Case Studies: Eastern Versus Western Medicine

Banish a nasty cold with herbal tea.

| March/April 1998

It wasn't difficult to determine why Kevin had come into the clinic on this windy day. As he sat in the waiting room, he sneezed loudly and reached for a tissue to dab at his runny nose. As he got up and I ushered him in, I saw that the wastebasket was brimming with discarded tissues.

With a decided nasal twang, Kevin ran through his list of woes—a runny nose, scratchy throat, headaches, achy muscles, and a feeling of coldness that pervaded his entire body. He proudly produced a large bottle containing echinacea and goldenseal tablets. “I bought a bottle of these yesterday,” he said, “and I’ve been popping them like popcorn.”

Fighting Colds: East and West

I checked Kevin’s pulse, which was clearly on the surface of the wrist. Chinese pulse diagnosis tells us this means an external pathogen, or disease-causing factor, was attacking him—what in Western medicine would be called a rhinovirus or similar viral.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the most likely pathogens are cold and damp, which are carried into the body by the wind. The first signs of cold and damp are a stiff neck, achy muscles, scratchy throat, clear mucus discharge, and stuffy nose. The aches and stiffness come from reduced circulation of vital energy and blood in the muscles.

Kevin’s tongue had a normal healthy pink color and thin white coating. This told me that the pathogens had not yet penetrated very far. If they had, his body would react more strongly, with symptoms such as a thin yellow tongue coating and most likely a fever, the body’s way of trying to eliminate heat or an infection.

A Warming Treatment

Given that Kevin was only in the initial stages of a cold, I gave him a warming herbal tea to assist circulation, along with echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea) to stimulate his immune system and “push out” the cold and damp influence. According to TCM, echinacea also helps relieve pain by circulating blood and vital energy. I told Kevin to go home, keep warm, rest, and drink at least three cups of the strong tea (see directions below) a day—even if it made him sweat.

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