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Colds, Flu’s, Sniffles & Mosquitoes

Oriental Medicine has highly developed theory and diagnostics for understanding and treating sniffles, colds & flu’s and, actually, all and any febrile diseases right up to full blown pneumonia and tropical fevers. So next time you are a bit under the weather, give your acupuncturist a call!

But what does this have to do with mosquitoes!?

Mosquito Meditations During my years in Tokyo, I spent a lot of time in the parks practicing Tai Chi and Chi Gung as a daily ritual before the rush of life in a super metropolis took hold. Relief from the freezing cold of winter months was short lived. There was an all too brief “goldilocks” period before the mosquitoes decided the weather was clement, and blood was once again on the menu. My blood! The slow and static poses of these meditative martial arts make one into a living “con-ve-nie” (convenience store) for these winged fiends.

From an ascetic perspective the mosquitoes could perhaps be said to have deepened the practice (resisting the temptation to move even as they drilled & took their fill). At the very least, their occasional stimulation prevented one from drifting into day-dreaming or flights of fancy.

Shadedfreude However, this did nothing to to dim my sense of shadenfreuda* upon seeing their tell-tale drill marks on my teacher’s hands/ neck/ forehead when he arrived at the clinic after his own practice. I was not alone!

To give them their dues, the mosquitoes seemed to have an uncanny tendency to select acupuncture points. Are they attracted to the Ki? Is the universe trying to teach me? Am I mad? Strange thoughts abound whilst surrendering oneself as sustenance to the animal kingdom.

Hades Whilst living in Rio de Janeiro, things took on a somewhat different hue. Withstanding the airborne onslaught there may have added meditative nuance. But the most obvious result was my contracting Dengue fever, a disease spread by the bite of the “Aedes” mosquito. Hearing this through the delirium of high fever and “breakbone” pain I thought my friend was uncharacteristically dropping her H’s: This mosquito from hell could justifiably be called “Hades”!

Western Medical Approach Western medicine likes to identify a pathogen and to kill it. However, Dengue, like common flu’s and colds, is one of those nasty critters that doesn’t respond to this “Bush Doctrine” approach of preemptive seek out and destroy…. It’s a Virus. The virus is a constantly and rapidly evolving target and there really is no specific treatment or killer-drug available. A trip to the doctor should result in advice to take it very easy at home and to eat easily digested foods.

Antibiotics Antibiotics are of precisely zero use since they have no effect on a virus. In fact, they will make your condition worse. We like to think that antibiotic treatments are highly targeted and pathogen-specific but sadly the large majority of drugs at our disposal produce an effect more like carpet-bombing with what are euphemistically termed “side effects”. This “collateral damage” can often be more severe and long lasting than the disease symptoms themselves.

In the case of antibiotics, the principal damage is to your “biome”: Your healthy gut bacteria are decimated, making you feel even weaker (as you cannot digest and absorb food correctly), and reducing the potency of your immune system (opening the possibility for further attack). This approach seems reminiscent of attempting to defeat the Hydra by removing one of its heads, only to find that another two have grown in its place!

Oriental Approach We are all, by and large, exposed to the same pathogens in our highly connected cities. The main factor determining whether or not we fall sick is therefore our individual state of health.

Following this logic, rather than focusing on the pathogen, Acupuncture identifies which particular systems/ areas of your body are most weakened at the time of treatment**. That specific body system is then supported to help you return to normal function. Normal function meaning robust health (Genkiness) and a consequently robust immune system which dynamically deals with multiple different and evolving pathogens at any time***.

Crisis This know-how was born of severe crisis. Zhang Ji (150-219AD) lived through a time of rampant epidemic losing two thirds of his kin to the ravages of a disease similar, perhaps, to SARS. He devoted himself to the study of its prevention and cure and developed a detailed and brilliant system as applicable and effective today as ever. His Shang Han Lung is considered one of the great medical classics and can be used to understand and treat everything from a slight chill to a common cold or flu, right up the scale to pneumonias and tropical fevers. This is highly valuable in today’s highly connected world with fears of “untreatable” viral pandemic and ever increasing antibiotic resistance.

“Bouncing” a Cold Once we understand the process of colds and flu’s from the perspective of the patient rather than the pathogen, we become highly empowered. No, there is no way to un-expose ourselves to the virus once it is in our system. And indeed, avoiding contact with multiple pathogens whilst living a normal daily life is impossible too. However, we can fine-tune our natural immune response to deal with things in the most efficient manner and thus reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. This involves treatment, of course, but also includes making appropriate food, activity and clothing choices.

There is even a short window of opportunity during which is it possible to “bounce” a cold. This is only possible right at the very initial stage of disease when the pathogen is just beginning to square up to the outer-most layer of your immune system. If the appropriate treatment is given, the momentary lapse in immunity is resolved and the cold can be expelled and effectively bounced before it can get any further. Early treatment, or even better, preventative treatment when there are no symptoms, is the best approach.


Notes * This is my favourite German word meaning something like “a sense enjoyment derived from the misfortune of another”.

** The route taken by the pathogen in attacking the body is also traced: The disease is understood to travel through the various layers or depths of your immune system (each associated with a different internal organ). The depth reached at the time of treatment is determined, and that layer of the defensive function is stimulated and invoked.

*** Effectively we are talking about building a robust central system which responds naturally and dynamically to new threats, rather than lumbering on with a sub-standard system by constantly adding security patches in the form of antibiotics or yearly flu-jabs.