Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology in China

For thousands of years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture have played important roles in maintaining the health of the Chinese. Modern Western medicine came to China 300-400 years ago, but was not well known until about almost 100 years ago. Because of the effectiveness and good results for many diseases and conditions, TCM and acupuncture continue to grow in awareness in the world.

In the past, apprenticeship was the main way of receiving education of TCM and acupuncture in China. Formal education for TCM and acupuncture was started from about the beginning of last century and ever since, the education process has incrementally improved. In 1956, the Chinese government established four main universities of TCM and acupuncture, and made it as formal as other sciences’ educations. Students who want to become a TCM herbologist or acupuncturist must take a national standardized exam to get in, like the SAT’s in the US.  After two years of the experimental four schools training students, in 1958, all of the provinces and major cities in China established their own TCM and acupuncture universities.

Nowadays, the education of TCM and acupuncture is just as comprehensive as medical schools in the US. These kinds of medical school students do not only need to master modern medicine, but also need to master the fundamentals of TCM and acupuncture. After formal training, the students need to go through an internship, residency, and fellowship just like the system here in the US. While expanding the wealth of knowledge in TCM, TCM practitioners also split and focus on certain aspects of health problems just like modern medicine splits in to focus on neurology, orthopedics, etc. Comparing the United States, the research and practice of TCM and acupuncture are the same.

You must wonder what the hospitals are like in China. All hospitals in China basically have three parts: solely modern Western medicine, solely TCM and acupuncture, and a combination of both. They even have solely TCM and acupuncture hospitals or solely modern Western medicine hospitals. Each department consults with the others to figure out the best treatment for a complex problem that a patient has. This is for the maximum benefit of the patient. Education follows the same pattern of the three parts. In the northern part of China, most people generally prefer to receive modern medicine first. If it doesn’t give good results, they will seek help from TCM and acupuncture. However, in the South, the situation is different. Many people would rather go to an acupuncturist or TCM doctor first even for small things, like a cold or fever. The Southern Chinese combine herbs into their health to regulate their health or compensate for the small damages within daily life, environmental factors, bad habits, etc.

The Uniqueness of TCM

Historically, every nation has its own traditional medicine. For example, there was Indian medicine, traditional Western medicine, etc.  As soon as traditional Western medicine was combined with science and modern technology, the development has been growing exponentially faster and has affected the whole medical world. Traditional Western medicine came to China 300-400 years ago, but it was not well recognized until the last 100 years. In many other nations nowadays, you don’t see much of their traditional medicine practiced. It has almost disappeared. However, China does still use its traditional medicine in typical life. In China nowadays, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is used together with modern medicine when either of them alone does not help the patient. It has spread to other Asian countries and grew in popularity over the years. After industrialization and modernization, people eventually realized that maybe trying to stay “natural” is better than the other way around. That is why people started looking for a natural way of living including natural medicine worldwide.

TCM is one of the oldest natural medicines with good results for many diseases and conditions, and has been used in China for thousands of years. The natural medicine preference was mirrored in other parts of the world as well. In the past 50 years, more and more people in the world came to China to see and to learn the values and fundamentals of TCM. The spread of TCM is farther each year, and there’s always an increase of people who can reap the benefits of it. Because of this, many nations began to create legislation to standardize the practice of TCM and acupuncture in their respective countries. To understand why TCM survived and has increased in attention in recent times, it is a good idea to know how it all began.

About 3000 years ago in China, many new ideas and technologies had begun. According to ancient literature, the TCM system was not completely formed/finished until about 2000 years ago. At that time, there were many doctors who summarized the thousand years of medical theories. Those medical theories were a combination of medicine, ancient nature science and philosophy. For that time period, it was advanced knowledge. The key points were that they used the patterns of natural phenomena to describe what goes on in the human body, both physically and pathologically. Since everything in the universe affects everything else, they believed that human beings are part of the natural phenomena in the universe. Human beings are like small universes themselves. The ancient doctors drew parallels from what goes on in the natural world to what goes on within the human body – they essentially found humans to be like walking Earths with needs and processes akin to the real Earth.

They also integrated the philosophies like yin yang and five elements theory to examine and explain processes of the human body. Originally, the yin yang theory was developed by ancient philosophers to describe what goes on in the world.  In turn, ancient Chinese doctors borrowed this yin yang theory to describe what goes on in the human body as well. For example, according to ancient Chinese philosophers, the world is always changing. The concept of being “still,” as in unmoving, is relative. The theory to explain this foundational statement is yin yang theory. For example, the sky belongs to yang and Earth belongs to yin. The sun belongs to yang and the moon belongs to yin. The fire belongs to yang and the water belongs to yin. You can imagine the list is endless. To summarize, anything up, bright, moving, hot, outside, etc. belongs to the yang side. Anything down, dark, still, cold, inside, etc. belongs to the yin side. Yin and yang must be in cooperation with each other as a balance of powers like a governmental system. With this in mind, when one is too high in strength, the other is added to decrease the imbalanced ratio.

No part of the world is exempt from this philosophy but ancient Chinese doctors integrated it with their medicinal protocols and treated people with medicine that would correspond with the yin yang theory. The yin yang principle was especially crucial to prescribing herbal medicine and administering acupuncture to those lacking in yang or lacking in yin. Because humans are a part of the world’s natural phenomena, the treatment of the disease/condition of the patient must consider everything to do with environmental factors (climate, season, even the time of the day), not just the patient himself and not just the symptom itself. TCM treats the whole body because the symptom(s) is/are the whole body’s symptom(s) because everything affects everything. The ancient doctors also realized that nothing is exactly the same. From individual to individual, the reaction to natural phenomena is more or less different. When diseases or negative conditions occur in groups of people, they should be treated slightly differently according to individual complaints. For example, it’s common for people to enjoy the transition from winter to spring with flowers growing and having the sun out more often. However, there’s always the group of people who don’t like it because of the impending allergies they will have to deal with. Even if you give all of the people who have allergies the same allergy medicine, there’s a range of reactions. Some people may receive no benefit from that allergy medicine at all. That is why in Chinese medicine, the protocol for assigning a treatment is to make it in accordance with the patient’s individual complaint.

The point of the matter can be seen in the following distinction: there is a spectrum of symptoms that may be associated with the seasonal allergy. Diagnosis and treatment can’t be given only towards the complaint of an allergy, but it also must address its connection with the accompanying other symptom(s). The foundation of the patient’s body can be distinguished by their accompanying symptoms or complaints. Instead of giving herbal or acupuncture points for allergies only, TCM doctors also give herbal or acupuncture points to the patients’ other symptoms accordingly depending on the foundation of their body.

How should I prepare for my first acupuncture appointment?

In my practice, I’ve found that acupuncture is still very new in the United States because of many unexpected situations happening. For example, patients’ tongues were either brushed or stained by colored foods and drinks. Sometimes people just come in for their first appointment with either an empty stomach or they had just finished a big meal. This will actually affect the acupuncturist’s diagnosis and treatment results. Of course, if you find a good acupuncturist, he/she will ask you to come back without brushing your tongue and without eating a big meal and/or colored foods and drinks. Now, you must wonder why it is necessary.

To explain this, we must first know the diagnosis system in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. This whole system was created about 2500 years ago. Ancient Chinese doctors believed that what goes on inside the body will definitely show indications on the “outside” of the body, such as your pulse, your tongue, your eyes, face, hair, etc. in addition to your complaints, regardless of modern facilities to check what’s going on in the body in that time period. Since then, an almost perfect diagnosis system has been developed, which includes four main aspects:

  • observation
  • listening
  • history and complaints discussion
  • pulse examination and checking/pressing the troubled areas

In addition to these main four, there are some other things that need to be considered to make a diagnosis such as location/environment, climate, seasons, timing, age, gender, etc.

As you can see, all these are very natural ways to examine our bodies. One of the observation methods is about your tongue. The acupuncturist needs to see your tongue’s color, the color of the coating on the tongue, the shape of your tongue, etc. In terms of the color of your tongue, if it is too red or purplish, it means you have either poor circulation/stress, or you have qi stagnation/you are easily irritated or excited. If you have a pale tongue with teeth marks on it, it means you are fatigued.  The color of the coating on the tongue can help with the diagnosis even further. For example a thick, yellow, greasy coating means either too much “junk” or humidity inside the body. It means you either have a bad mood/you are irritated easily, or your energy is stuck inside your body. You feel heavy, lazy and sluggish. This is just one of the four aspects, and clearly it is already very indicative. The others show even more about the inside of the body.

If you brush your tongue before you go to the acupuncture office, all of the indications of the body from your tongue will be wrong, and this will affect the diagnosis. In turn, it won’t be helpful towards getting results from your treatment. If you have a good acupuncturist, they will remind you when you make your first appointment about this. Otherwise, you should ask what you should do before your visit.

In order to have the best understanding of your condition, it’s best to find an acupuncturist who has a broad background in modern medicine, herbal medicine, and acupuncture. If your acupuncturist asks you to bring all the lab test results or other test results from different specialists, congratulations, you have found one of the most thorough, top level acupuncturists!

What should I know and expect from my acupuncturist?

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are getting more and more popular in the world. For the Chinese, it is a very old healing therapy and they know what goes on in an appointment and what to expect from an acupuncturist or herbologist. For people outside of China, it is still relatively new even though some countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam have had it for a “long” time (still much less than China but have had it for 1000 years). In the United States, just like the other parts of the world, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is still very new. At the beginning, when the Chinese got into the US, they also brought their culture, traditions and customs, which included acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but only in the Chinese communities. Maybe there were a few local Americans who knew and had experienced it as well. It did not become officially recognized until 1971 when President Nixon went to China. One of his journalists suddenly suffered from appendicitis in Beijing.  After an operation, he still suffered from a stomachache. Because he needed to get back on the job, he needed to get rid of the pain right away. The Chinese government sent him an acupuncturist and after a few needles, the pain disappeared. The New York Times reported the whole story about the journalist. Later on, all the major TV networks reported it as well. That is how Americans became more exposed to TCM and acupuncture. The story obviously gave the public the idea that acupuncture is good for pain. Some people even got the impression that acupuncture is only good for pain. However, that is not all it is good for.

Ever since, acupuncture and TCM have grown in popularity. Most states have legislation and regulation for acupuncture. An increasing number of  people started to apply acupuncture for their problems because NIH and WHO announced the conditions and diseases acupuncture and TCM can help. Also, the internet helps spread knowledge to more people. Statistically, at least 455 diseases and conditions can be helped by TCM and acupuncture.

We already have an article called “What Should I Do To Prepare For My First Acupuncturist Visit?” Now we want to tell you what you should expect from your acupuncturist. When you make an appointment, your acupuncturist or their assistant should tell you not to brush your tongue the day you come in or don’t have any colorful/staining food/staining drinks  before your appointment. Don’t come in with an empty or full stomach. When you talk to the acupuncturist, they need to go through your history of medical problems, not just the one you’re going to them for help. They should ask you about family history of medical problems too. The acupuncturist has to give you a picture of your conditions in terms of acupuncture and TCM diagnosis, food restrictions, activity restrictions, and some simple tips to improve your condition. If the acupuncturist gives you herbal pills/tea, they should tell you how to take the pills/tea, and about any side affects. You should mention if you’re allergic to any common pill or pill coatings/fillers, since they may contain wheat or corn starch etc. If you are seeing different professionals for help, sometimes the acupuncturist also needs to talk to the other specialist(s) about your situation and see if there any do’s/don’ts from the other specialist’s point of you. This will help the acupuncturists understand how to treat your condition better. The acupuncturist may need to refer you to take an X-Ray, MRI, etc. modern medical facilities and tests to see what is going on with your problem as well. Before the acupuncture treatment  begins, you should choose a comfortable position you won’t mind staying still in for a while. During acupuncture treatment, you shouldn’t feel the needles too much unless it is necessary and purposely done for certain conditions or needle techniques. After a few minutes, you should feel comfortable and relaxed. Generally, you will get good results if you feel comfortable and relaxed during treatment. You may need to see your acupuncturist once every other day to once a week or month. The frequency and results depends on your situation and how good your acupuncturist is. By the way, different acupuncturists will have different specialties too. Some patients need fifteen to twenty sessions to see significant changes, while some others maybe need once or twice.

Nowadays, some people say there are different styles of acupuncture, when they are all actually Chinese acupuncture. The bottom line is the type of acupuncture is supposed to be fitted to your disease or condition. Acupuncture can be done with or without the following: electricity, cupping, Chinese herbs, TDP (heat) lamps, massage, and modern medicine including physical therapy if necessary. Sometimes, your acupuncturist may need to refer you to a good different specialist if they think the combination can help you quicker. Occasionally, there are a few patents though that will probably feel worse first after getting acupuncture and then feel better.

Overall, it is a good idea to think about acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine when you have diseases and conditions because you can have amazing results if you try it. For example, you can avoid having an operation, drugs, and etcetera. Besides, the side effects, if any, are much less and will be easily overcome.

Acupuncture for Children

In China, patients go to acupuncturists from all ranges of ages — newborn (or even pre-born because of the mother) to any age. In the United States though, it looks like people are concerned about the discomfort and pain for kids because they are so protective of kids. That is why here there are much fewer kids exposed to acupuncture, and trying it.

My feelings are that it is just a cultural difference. Imagine when kids need to go to a dentist, a surgeon, or to have a simple vaccine or injection, etc. all of these medical procedures actually hurt much more than acupuncture. If kids can do those things, they can definitely tolerate acupuncture. Some people must wonder about kids who cannot stay still and they might think it will be difficult to do it. This is actually not true. For most kids, they are still when receiving acupuncture treatment just like adults. There are a few kids who may be a little bit fussy at the beginning and then a few minutes later they will be fine too. Of course, there may be 0.5% of kids that are not suitable for acupuncture, just like some certain medical procedures aren’t good for some people.

In China, when we started to give kids acupuncture for PDD research in 1987, we went to special schools to have acupuncture service for kids. We treated kids in their classrooms (five to thirteen years old) in an efficient order, like an assembly line with many of them sitting in a row receiving the treatment. Their behavior was fine. The reality is if the acupuncture is performed by well-trained acupuncturists, nothing really hurts. Since it is new here because of the cultural difference, we always ask both parents to come for the first visit with the child. We ask the parents to try the needle first so they can know what kind of sensation the child will have. If they feel it is fine, we’ll continue with the child. That procedure with the parents is done purposely to convince the kids that it’s okay to have acupuncture. So far, we have helped many children without any problems from the parents.

Pediatric acupuncturists appeared in China a long time ago, just like OBGYN acupuncturists, internal medicine acupuncturists, etc. Generally speaking, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture theory, children’s problems are easier to deal with than adults because they are still in the developmental stage so they grow fast, heal fast,  and are full of energy. If the treatment is correct, the reaction will be very positive and quick. For most kids’ situations, they don’t need as many treatments as adults. For many of them, just one or two treatments shows results. Here, you can see to send a child to an acupuncturist is much simpler and less uncomfortable than going to other medical professionals. It is also actually very safe for kids to have acupuncture.

The most effective and commonly used acupuncture points are between elbows and the ends of hands, and between knees and the ends of feet. Acupuncture for children doesn’t need as much time for the needles to stay in, and for some problems the needle only goes in and out. Even further, some kids don’t need needles at all – they just need acupressure. There’s no risk to the treatments, especially since so often the kids fall and hurt themselves and that is much harsher of an injury than acupuncture ever will be. Sometimes, just changing the diet makes a big difference too.

Symptoms With “No” Cause | CSD’s Are Cured By Acupuncture

Imagine these three situations:

1. You’re sitting in front of your computer working on something, and suddenly one of your arms feels very tired, or your hand is tingling. When you sleep, you may wake up from pain in your hands or your neck.

2. You often experience dizziness, headaches, and even ringing in the ear sometimes. You go to many health specialists, and they find nothing wrong.

3. Sometimes, you feel so nervous or anxious that you have palpitations, nausea, insomnia or sleeplessness. You even have difficult breathing. Your health specialists found nothing wrong with you either.

These are only three examples of which there are many more. They look unrelated but the reality is they are from the same root.  These symptoms are actually caused from a tension of soft tissue around the neck and vertebrae. An umbrella term for them is called cervical spine disorder (CSD), and another way to refer to them are neck-vertebrae syndromes.

If you go to a general practitioner or even a specialist, they will probably find nothing wrong with you unless they are experienced or they check with you more carefully. Sometimes, they feel it’s not a serious medical problem either or sometimes it is just because the CSD is too mild to notice even by a machine.

To understand what is a cervical spine disorder, we must know about the anatomy of the spine and vertebrae. In the human body, we have 24 vertebrae. The cervical spine region is between the top and bottom of the neck area (between shoulders), part of the central nervous system (CNS) passing through the channels which are formed by the vertebrae. This area is the only connection between the brain and all other parts of the body (except the head). That means it is possible that a problem in any part of our body specifically related to the nervous system could be related to this area. It even includes some problems from the head area.

The question now is: why do these problems occur? Our body’s normal activity is regulated by two major systems. One is the nervous system and the other is the endocrine system. Between these two systems, the nervous system has a dominant role. Since it is a bridge between the brain (where messages are sent to the rest of the body including the message to experience pain) and the body (where pain is felt), that is why any problem in the body can be affected by or associated with the nervous system. This is basic information about the nervous system.

Fourteen years ago, we started to see patients in the United States who had ringing in the ear or some migraine headaches caused by “no reason,” because the patients told us they went to many specialists who said nothing was wrong. Some specialists even told their patients they were having hallucinations. When we checked the patients, we found their neck and upper back soft tissue were very tense. We specifically treated those patients because we suspected it’s associated with the cervical spine region. Not only does this area connect every nerve below the neck, but also some above the neck, reaching towards the ears and other parts of the head.  We must know the patient’s overall situation in their entire body, but if we suspect the cervical spine is involved, we treat that area as well as the area the symptoms occur. In our office, we’ve successfully treated patients with those problems with this method.

Recently, we read a report in the newspaper that in Taiwan, scientists found many ringing in the ear problems or migraine headache problems are associated with CSD. When we read it, we were ecstatic to see that these scientists confirmed what we thought was going on with some of our patients.

Good News for Infertility Patients with low AMH Levels

With our acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment, we’ve been able to help many patients ranging from ages 40 -45 to conceive naturally as well as countless younger couples aged from 25 to 39. However, our biggest achievement in infertility treatment was in aiding a fifty-one year old patient in conceiving and delivering two now healthy four year old identical twins at age 52. 

This was not accomplished in brevity however. 

The patient approached our office six years prior. In consulting both with the patient and spouse, the methods chosen to help induce fertility were acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. As directed, she faithfully followed suit and saw progress multiple times naturally but without result, as she unfortunately miscarried at ages 45, 46, and 49. The consistent incident of loss was soon discovered to be attributed to fibroids, which we did not realize until then. Regardless, she still pursued a child. With that, an IVF specialist was consulted and discovered her eggs were of poor quality and  recommended she use a donor’s egg, which led her to have twins.

But if the above story happened today, the patient may not have needed to use the donor’s egg but her supposedly failed eggs instead. Dr. Renwang Xue, a professor at Stanford University, published an article in the Journal of American National Science Institute on September 30th, 2013 that explores a new method–In Vitro Activation (IVA) in treating patients with infertility issues between the ages of 40-45 as well as ovarian failure.

Generally speaking, each woman has 800,000 primary follicles in their ovaries from birth. However, only about 400 are fully developed within ones lifetime. Typically once a women has hit her 50’s, or as soon as menopause occurs, the development of these follicles will almost cease completely. The same odds are also a reality for those dealing with ovarian failure, as reproduction is highly unattainable, which is why most women cannot or don’t attempt to bear children post menopause. What they found was if they treat the ovary with a special procedure and then the primary follicles can continue to develop until it is fully capable of fertilization.

As previously stated, there are a vast amount of follicles located within the ovaries, however only a specific number are selected during the reproductive cycle. This limitation is caused by an enzyme known as the Phosphatase and Tensini Homolog (PTEN) gene, which acts as an inhibitor, causing the remainder of primary follicles to lay dormant. Liu etc. realized in order to increase the number of follicles selected, the PTEN gene must be genetically removed. Once the gene is terminated, discrimination among the selection of primary follicles is gone and the rate of fertility drastically increases.

Dr. Xue, building upon this discovery, figured instead of applying a genetic method of removing the PTEN gene, the same enzyme’s inhibitor can be manipulated to increase the amount of the primary follicle selected and still receive the same results. In this way, more matured follicles can be developed.

Based on the tested animal results, Dr. Xue then applied this idea to the human body. This new found method included activating the primary follicle and then placing them back into the ovaries, allowing them to grow for six months. After this, the fully matured follicle is taken out, and the method of IVF is applied. So far there has been a successful story.

Of course, the procedure is still very much so at the beginning stages. Nonetheless, it’s a promising start and a great hope for those formerly limited by their conditions and age.

What is the diet’s effect on our health according to TCM and Acupuncture?

TCM and acupuncture were formed at least 3,000 years ago. TCM and acupuncture doctors applied natural phenomena to our bodies’ individual situations in both ways – physically, and pathologically. They believed that the nature of the food we eat daily, and the herbs we consume, and acupuncture we receive when we have a health problem are similar, but are on different levels. It is just like the idea that we eat when we are hungry, or put on more clothes when we’re cold, etc. Herbs and acupuncture work in the same way. We have four seasons, day and night, rainy, windy, different environmental and climate changes, and other natural phenomena. We as human beings need to compensate for what is happening around us. Diet is the main part of the compensation.

We have so many types of food to choose from. Just like everybody’s foundation of different, our body’s reactions to food are more or less different. If we eat certain “wrong” foods on a consistent, long term time frame, we are harmed. When some people eat hot/spicy food often for a long time, at a certain point, they are going to experience anxiety, bad breath, dizziness, red eyes, headaches, restlessness, sore throat, etc. People like this just think they have a health problem, but when they check in a medical setting, there is nothing wrong with them. But they know they feel different than before, and have a problem. In TCM and acupuncture theory, this is because if a person belongs to the warm/hot type, the hot/spicy food (if taken often) can only make their body hotter. The sore throat, headache, thirstiness, dry mouth, are indications of the hot type and getting hotter. If you ignore the symptoms, and continue having more of the hot/spicy food, it will affect you further. It affects the gallbladder and liver, and can cause serious health problems.

It is a good idea for us to understand how different foods affect us. The first thing we need to know about what we eat is the nature of the food, meaning our body’s reaction to the food. In general, anything hot/spicy such as peppers, cinnamon, coffee, dried ginger, lamb, walnuts, goat, chives, etc. can be harmful for us if we are the warm/hot type of person. On the other hand, anything cold-natured, such as mint, watermelon, pear, papaya, tofu, crab, etc. can be harmful if we are the cold type of person.

In our practice, we see many patients coming in with various health problems, simply because their lifestyle or diet are the opposite of what their body needs. Some patients that have gone to doctors for their problems and have received test results showing that they technically have nothing wrong with them, but they know it is not what they are normally like and want to get back to their old self. If you ask them, there is nothing really wrong with them except they have been eating certain types of food for a long time. For some patients, we only need to ask them to change their diets in the way their body needs. After a while, coupled with acupuncture treatment, they will feel better. For some other patients, if it is a more serious condition, they will need to add herbal medicine to their acupuncture treatment and diet changes.

You May Have To Avoid Certain Foods During Chinese Herbal Treatment

Most of the discoveries in Chinese herbal medicine were made right at the beginning of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and acupuncture over 2000 years ago. Ever since, incremental changes have been made. Back in ancient China when experimentation eventually became established rules, there were certain herbs that could not be used together, and if they were, they would become poisonous to humans. Some herbs can only be taken for a certain amount time or at a certain dosage because otherwise, they could be fatal. There were some other herbs that people had to avoid using together because otherwise their strength would be decreased.  This is not to say all herbs are so restrictive — most herbs can help people.

Ancient Chinese doctors had a spectrum of classifcation on what is considered just food, just herbs, or foods that are also herbs (or vice versa). What they understood was that food is for our normal needs, and the herbs are for our herbal normal needs (meaning to balance our body in times of trouble). Certain foods can have a detrimental effect on the absorption and activity of  the herbs. Mung beans can work either way, meaning it is a food but also an herb. But for the Chinese, everybody knows that you are supposed have mung beans more in the summertime and less or none at all in the winter. They do this because mung beans are naturally cold. They can slow our metabolism and make us feel chilly. However, the other aspect of mung beans that many people don’t know is that mung beans can also detox our bodies or lessen the capabilities of other herbs. That means if you take a Chinese herbal formula for feeling cold easily/feeling fatigued/low spirited, it’s best you don’t have any mung beans or mung bean-derived products. Otherwise, the herbal formula won’t work well for you. In the same way, radishes will easily get rid of the capabilities of ginseng. If you take a formula containing ginseng, then it will be rendered useless if radishes are eaten in the same timeframe. For teas, the effect will vary. Generally, it is better to avoid drinking teas when taking a Chinese herbal formula but if you are taking a formula for tonification/energy/feeling cold easily, you can drink red tea at the same time and it will be fine. If you are taking an herbal formula for overheating easily/hot flashes/etc. then perhaps you can have green tea too. Otherwise, it will be detrimental towards the formula.

In daily practice, there are much more complicated situations. If you found a good TCM practitioner or acupuncturist, they can tell you much more detailed information.

Foods or Herbs for the Common Cold

Almost everybody will experience a mild cold at some point in their life with the following complaints: sneezing, headaches, itchy nose, itchy throat, sore throat, poor appetite, fatigue, body ache, voice change, nausea, slight fever, sweating, etc. Some people just buy Advil or Tylenol to easen up their complaints. For some others, they just deal with it. However, without any help, the cold may last for a longer time. Some people may have learned something from their grandparents to deal with this kind of thing by having chicken soup, ginger ale, etc. There may be some other folk formulas we don’t know of. There is something that will work if you follow the rules, like in the following.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture, we categorize all conditions and diseases into different types. The reason for this is similar to how different cars need different oils or gasolines because the cars were made to be fueled with those substances. Like the cars, some herbs or foods are better as fuel for some people more than others. For the common cold, we have five basic types with different combinations or proportions of the foods/herbs.

  1. “Cold” cold – people will experience headaches, body aches, no sweating, feeling cold easily with chills, tiredness, poor appetite, voice change
  2. “Warm” cold – people will experience feeling warm easily, less or no chills, sore throat, fever, sweating, tired, poor appetite, voice change
  3. “Deficient” cold – these type of people are the ones who always have some cold-like symptoms, never really have enough energy to be very productive, and they frequently have something wrong with their health.
  4. Based on “deficiency” cold types, this category is for those who specifically feel cold year-round and can wear more clothing even in the summer than most people around them without overheating.
  5. Opposite from “deficiency” cold types, this category is for those who feel hot year-round and can wear less clothing in the winter than most people around them without feeling cold.

In TCM and acupuncture, many foods are also medicines (the line between food and medicine is blurry). It depends on what we need at the time.

For “cold” cold, the following food combinations will help either cure, easen up complaints, or make the recovery shorter. They are cilantro, scallion, fresh ginger root with brown sugar. Then the question is how much of each and how should it be prepared? First of all, you prepare these foods by slicing the cilantro (1-2 mm), scallions (1-2 mm), and fresh ginger root (1-2 mm). You’ll need a handful of sliced scallion handful, one-half of a handful of sliced cilantro, and a quarter handful of sliced ginger. Prepare to boil a pot with 2 cups of water inside. In it, you should put in 2 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar (if you have diabetes, skip this step). As soon as the water is boiling, put the ingredients into it, and turn off the heat. Cover the pot until the temperature is okay for you to drink. Drinking this twice a day or more will take care of the “cold” cold type. If it’s an emergency and you don’t have some of the ingredients, you can use more of the other ones to compensate.

For “warm” cold, you’re going to need a similar concoction but in different amounts and plus something else. Use white sugar instead of brown sugar, and add mint. Gather half a handful of sliced scallion, half a handful of sliced cilantro, and a quarter handful of sliced ginger, two handfuls of mint, two heaping tablespoons of white sugar. Prepare them the same way as above.

For “deficient” cold, use everything from “cold” cold, and either 1 gram of American ginseng or half of a gram of ginseng. For type 4, everything from “deficiency,” and add cinnamon and a spice. For the last one, everything from “warm” cold, and add watermelon juice (if it’s the summertime), banana (fall or spring) and papaya or pear juice (wintertime).

A few more words for “deficient” people: it would be a good idea to take some American ginseng. For “cold” type people, have more hot/spicy food, lamb and cinnamon. For “warm” type people, don’t eat hot/spicy food. In TCM and acupuncture, we do sometimes require patients to change their diet in certain ways according to their pattern differentiation. These were just examples, but if you have these combinations, you will definitely get a benefit from it.