As the 2021 Holiday season is upon us, many are eager to get back to celebrating with our friends and families in the traditional way…in person. This year, getting together is much more feasible as our population gets increasingly immunized, but there are still important considerations to keep ourselves and others as safe and healthy as possible. Chinese medicine has its own perspective on this and given China’s history of success in preventing mass casualties from epidemics, we should take heed.
According to A History of Plague in China (Zhongguo Yibing), China has witnessed over 300 epidemics in the past 2 millennia. The practice of TCM has helped to prevent millions of deaths. For example, during the 1918 flu pandemic, the severity of infection in China was relatively mild compared to the rest of the world. During this time, China relied mainly on traditional Chinese Medicine. Some local Chinese governments attempted to control the spread by instructing households to burn certain herbs (such as rhubarb) to disinfect the air. Villagers were encouraged to drink more healing soups (prepared with things like powdered mung-bean), several times a day, while herbal formulas were widely distributed to families. Mortality rates by provinces were significantly lower than U.S. and European cities during the same time, according to the available records.
China is one of the oldest civilizations and their experience throughout the centuries led to an understanding of the nature of epidemics, describing them as “exogenous febrile diseases”, meaning they are caused by external factors and can lead to signs of heat in the body (such as fever and inflammation). Chinese Medicine practitioners developed methods of prevention and treatment. They recognized that despite these diseases being brought on by external factors, our body’s ability to defend itself was paramount. Chinese medicine discusses multiple ways to boost immunity (or wei qi) including good nutrition, herbs and stress management.
BOOST WEI QI!
Healthy Nutrition: avoid processed food and excess sugar, which contribute to toxic heat in the body. The traditional holiday diet presents a challenge as we are often surrounded by celebratory sweets: pies, cakes and cookies. Do your best to limit your intake of sugary desserts and if you are doing the cooking, try to cook or bake with less or natural sweeteners, like dates or honey. Cut back on gluten and dairy that can tax the digestive qi, and cause phlegm and stagnation that contribute to weakened immunity. Nourish yourself throughout the season with warm soups, cooked veggies, grass-fed meats, healthy grains and legumes, some seasonal fruit and use organic when possible.
Chinese Herbs: Astragalus, known in Chinese Medicine as Huang Qi is used to lift the qi and strengthen our resistance to infection. Drinking an infusion of this herb daily around the holidays can support your wei qi. A popular formula called Jade Screen (Yu Ping Feng San) contains this herb among others and is used to fortify our immunity shield. (Always check with your herbalist to make sure an herb or formula is right for you).
Avoid Stress/ Over-exertion: One of the best ways to deplete your qi and subsequently lower your immunity is with stress and overexertion. Unfortunately the holiday season is often jam-packed with stressors and opportunities to burn the candle at both ends. Learn to say no when necessary and lower expectations that overburden your finances or energy. Make sure to get as much sleep as possible, as, according to TCM, the seasonal change from fall to winter requires that we slow down and get more rest.
Of course follow general covid guidelines when and where possible. Regular hand washing becomes extra important when preparing and sharing meals. Caution with travel, crowded airports, busy shopping malls, and large indoor gatherings is still crucial, especially for those without immunity. And stay warm! Cold is also known to weaken the body’s defenses, and our most vulnerable area, according to TCM, is the back of our necks so don’t leave home without your favorite scarf!
Keeping in mind the principles that have helped to lessen the severity of past pandemics in China, we can increase our chances of enjoying the holidays without the added stress of any infections!
Don’t forget to get in for some acupuncture before and during the busy holiday season to strengthen your body’s resistance to all pathogens and set yourself up for a happy healthy holiday season!