Winter-proof yourself with TCM

Winter-proof yourself with TCM

Get over those winter coughs, aches and even cases of the blues, not by popping pills, but with a more local alternative

Shanghai might not be the coldest place during winter, but with damp days and a lack of central heating, it can be rough on mind and body if you're not prepared.

Local TCM and acupuncture experts Dr Ko Liu Ying from United Family Hospital and Professor Shao Lei, M.D. from Huashan Worldwide Medical Center, share how they treat many of Shanghai’s winter-time woes with acupuncture and other common TCM remedies.

Winter TCM -- honeysuckleHoneysuckle berries can act as a natural TCM antibiotic, helping winter respiratory woes.

Common winter ailment: Respiratory woes

Respiratory woes take many forms from the common cold and flu to walking pneumonia, and there’s no denying the winter months in Shanghai tend to wreak havoc on our respiratory system.

Main TCM focus: Lung channels (or “meridians”).

TCM regimen: Acupuncture treatment for such conditions are often combined with a laxative-effect TCM remedy like indigo woad root granules (板藍根颗), which are super versatile for helping expel toxins and reducing swelling from whichever parts are ailing you.

Viral conditions often call for a combined treatment of herbs and acupuncture, whereas standard bacteria infections can be treated with, “natural TCM antibiotics,” such as honeysuckle (金银花) and forsythia (连翘), according to the docs.

“In addition to colds and flu, chronic conditions like asthma and bronchitis are often aggravated in winter and might require year-round TCM treatment,” notes Dr Ko.

TCM advice from the experts: “In addition to acupuncture, those more daring patients can supplement their treatment with aweto or dong chong xia cao (冬虫夏草, caterpillar fungus), both are small, dried brown worms you’ve seen in most traditional medicine shops,” says Ko. “They are both very effective medication, and they’re best enjoyed steamed or with a hearty bowl of duck soup. A powdered form is also available for those who just can’t stomach the whole worms.”


Winter TCM -- angelica roots (芷)Angelica root (芷) is key in winter TCM for blood nourishment.

Common winter ailment: Arthritis and joint pain

Arthritis and joint pain is a frequent complaint due to Shanghai’s damp climate, with many people suffering severe discomfort throughout the winter months.

Main TCM focus: Kidney and bone channels.

TCM regimen: Treatments mainly depend on two factors: symptoms (numbness versus pain) and acute versus chronic conditions. 

Cinnamon, a natural source of heat (as a dietary addition and topical oil), is often prescribed as an acute treatment to keep the body warm in winter along with acupuncture to help energy and blood flow freely to the affected area.

Commonly combined TCM medications used to ensure optimum qi flow, in other words, to help remove these blockages, include angelica roots (芷) for blood nourishment and codonopsis root (党参) for optimal blood flow. These roots are best combined in an herbal formula drink mixed and drunk two or three times a day.

TCM advice from the experts: “Adding more mutton and ginger to your daily diet can also help along with Korean red ginseng root tea to keep your innards warm and to help boost immunity,” says Ko.

“Chronic sufferers may also benefit from adding more wolfberries (枸杞) to their soup or tea. The ever-versatile crysanthemum tea (菊花茶) is also a popular choice.”

(Click "Next" for more winter ailment and their TCM remedies)

winter tcm -- wolfberriesAdding wolfberries to your tea is one of the many ways to keep your skin glowing this winter.

Common winter ailment: Dry skin

Despite Shanghai’s damp winter environs, painfully dry skin is more common than you think.

Main TCM focus: Lung channels. 

TCM regimen: Surprise! Your skin is actually connected to the lungs -- as is your hair so take note of those lifeless, over-dried tresses that might need similar TCM-TLC.

Climate obviously plays a role here, but poor diet, stress, indoor heating and toxins in the intestines are just as guilty. TCM docs can't stress enough how important diet is though. 

Recommended dry skin-improving dietary additions include: yams, wolfberries, white radish, wood ear mushrooms, plus lots of freshly squeezed juices from nature’s natural moisturizers: papaya, cucumber, pomegranate and pear.

And for the more daring, one of the best ingredients to add to the pot for not only severe dryness but skin allergies and eczema is ... snake. Relax. Fresh is always best, say the experts, but a powder can help just as well and the powder is usually easier to get at your local TCM stores.

TCM advice from the experts: “Engage in topical economics,” says Ko. “After enjoying your freshly squeezed juice, save the pulp and use as a facial mask. It really helps!”

Winter tcm -- sore throatWinter sore throats needs a two-pronged approach using both TCM herbs and acupuncture.

Common winter ailment: Sore throat

“Sore throats are mostly related to a combination of culprits including seasonal allergies, excessive speaking, stress and the ubiquitous seasonal dryness. They’re also sometimes connected to several conditions like sinusitis,” notes Professor Shao Lei, M.D. at HWMC.

Main TCM focus: Liver, kidney and lung channels.

TCM regimen: The majority of sore throat patients suffer from both ying and qi deficiencies requiring “qi-tonification” with a course of herbs and acupuncture. Common herbal medications for acute sore throat include shuang huang lian kou fu ye (双黄连口服液) and hou ji ling (喉疾灵) -- both excellent, natural pain killers that help remove heat, swelling and toxins from the body and are widely available OTC.

TCM advice from the experts: “Incidentally, a ying deficiency is a common sign of stress, so if you’re constantly suffering from a sore throat, it may be more than that dry air that’s bothering you,” notes Shao.

Winter tcm -- acupunctureFighting winter blues requires more than a few pricks.

Common winter ailment: Seasonal depression

For those who can’t seem to shake those blues or just constantly feel restless, it may be time to check out a more natural alternative than pill popping -- and you won’t be alone. Professor Shao notes that over 50 percent of his overseas patients come in seeking help with either stress-related disorders or depression, including postpartum.

Main TCM focus: Heart, kidney, spleen, liver channels including du and ren -- considered two of the body’s primary meridians (channels).

TCM regimen: “Depression is often the result of liver ying and qi deficiency as well as heart fire,” says Shao. Heart fire is a TCM term where the heart, the center of the body’s organ network, is overworked or not getting its proper nourishment from the other body’s elements, basically being out of whack.

For those who regularly suffer from the blues, regular maintenance -- tonifying the kidneys, usually though acupuncture -- is crucial for keeping your mood and endorphins up. More serious cases may call for specific head acupuncture treatments focusing on the central nervous system.

A few dietary tips can help as well according to the docs such as keeping a "light diet with less meat and more vegetables." A bit of chocolate and wine in the evening is “okay” as well, says Shao.

TCM advice from the experts: “Up keeping your health is the only way to see real results,” says Shao. “There’s no magic TCM pill to cure you overnight, but with time, results can and will be seen.”

“If your body were a Mercedes, Western medicine would treat the individual parts, like with repairs,” jokes Shao, comparing TCM with Western medicine, “but TCM would be the regular check-up and oil change.”

Stephanie Thomas is a freelance writer of all trades based in Shanghai.
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