicine. But anyway, here’s how one of the great legendary masters of Chinese Medicine, Li Dong-yuan, sees it:
Food and medicinals which assist yin and drain yang are prohibited in yang qi insufficiency diseases with superabundance of yin qi. [Hence one should refrain from] the various bland foods and medicinals of bland flavor which drain the upbearing and effusing [of yang qi] and assist [or strengthen] control and contraction. The various bitter medicinals are all sinking and drain the dissipation [or spreading] and floating of yang qi.
It is a central tenet within Li-Zhu medicine that good health is founded on the proper function of the spleen-stomach and that this requires the upbearing and effusing or out-thrusting of clear yang. Therefore, anything which works against this upbearing and effusing is seen as deleterious if yang qi is insufficient, unless there are cogent extenuating circumstances.
Take the first line: “Food and medicinals which assist yin and drain yang are prohibited in yang qi insufficiency diseases with a superabundance of yin qi.” So, who are these types of folks with yang qi insufficiency diseases with a superabundance of yin qi? They are you and me, almost every single one of us. Why? It comes from years of low-level abusive eating patterns that overwhelm our immunities long enough for the airborne pathogens, such as the cold/flu- associated virus, to take root in one’s system and reproduce, leading to a cold/flu and its symptoms. But what comprises abusive eating/drinking patterns? You will be surprised:
- Eating or drinking anything cold, chilled, iced, or raw. Read that line again: anything cold/chilled or raw, particularly in seasons with extreme temperatures, such as the cold of winter or the peak of summer heat.
- Eating or drinking too much at any time.
- Eating or drinking too late in the day.
- Eating or drinking before the last meal is drained from the spleen-stomach (basically eating any new food before the last food taken is voided from the stomach — about 2 – 2.5 hours).
- Excessive alcohol intake.
- Excessive sugar intake.
- Eating large meals before sex.
- Drinking excessive alcohol before sex (probably talking about more than 2 glasses or wine, for example).
Li Dong-yuan mentions that “good health is founded on the proper function of the spleen-stomach [the root of immunity in TCM] and that this requires the upbearing and effusing or out-thrusting of clear yang.” In other words, anything that temporarily mitigates the functioning of the digestive strength leaves one vulnerable to the ever-present airborne pathogens long enough to be infected. The bottom line? More than 9 times out of 10 that cold or flu can be totally averted without any necessary treatment. However, that will take an ongoing lifestyle commitment to stay clean & clear… the immunity must not be interrupted, so the diet and drink must be in support of rather than detracting from one’s digestion and therefore immunity.
From a seasoned practitioner’s standpoint, the picture could hardly be clearer. Let me give you a couple real-world examples:
- Last week Joey, a 7 year old active healthy boy, was out enjoying the warming weather, and also enjoying cold or chilled drinks while outside. Then a cold front moved in, and it negatively affected his innate ability to ‘upbear and effuse or out-thrust clear yang’ (see Li Dong-yuan’s quote above). The climate, as innocent as it may appear, does indeed affect one’s immunity… weaker folks, such as kids, are affected much more than others. Once the climate suddenly cools, the cold/chilled drinks become enough of a force that his immunity is overwhelmed. The cold drinks become temporarily undigested, and the contracting, draining, and descending actions natural to cold food or drink remain in one’s system incompletely digested. This undigested nutrition acts like a heat sink in one’s immunity, thereby draining the charge that would normally prop up one’s immunity. When Joey’s immunity is interrupted, even though merely for a few minutes or hours, it has likely been long enough for an airborne virus to take root. The virus has been there all along, but Joey’s immune system is only vulnerable when it has been interrupted… in this case from food or drink that interrupted it. Had he treated his digestion (speaking to the parents, of course) with respect to both his body’s digestive capacities and his response to the climate, then it is likely that his immunity would have stayed the coarse and not been interrupted.
- Martha is 52 years old, and is in average health according to her. She’s not strong, but not terribly weak either. She is committed to natural health and eats well, or so she thinks. She is fairly consistent about it, until she gets very stressed. Then she runs to the freezer and finds the Ben & Jerry’s. She eats half a pint, not a seemingly excessive amount. It gives her a sugar rush followed by a lull, and it puts her to sleep. She wakes the next day tired and feeling drained. By 2pm she is chilly with unusually tight neck & shoulders, she becomes a bit agitated or irritable, slightly queezy, and begins to experience chest congestion. Within 2 more hours, she can officially call herself sick with a cold. Yes, it’s true that she was struck by an airborne pathogen, such as a virus. But arguably the virus is not the cause of the disease. Rather, one could track how the immunity was interrupted by an overwhelming eating pattern by foods warned against by Li Dong-yuan some 2,000 years ago. In an effort to close this post, you can choose to trust this point: the symptoms Martha experienced at each stage of her cold’s unfolding corresponded exactly to the immune-interrupting progression seen by the temporary damaging effects of taking in a significant amount of chilled frozen food from the TCM point of view.
My point here is not to get you in my office, believe me. My professional experience is that more than 98% of the population is unwilling to believe anything not from the conventional institution of modern medicine, and most of the rest are unwilling to even try an experiment to change and see if there is something better available to them regarding their life quality. I’m basically over giving this soap box speech. However, I am passionate about making information available to the self-responsible, the curious, and the willing. If you were indeed interested to know more, how best to stay immune, remain unaffected by common diseases, and consistently feel better, then I am here to help. But you’ll have to get over your old notions to find new truths.