When a cold makes you miserable, you want relief fast. But drugs designed to ease cold symptoms can have side effects-increased blood pressure and heart rate, gastric upset, blurred vision, trouble concentrating, insomnia.

Instead, I recommend the practices of traditional Chinese medicine, which have been used for thousands of years. These practices may ease inflammation...fight infection...boost the immune system.. and promote the healthful flow of qi (energy) through the body.

Yin Or Yang?

According to traditional Chinese medicine, two seemingly opposing yet interdependent natural forces called yin and yang must be in balance for a person to maintain good health. When one force predominates, illness results.

Colds can be characterized as either yin or yang. With a yin cold, you have chills...feel exhausted.. and want to crawl into bed. With a yang cold, you have a fever...perspire...and feel agitated. To reestablish the body's natural balance…

  • Feed a yin cold—primarily with yang foods. Yang foods are warming. Generally, they include meat, chicken and fish...and vegetables that grow in the earth, such as carrots, beets, jicama, turnips and yams. Eat as much as you comfortably can. Drink three six-ounce cups of ginger tea daily-ginger has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects.

Also soothing: Submerge yourself up to your earlobes in a bathtub of comfortably hot water mixed with Epsom salts.

  • For a yang cold, eat lightly. Avoid yang foods, and focus on cooling yin foods-especially green vegetables, sprouts, fruits and other foods that grow in the open air. Drink eight to 10 cups of water daily. Also drink two or three cups of garlic tea daily-garlic is an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory agent.

To make garlic tea: Boil a cup of water... add a clove of garlic cut in half...steep five to 10 minutes...remove garlic...add honey and lemon juice to taste.

Also helpful: Use garlic liberally in cooking.

Time-Honored Remedies

Many traditional treatments may be helpful no matter what type of cold you have. Products mentioned below are sold at health-food stores, Asian markets and/or online. Check with your health-care provider before taking supplements, especially if you have a chronic health condition or take any medication. Consider…

  • Loquat syrup. Made from the yellow pearshaped loquat fruit, this syrup quiets coughs and soothes sore throats. Try a brand called Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa cough syrup or a natural loquat extract. See product labels for dosage guidelines.
  • White Flower Analgesic Balm. This brand-name product combines essential oils of wintergreen, menthol, camphor, eucalyptus, peppermint and lavender.

To relieve nasal congestion: Put a drop of White Flower on your palm, rub palms together, then bring your hands up to your nose (avoiding the eyes) and inhale for four to eight breaths. Repeat up to four times daily as needed.

To ease headache or body aches: Massage a few drops into achy areas. May be used up to four times daily.

  • Acupressure. This practice stimulates certain points along the body's meridians (energy channels) to eliminate qi blockages. To open sinuses, squeeze the acupressure point on the fleshy area between your thumb and index finger, near the thumb joint. The more blocked your qi is, the more tender this spot may feel. Apply enough pressure to cause mild discomfort. Hold for several minutes, then switch sides. Repeat as needed.
  • Acupuncture. This can clear even serious sinus congestion, sometimes in a single session. The acupuncturist inserts one or more very fine needles at specific points on the body, depending on the individual's needs, to restore qi flow.

Referrals: American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (866-455-7999, www.aaaomonline.org).

  • Cupping. Some acupuncturists and massage therapists provide this treatment. A small glass or bamboo cup is heated and then placed on the person's back for about five minutes. The heat creates a vacuum that pulls on the skin and underlying muscle, improving qi flow and blood circulation to bring healing nutrients to the body's tissues. Cupping sometimes leaves a red mark on the skin—not a burn, just a result of the suction-which fades within a few days. If the practitioner opts to leave the cup on the back for a longer period of time, slight bruising may result—but again, this soon fades.
  • Diaphragmatic breath work. This technique uses the diaphragm as a piston to improve oxygen flow and blood circulation and relieve congestion. Sit or stand up straight to allow lungs to fill...gently draw in air through your nose (if you're not too congested), letting your abdomen expand outward...then pull your abdomen in so that it pushes the air out through your mouth Continue for one minute. Consciously repeat several times daily, aiming for this to become the way you automatically breathe throughout the day. Tui na massage. This Chinese system of massage vigorously stimulates acupressure points and manipulates muscles and joints to promote qi flow. To find a practitioner, contact the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (904-598-1005, www.nccaom.org), and check for practitioners certified in "Asian bodywork." Other types of massage also can be helpful.

Nutrients that keep You Cold-Free

The best defense against colds is to avoid getting them in the first place. That requires a strong immune system and certain nutrients can help.

Advised: In addition to a daily multivitamin, take any or all of the following supplements. For maximum effect, use year-round.

  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This vitamin-like substance boosts cellular energy. Recommended dosage: 100 milligrams (mg) to 200 mg twice daily.
  • Fish oil. This is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which reduce disease-promoting inflammation. Take fish oil liquid or capsules at a dosage that provides 3,000 mg daily of combined EPA and DHA.
  • Vitamin D. This is a fat-soluble vitamin that benefits the body in many ways, including by strengthening the immune system. I recommend taking 2,000 international units (IU) daily of vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol).

Alternative: Take one teaspoon of cod-liver oil daily for each 50 pounds of body weight.

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