Asian Medicine & the Avian Flu (November 29, 2005)
By Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac
As we enter into the traditional cold and flu season this year, there is an additional chill from the potential impending impact of the Avian flu. It is therefore more important to stay healthy and prevent illness during this time. Asian or Oriental Medicine (also called Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Acupuncture can contribute much to this effort, and in some cases, provide greater protection and support than westernized medicine.
For thousands of years, Chinese herbal medicine has studied, evaluated and applied herbs to the point that there is far more evidence and documentation about Chinese herbs than there is about any of our pharmaceuticals. Unlike many pharmaceutical studies which conduct tests on limited amounts of the population (e.g. on 50 men but not on women), Chinese herbs have been used on every member of the population (men, women and children, young and old alike) over thousands of years. Consequently the effectiveness and the safety of Chinese herbs has been proven and assessed, making them in most cases, much safer to use than pharmaceuticals when appropriately prescribed by a fully trained Oriental medical herbalist/acupuncturist.
Chinese herbs can be incredibly effective against the flu, both preventatively and in the treatment of flu symptoms. The only exception is in certain cases where the flu moves so fast and is so strong that only a well-developed and precisely directed drug can effectively stop the flu. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to create a drug that will target a specific flu virus in a timely manner. Asian medicine operates differently than western medicine, however, in that instead of addressing a specific virus, the goal is to address the environment so that the virus cannot survive and to clear the environmental havoc created by the virus so the person does not suffer.
Preventatively, one can take herbs to build one’s immunity and strength so that one’s “wei qi” (or immunity “force field”) is strong enough to prevent an attack by the flu (also called a Wind Evil, with “wind” referring to the way that flu symptoms move quickly through the body like the wind). One can put a slice of astragalus root in the family chicken soup to keep the entire family healthy, or better yet, see a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.) or Chinese herbalist for a formula specifically tailored to one’s own strengths and weaknesses. It is also important to keep the back of one’s neck covered to avoid exposure to a draft of cold air, which would create tightening of the muscles in the neck, thereby preventing energy from flowing along the many meridians of energy (also called Qi or electricity) that go into the head. If these meridians are blocked, then there is less circulation of energy, blood and moisture (whereupon the body sends in mucous to lubricate the dry membranes), thereby creating a perfect environment for a flu virus to take hold. There are several herbal formulas which can literally stop a cold or flu in its tracks if taken within the first couple of days of symptoms (e.g. the tightening of the neck or tickle in the nose or throat) or even preventatively when flying a plane. Even Airborne, now sold in local drugstores, has some of these Chinese herbs.
Once the cold or flu has taken hold, then it is important to focus on moderating the symptoms and speeding recovery. This is where a personal experience led me to Traditional Chinese Medicine. I was working as a lawyer in California when I contracted bronchitis. When antibiotics failed to do their job, a nurse practitioner referred me to a Chinese herbalist in Oakland. After cooking a bag of raw herbs (twigs, bark, seeds and such!), the resulting tea brought such immediate effect in a couple of hours that I was amazed. My fatigue was gone and I could breathe deeply and clearly. Inspired by that event as well as my research about this medicine, I went on to help bring this amazing medicine to Arizona through acupuncture licensing legislation and founding a college of Oriental medicine and acupuncture.
With regard to the Avian flu, a fast-moving flu virus that deeply impacts the lungs as well as other organs, one of the predicted drugs to fight it is Tamiflu. Interestingly, Tamiflu is made with Chinese star anise (illicium verum or Da Hui Xiang, not to be confused with Japanese star anise or Mang Cao which is toxic) which is the basic component for shikimic acid. Chinese herbs have also been effective in fighting SARS and other flu viruses.
In summary, one should consider the tool of Asian medicine (herbs & acupuncture) as one of the primary sources for staying healthy and fighting the flu. Respiratory ailments are but one of the many issues which this medicine can address (aging, chronic disease, and pain to name a few). Find a local Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.) who is fully trained in Oriental Medicine at azsoma.org, azacuboard.az.gov, pihma.edu, or nccaom.org.
Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac. is the President and Founder of the Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine & Acupuncture (PIHMA), College & Clinic, the Valley’s only accredited college of Asian Medicine.