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Common Cold

Cold and flu season is almost upon us. In fact, at any transition between seasons, people are likely to get sick, especially if they are prone to a weakened immune system. But as the summer wanes and the fall approaches, now is the time to boost your immunity. Acupuncture and herbs are a safe and effective means of preparing for and getting through cold and flu season unscathed.

But this year there is the added concern of the recent outbreak and pandemic of the A (H1N1) Influenza Virus, aka the Swine Flu. How should you make sense of what you hear in the media? How can you protect yourself and your family? Should you be concerned?

Colds vs. the Flu

Colds are typically less severe and present with respiratory symptoms like congestion, sore throat, sneezing, a cough, headaches and chest discomfort. They usually last 3-5 days and once in a while are a good way for your body’s immune system to get kick started and clean out. When a patient comes in with a cold, I will generally support the immune system and help lessen the symptoms through acupuncture and herbs. Taking over-the-counter symptom suppressing medications inhibits your body’s ability to clean itself out which is done through the very symptoms those drugs are suppressing. Now is the time to call in sick and rest for a few days. When given the chance, your body knows exactly what it needs to do to right the ship and get healthy. Just listen.

The flu, though, is certainly more serious to deal with. It typically lasts 5-7 days and can present with a fever, chills, body aches, weakness, headaches, chest discomfort and can even lead to further complications like pneumonia, especially if you are immune compromised by dealing with a pre-existing chronic illness. The “stomach flu”, or gastro-enteritis, is actually not the same thing. It is usually the result of eating unclean foods and will take about 36-48 hours to fully express itself with a few extras days for your system to completely recover. With food poisoning, It is of the utmost importance that you do NOT take over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications like Immodium AD. Once again, your body is very efficient in acutely expelling unwanted toxicity; let it do so. With both types of “flu”, I can be of great help to you in recovering.

Both the common cold and the flu are viral in nature, so antibiotics (ie, anti-bacterial medications) are ineffective and are not recommended unless a bacterial infection results, like pneumonia. Very often patients simply want their doctors to give them something to take. Not only would this be poor medical practice and would do no good, but as the source of your healthy immune system comes from the beneficial bacteria in your gut, when you take an antibiotic, you are killing not just the “bad” bacteria but also the “good” bacteria, further weakening your overall immune system.

Tamiflu and the Flu Shot

The most common flu medication administered is called Tamiflu. Tamiflu does not prevent the flu from occurring but rather, when administered, inhibits the virus from replicating and spreading. In other words, once you are sick, you’re sick. It can only limit the course of the flu by 1-2 days. And comes along with possible side effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, cough, convulsions and other neurological symptoms. The question is then: are you willing to only shorten the duration of your flu in exchange for possible side effects that sound an awful lot like the symptoms you are trying to get rid of in the first place?

As for the flu shot, with a virus that mutates every few years, the question that lingers for me is whether the shot you get is for the virus that you have yet to get? In my informal inquiries with my patients, whether or not they got vaccinated, I hear equal accounts of those who still got sick as those that did not get sick. As with all grey areas of medicine and health care, my consistent advice still holds true: get informed and consult your prescribing physician, then make your own educated decision.

The Swine Flu

The Swine flu is a virus that originally occurred in pigs, but has since mutated into something completely different with little resemblance to the original virus. It is no longer contracted by coming in contact with pigs, but rather it is transmitted human-to-human and presents identically with the regular flu. The CDC advises that if your doctor suspects that you have the H1N1 flu, to proceed with treatment without waiting for the results from a blood test, particularly if you fall into a high risk category for complications: those with pre-existing chronic conditions (diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, HIV/AIDS), infants, elderly, healthcare workers, and pregnant or those caring for children under 6 months. If you do NOT fall into this category, then according to the World Health Organization:

Worldwide, most patients infected with the pandemic virus continue to experience typical influenza symptoms and fully recover within a week, even without any form of medical treatment [italics are mine for emphasis]. Healthy patients with uncomplicated illness need not be treated with anti-virals. (“Recommended Use of Anti-Virals” http://www.WHO.int 8/21/09)

As for the vaccine that is being rushed to market, doctors are being advised, due to a low supply, to prioritize those that fall into the high-risk categories, before doling it out to the rest of the population. I am always wary of any drug that is rushed to market without being tested thoroughly. In the 1976 Swine Flu scare, this occurred with 100’s suffering from side effects and 25 people dying (Time Magazine April 27, 2009). Add to this the toxic preservative metals like mercury that are often in these drugs, which come with their own risks of side effects. And given the WHO stance as cited above, it does not seem to be worth the risk.

What then should I do to prepare?

Swine flu or no swine flu, here are the good old-fashioned recommendations that are always good to follow for overall healthy living and immunity protection:

1. Avoid sugar and processed foods, alcohol, fast food and dairy: these all are difficult on the body to process and can weaken your immune function. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies as they are loaded with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Drink plenty of water with lemon.
2. Get good sleep and rest enough: Fall is the time to begin quieting down from the highly active summer. The days are getting shorter and the nights longer. We are beginning to store up for winter. Adjust your weekly and daily schedules accordingly.
3. It is never too late to better your stress coping skills. Long-term chronic stress can weaken our immune system very effectively.
4. Exercise: Exercising promotes blood circulation which allows our immune bodies to flow to all parts of our bodies, improving our chances to combat any unwanted invaders.
5. Wash your hands for 10-20 seconds frequently through out the day. Also, keep handy bottles of an alcohol-based sanitizing gel to be used when washing your hands is inconvenient, especially if you are around high concentrations of people like in mass transit, as a teacher with kids, or working in direct contact with patients.
6. In public, take care to not touch your face/eyes/mouth/nose with your hands. Some germs can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours and enter our bodies through contact with mucous membranes. If you have to sneeze or cough, do so into a tissue and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
7. For good preventive measure, take a high-quality multi-vitamin and mineral.
8. If you suspect that you are getting sick, you can take zinc as directed on the bottle and 1000mg 3x/day of Vitamin C. One of the worst ways to get Vitamin C is through orange juice. Not only are you getting an excessive amount of sugar, but the acidity is very difficult on your stomach. Besides, how many oranges does it take to make an 8oz glass of juice? Can you really eat that many oranges in one sitting? Then why have that much juice?
9. If flu symptoms appear you can take 50,000 units/day of vitamin D, but stop after 3 days.
10. Other good western herbs that are anti-bacterial and anti-viral are garlic and echinacea. Olive leaf extract, oregano oil and elderberry are anti-viral with the elderberry being the best choice for the flu.


In general, our immune system works exceptionally well as on a daily basis it is constantly fighting off bacteria and viruses. And when given the opportunity to do so, it keeps us healthy and vital. It is only when we do not heed the advice above that our immune system weakens and we get sick.

If you are in good health in general, and know that at this time of the year, you are prone to getting sick, come in for acupuncture and let me give you an immune boost and better advise you on an individualized program for healthy immunity. If you do get sick, I can also help you recover without the use of symptom suppressing drugs.

If you fall into the at-risk categories, then consult your family physician about whether they feel you may benefit from a flu shot or the H1N1 vaccine. But I urge you to do your homework, ask the right questions and make an informed decision.

Some excellent on-line resources for more information are:

1. The Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov
2. The World Health Organization: http://www.WHO.int
3. http://www.WebMD.com
4. http://www.Mercola.com one of the most popular health resource websites online.

If you have any further questions on this or any other health-related topic, please do not hesitate to contact me.


© Jordan Hoffman, L.Ac., Dipl. OM, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

The information presented here is not medical advice, is not intended as medical advice, and is intended to provide only general, non-specific information related to Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture and is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. You should consult a licensed health practitioner before using any of this information.

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2001 S. Barrington Ave. Ste 116 Los Angeles, CA 90025  l  310-729-9061  l  © Jordan Hoffman Acupuncture 2010
This site and any articles on this site are not medical advice and are not intended as medical advice and are intended to provide only general, non-specific information related to Chinese Medicine and acupuncture and are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. You should consult a licensed health practitioner before using any of the information on this site and any articles.