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Cold & Flu Explained

The west has a lot of newfangled ideas about how colds, caused by rhinovirus, and flu, caused by the influenza retrovirus, are caught and treated. I say newfangled, because prior to the 1950’s, everyone around the world knew about the connection between a medical condition called Exposure, and cold and flu. Famously in fact, Descartes, the man most directly responsible for the mind over matter dichotomy, died from exposure induced flu that became pneumonia.

So what happened?

In 1849 John Snow proved the germ theory of infection in a series of essays. Though the idea had been ridiculed since the 1500’s (who would believe in invisible bugs!?) it was becoming incontrovertible. It is now currently the only theory accepted. However, somewhere along the way, the idea that the body required immunodeficiency to become infected became overshadowed by the idea of infection itself.

It is impossible to pinpoint to accuracy such a momentous change, but we do know that vaccines became fairly standard in treatment in the 1940’s. Could the manufacture and sale of vaccines, which had seemingly promised the eradication of disease by the end of the 20th century, be the main reason? After all, if one had an immune system that was most of the time too strong, and such a system could be made stronger, then the “selling” of vaccines, which have become huge business for MD’s in the west, would be made more difficult. [pullquote align=”right”]New evidence is arising that shows that the use of the polo vaccine, while helpful, may have been merely coincidental, or infact lags behind in the statistics showing the world decrease in polo infections by the 1930’s. From a TCM perspective, which had vaccines via baby-diapers since the European Dark Ages, injection into the blood level is very dangerous. Luckily the west uses dead or attenuated viruses. However, if they are not dead, then they can bypass many layers easily. In TCM, traditional vaccination was always done to the skin.[/pullquote]

The fact remains, however, that your body has invasions all the time; including the production of mutated, pre-cancerous or “dysplastic” cells. It is the immune system which acts like a police force and removes them all that keeps you sick 90+% of the year. All infection, unless iatrogenically (doctor) induced, comes from one of two situations:

  1. Decrease in immune support; called immuno-compromised.
  2. A sharp rise in infection that exceeds the normal capacities of an otherwise healthy person (such as the 1918 flue which targeted young males more than elderly initially).

The west has come to the conclusion – even published long books on the subject- that cold and flue, once obtained through air, saliva, or other contact, must take 7-10 days for colds, and 10-21 days for flu. The fact that sometimes they become bronchitis or pneumonia, is really all considered secondary.

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There are four, not one, separate systems in TCM for identifying the progression of a disease. But let’s only talk about the most important two.

The first is called the Six Divisional system, which is based on the idea that the channels themselves are protection mechanisms for the organs. Perhaps this idea came from canal-warfare, a system devised in the Han Dynasty. It is, in many ways, extremely accurate. But as it turns out, only for external exposure induced colds and flus. Essentially, IF(cold-pathogen > Taiyang Qi), THEN (pores do not expel Xie Qi) AND (sickness follows). After the initial sniffles stage of taiyang comes the fever stage, yangming, possibly mucousy infections, taiyin, and if it gets worse then the energy (shaoyin) and bowels/urine are affected (jueyin), which can lead to death. The body’s goal, if the person was dumb enough to let it happen, is just to simply divert the cold into the “between” layers or interstices called the shaoyang, and then you can deal with getting sick over and over throughout the year. The TCM doctor or herbalist consulted can help extract this pathogen from that layer, but at least you never die.

The second system was created as a response to the epidemics of the Song and Yuan dynasties, when you had unexplained rapid movement of infection, primarily not caused by back and neck or ankles-in-water exposure, but through the mouth. Measles, smallpox, malaria, all these things begged a new explanation. As it turns out the problem really isn’t about hot versus cold, as they thought then (and created new herbal formulas as a result)… after all, cold pathogen can lead to very hot fevers. The problem is the method of infection. Nevertheless, there was some overlap, and the main emphasis here is that the internal “tubes” which get infected are the “exterior” of the internal body. IF(Wei Qi < Xie Qi) THEN (Progress to Qi level). What happened at this stage is more or less dependent on the level of immuno compromised state and the power of the Xie-pathogenic Qi. For example the 1918 flu, bird and swine flu, simply have a much stronger effect and quicker than the average flu.

When that happens then the result is the penetration of the “nutritive” level or the “blood” level directly. The faster, the worse. The nutritive level is not so much a level as it is a description of the infective process itself when the pathogen begins to affect the plasma, and kill B cells. Beyond that then the blood level is really just a far worse progression of the infection state. This would be sort of like pneumonia entering the the bloodstream and leading to septicemia. Or in really severe cases, such as meningitis or encephalitis, the pathogen can enter from the environment, and skip the Qi/yangming level to the ying-nutritive or blood level itself; which is of course very bad.

In both systems, when the infection moves deeper beyond the jueyin or stays in the blood level long enough it enters the Yin-essence. When that happens of course there are some bad issues that come along and long term effects. However that is the story for another day.

The following is a representative chart I created. It is not strictly speaking mathematical. It does however demonstrate the ideas presented above in chronological order.

cold and flu diagram
Cold & Flu Explained


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There are six key methods TCM uses to “vent” or expel the cold – all of which really involve: sweating, lymphatics, urine, feces, or vomiting.

  • Cupping
  • Guasha – myofacial release (similar to Grasten technique, but performed lightly); also shoni-shen is similar
  • Acumoxa – Acupuncture and moxabustion
  • Herbalism
  • Massage – skin releasing; not commonly done because of therapists’ fears of cross infection
  • Qi Gong – to be performed by the individual

The goal of each of these is different, and varying, and beyond the scope of this article. If they could be boiled down to one overall strategy however, it would be to reduce the Xie Qi and simultaneously rapidly restore the Wei/defense (immune) Qi.

Remember, beyond the point of infection (beyond prodromal), the virus or bacteria cannot really be stopped. However, one can drastically shorten stages B, C, and D to enter recovery much faster. Most Americans, unfortunately come in to see me after already 7 or more days. Some come in (my own brother has in fact) after already one month of infection. This makes the case far more complicated and interior, which means herbs becomes the king. Although, sometimes, recovery has trouble because the Qi needs a jump start, and acumoxa becomes absolutely vital to restoring health. If a person has profound fatigue and coldness, such as wearing sweats in the warm weather, that is an indication of advancement to the stage of major infection.

The question is then, how to recognize prodromal signs?

In Adults:

  • chills alternating with fever
  • headache in the occiput or in the very front of the head
  • cold, nasal leakage that is clear and profuse
  • blocked urination
  • high energy or agitation

In children: mostly agitation, hyperactivity, crying, feverishness, and snottiness

If you or your child any of these signs, I highly recommend coming to see us. As a matter of fact, I recommend stocking your medicine cabinet with some of the herbal formulas that we use in the early stages to prevent the spread of the infection into the deeper layers of the body, and shorten your (or your child’s) misery.



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