The Flu Season And The Causes Of Infection From A TCM Perspective
While seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are detected year-round, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. Influenza activity often begins to increase in October in the Northern hemisphere. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February. In the view of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the environment and season has a strong impact on our health. While the activity of the virus is crucial, it is actually our immunity that is the most critical in determining whether a person will get ill and how sick one will be.
What are the viruses in the TCM view?
TCM see our human body as a microsystem. The human body has our own intrinsic functions and balances. We need to have connections and communication with the outside world and keep our own internal environment in control. For example, even if the outside temperature changes, the human core temperature will remain more or less the same. Any extreme condition from the outside that could harm our internal balance, are regarded as “external pathogenous factors”. In the ancient Chinese 外邪, literally translated as “external evil”.
There are 6 main categories of of external pathogenous factors
These external pathogenous factors are rather self explanatory. They are the extreme enivornemtal conditions. The key point of is, TCM looks into the nature of the pathogenous impact, rather than the biological structure. That means while the modern medicine differentiates the species of viruses, TCM focuses on how that particularly virus impact an individual. TCM might use the same apprach for different viruses becasese of the same pathogenous impact; or, different treatments for the same types of virus.
Should we worry about the viruses?
The external environment is undoubtedly posing threads to our body. Any normal person stays in the desert without water and proper clothing will suffer or even die. But some people can survive longer than others. Here is when the internal factors play the crucial role. These internal factors can be our emotional intelligence, immunity or genetic constitution. As the Chinese medicine classics, The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (黃帝內經 Huangdi Neijing), suggests:
虛邪賊風，避之有時，恬淡虛無，真氣從之，精神內守，病安從來? Ancient saints knew the way of keeping healthy. They taught the commoners about the evil wind and other pathogenic factors. They stated that people should avoid exposing ourselves to extremely environments. They proposed humans should keep a clam mood and eliminate the excessive thoughts so as to make the circulation of Qi running smoothly and keep Essence (Jing) abundent and Spirit (Shen) reserved, and as a result to keep the balance and stay healthy.
正氣存內，邪不可干；邪之所湊，其氣必虛 The internal Qi will protect us from the external evil. Where the evil exists, the internal Qi is weak.
The Treatment Starts From The Prevention
For any kind of infections, prevention tops treatment. We must be vigilant and have precautions. Dress properly to the weather. In windy or cold conditions, always protect our head and neck area. Even for milder temperature or indoor, keep our abdomen and feet/ankle covered. Eat regular warm meals and have enough sleep.
Therapeutic Principle Of Infectious Diseases In TCM
The first step of treatment is to differentiate exogenous disease (illnesses originating form outside of the body) from endogenous diseases (illnesses originating form inside the body). As a general rule, the TCM doctors always address the exogenous disease first. For example, someone comes to us because of menopause symptoms but she recently has a flu. The TCM doctor should deal with the flu infection first. Leaving the infections unattended and working on something else will be like doing a renovation of home while there is a theft inside.
There are two common methods for identifying exogenous diseases. These are "syndrome differentiation according to the six meridians" and "syndrome differentiation according to defense(Wei), vital energy(Qi), nutrient(Ying) & blood(Xue)". Basically these two systems are trying to identify the stages of infections, from the superficial level to the deep and critical level.
The Six meridian theory refers to the 3 yang and 3 yin patterns known as Tai Yang, Yang Ming, Shao Yang, Tai Yin, Shao Yin and Jue Yin. This is also known as differentiation according to the Six stages (or the 6 meridians) and could be translated as the six "levels" due to the progression of conditions from Tai Yang (most external) to Jue Yin (most internal). Using the theory of the six stages you can see a progression of conditions from external to internal. By treating the correct "stage" you can avoid driving the condition in deeper or blocking it's way "out" of the body (i.e. tonifying the internal system to manage menopause symtopms when you need to disperse an external pathogen such as a cold).
Unlike what most people regard as a cold, with fever, nasal congestion, coughing and so on, TCM recongize the first stage of a cold/flu with the following signs or symptoms:
Headache and stiff Neck
Sudden onset of malaise
Mild Chills and/or Mild fever
After the first stage of infection, the exogenous pathogens (evil) can enter many different systems depending on the power of the external evil or the level of internal immunity thus causing various kind of symptoms like
Alternating chills and fever, bitter taste in mouth, dizziness, nausea (Shao Yang Syndrome)
Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or fullness (Tai Yin Syndrome)
High fever, profuse sweating, excessive thirst, cough with yellow and sticky sputum, possible chest pain (Yang Ming Syndrome or Symptoms of Qi Level)
Of course not all the infections are textbook like. These syndromes can be combined or mixed with other pre-existing conditions. Therefore, it is not recommended to self diagnose or take any kind of herbs without supervision. Luckily, the good news is that if you pay attention to your health and follow our TCM recommedations, the infection is usally self-limiting. Or with the suitable herbal prescription, the infection could subside in a matter of days.