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Get Ready for Cold & Flu Season with Chinese Herbal Medicine

Support Your Immune System Naturally with Chinese Herbal Formulas

It’s cold and flu season again, and we here at Best Chinese Medicines would like to offer assistance in boosting your immune system to fight off whatever might be floating around in your environment. This post is intended to be a shorter, general discussion of a few formulas we carry that can help you stay healthy.

Check out the post on Anti-Viral Formulas for much more in-depth coverage of these formula and strategies for when and how to use them to supplement your health-care regimen.

A quick note about Covid-19: Chinese Medicinal theory treats the Covid-19 viral disease as a “wind-heat” invasion (see our post on Covid-19 for a detailed discussion of this); so five of the seven formulas highlighted below are directly relevant to dealing with Covid-19 using TCM methods. The last two formulas (highlighted at the end of this post: Pe Min Kan Wan and Bi Yan Pian) address allergic sinusitis and rhinitis.

Before discussing the formulas themselves, here are a few thoughts on boosting your immune system that do not involve Chinese herbal formulas:

Eating Healthy and supplementing with Vitamins C and D

Food Choices: The basis for staying free of colds and flu is a healthy diet. This is fairly standard advice that seems to be mentioned in every health blog out there… but that is because it really is that important. Regarding dietary choices, one can try any number of systems that are out there, but in my practice I advise clients to take an honest look at where they are “now”, and then we pick one or two things to change for the better. This is because it is important to experience a transition to healthier food choices as something that is fun and positive that you can experience success at (rather than get discouraged and fall completely off the wagon). The only specific recommendations (vis a vis boosting the immune system) I make to clients are to attempt to limit processed food to the extent that it is possible, to try to only take in sugar when it occurs naturally (e.g. sprouted bread vs. white or wheat, whole fruit as opposed to fruit juice), and to avoid artificial sweeteners. Otherwise just do your best—and monitor how you feel (physically and emotionally) as your food choices change… you might just be amazed at how just a few dietary adjustments can really alter your daily experience of life for the better.

Supplements: There are a vast array of products one can use to supplement their diet— the two I want to touch on briefly here are vitamins C & D.

Vitamin C is found in many common foods and recommended amounts/day run at around 90mg for men and 75mg for women (smokers need an extra 25mg/day)… but a few quick notes/caveats here: first, vitamin C is water soluble and as such does not build up in the body (as it is excreted in the urine rather than stored in fat cells); so while strategically supplementing can be beneficial in certain cases, this is not a nutrient that you can “stockpile” in your body for use when you start feeling rundown/sick—you have to intake consistent, regular amounts in order for it to really help boost your immune system. Secondly, vitamin C taken in from foods (such as citrus fruits and red bell pepper) is much more efficiently used/incorporated into the body than vitamin C taken in supplement form. Additionally, the body’s ability to absorb supplementary vitamin C declines as the doses go up. For example, the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements reports that while at doses of 30-180mg/day the body absorbs 70% – 90% of vitamin C taken in, at doses over 1000mg/day the absorption rate drops below 50% (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/). Lastly, overdosing on vitamin C will eventually cause diarrhea. So the upshot of this is to eat healthily enough when you feel well because supplementing with mega-doses of vitamin C when you start to feel sick is not a particularly effective strategy for fighting off a virus.

Vitamin D is integral to creating antibodies and thus is very important for maintaining a healthy immune system. Direct sunlight is the best source, and many common foods are high in vitamin D as well. Supplementary vitamin D should be of good quality; vitamin D deficient patients can start at 5000mg/day and taper off down to 2000mg/day in order to provide optimal support for the manufacture of the killer immune calls needed to stay healthy.

Chinese Herbal Formulas for Cold & Flu Season

Jade Screen (Yu Ping Feng San)

Jade Screen or Jade Shield is a classical formula meant to slowly build up the defensive qi specifically in (1) people with an overall deficiency pattern who (2) frequently catch common colds and flu. It is not meant to combat a cold or flu once you start showing symptoms.

We are pleased to offer a selection of Jade Screen formulas, including:

To be of use as a preventative, one should take the formula consistently for 2-3 months for the prophylactic effect to really take effect. This is because it comprises mostly Qi tonics that build up in the system over a period of time—only 20% of the formula is actually geared toward expelling pathogens (i.e. fighting off something you just caught). There are much better formulas for doing this, the first being:

Release exterior formulas (take one or the other at the first signs of cold and flu symptoms)

Yin Qiao

The purpose of Yin Qiao is to push an invading virus out of the body while it is still in the “exterior (or muscle) layer” before it has a chance to sink down into the Lungs and take root. In TCM language we say that it dispels the invading wind-heat pathogen by “releasing the exterior” (i.e. Yin Qiao’s job is not primarily to kill viruses). So in practice, I advise clients to take Yin Qiao at the first signs wind-heat (sore throat, fever, body aches, headaches, dry cough) along with one of the other three anti-viral formulas listed below this sub-section.

We are pleased to offer a selection of Yin Qiao formulas, including:

Sang Ju Yin Wan

Sang Ju Yin Wan is a formula that also releases the exterior. Like Yin Qiao, its function is to catch a cold/flu virus early and vent it out of the body before it can turn into a severe case of cold or flu. Take this formula (instead of Yin Qiao) if a dry cough is the predominant symptom of the impending cold or flu.

We offer a selection of Sang Ju Yin Wan formulas:

Again, it is appropriate to combine this Release Exterior formula with one of the anti-viral formulas listed directly below.

Anti-Viral formulas that complement Yin Qiao and San Ju Yin Wan

Take one of these next three along with either Yin Qiao or San Ju Yin Wan at the first sign of cold or flu symptoms:

Gan Mao Ling

Gan Mao Ling is the first of three anti-viral formulas that can be taken along with Yin Qiao or San Ju Yin Wan. Gan Mao Ling is geared toward general symptom relief (although it does have a mild component that addresses cough). Like the two release exterior formulas, it should be taken at the first sign of wind-heat symptoms.

We offer a number of Gan Mao Ling formulas, from tincture to pills:

Chuan Xin Lian Pian

Chuan Xin Lian Pian are also known as andrographis tablets. Andrographis herb is a potent anti-viral specific for alleviating sore throat pain that hurts like razor blades when you swallow. The other two herbs in this formula are also anti-virals—one is systemic and is particularly good at lowering fever and the other helps to clean up the dead viruses by assisting in the cleansing of lymph. So this is the go to anti-viral formula if sore throat is the pre-dominant wind-heat symptom.

Here’s a selection of our Chuah Xin Lian formulas, by different brands, all of the highest quality:

Ban Len Gen Pian

Ban Len Gen is an anti-viral formula that shades more towards lowering fever and working more generally throughout the body. It also contains a stronger aspect of cleansing the lymph and reducing swelling than does Chuan Xin Lian Wan.

We carry a selection of Ban Len Gen Pian formulas:

Two Chinese herbal formulas for Nasal Congestion

Two other formulas of note are Pe Min Kan Wan and Bi Yan Pian. Both of these formulas address head colds/allergic rhinitis and sinusitis where there is nasal discharge and pain. Bi Yan Pian is better at dealing with nasal congestion that comes from pollen allergies and hay fever (marked by sneezing, runny nose and red, itchy eyes) whereas Pe Min Kan Wan is geared more to sinus infections (congestion with yellow discharge and sinus pain).

We carry a variety of Pe Min Kan Wan and Bi Yan Pian formulas:

Share the Health Benefits of Chinese Herbal Medicine

About the Author

John Staversky, Certified Clinical Herbalist

John Staversky, Certified Clinical Herbalist

John is well-versed in knowledge of holistic healing. His major interest is in the interaction between physical conditions and emotional and psychological healing.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi John,
    This is a terrific, very practical, helpful website for Chinese medicine! I have a question ~

    If one takes allergy herbs – i.e. pe min kan wan or bian pian – and feel a cold or sore throat coming on, is there wait time between last dose of allergy herbs to switch to acute onset formulas like yin qiao, or andrographis (or gan mao ling if acute onset window was missed)?

    Thank you very much!
    Take care ~ stay safe,

    1. Hi Andy– Thanks for the question.

      Pe MIn Kan Wan and Bi Yan Pian both have two herbs with specifically clear the nasal passages (Cang er zi and Xin yi hua) and both formulas also clear some heat and “release exterior” to some degree. So if you are taking the either of the two nasal formulas for seasonal allergies (stuffy nose, sneezing, watery eyes etc…) and you feel a sore throat, fever, achiness, and/or some chills coming on, then Yin Qiao (or San Ju Yin Wan if cough predominates) would reinforce the “release exterior” action of the two nasal formulas. The strategy here is to push the wind invasion out before it has a chance to sink in– so Yin Qiao would actually complement Pe Min Kan Wan or Bi Yan Pian; the variable factor here would be how much of the wind heat/wind-cold invasion is attacking the sinuses.

      Gan Mao Ling (the Plum Flower version– check the ingredients if you decide to jump around with different manufacturers) is 75% anti-viral herbs with release exterior herbs comprising the remaining 25% of the formula and is geared more toward clearing heat and toxins from the respiratory tract than from the sinuses. GML can be combined with Yin Qiao if the cold coming on feels like it’s going to hit hard and fast and really pack a wallop. So again, it’s fine to continue either of the nasal formulas in tandem with Gan Mao Ling if you are having sinus congestion/drainage/infection etc… in addition to the symptoms like sore throat, fever, etc…

      I would say much the same thing for the formulas that go in deep (to the Qi level) and clear heat-toxins (e.g. Chuan Xin Lian Wan or Ban Lan Gen Tablets)– taking in the 2 nasal herbs from Pe Min Kan Wan or Bi Yan Pian will help guide the powerful heat-toxin clearing herbs in CXL and BLG to the nasal passages if that’s the way the cold or flu is presenting. So take them together if you need to, but know they have different and specific actions… If the cold is in the lungs with cough and congestion, or if fever (or alternating fever and chills), body aches, sore throat, and/or headaches are the predominant symptoms, then you don’t need either of the two nasal formulas.

      Hope this helps


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