Have you thought about acupuncture or Chinese herbs to combat cold & flu season?

According to the CDC, flu season peaks from December to February. And along with basic precautions of washing your hands and staying away from those who are sick, their primary recommendation is vaccination.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture can help, regardless of your vaccination choices. Chinese medicine can even help resolve the “flu-like symptoms” that often come along with flu vaccination.  

Prevention with Acupuncture & Herbs

Both Acupuncture and Herbal Therapies can help in the prevention of colds & flu. Acupuncture specifically benefits the immune system, with one study showing effects appearing 72 hours after a single treatment, and persisting for one month after a course of 10 treatments. In fact, a systematic review of studies shows that acupuncture has a favorable effect on the immune system & it’s regulation.

Herbal therapies are a great benefit to prevention as well, with multiple formulas available to either boost the immune system against infection or quickly eliminate sickness before it has time to take hold. Chinese herbal therapy comes in several forms, including tablets, powders, and teas!

Examples of such immune system boosting formulas favored by Acu Chatt are:

  • Gan Mao Ling – good for the average person
  • Yu Ping Feng San – good for someone frequently sick
  • Astragalus 10+ – good for boosting WBC counts

These formulas can be taken when you are planning to be somewhere you may come in contact with a cold or flu virus. Examples include large public events or attractions, family gatherings, kids, or public transportation. These herbs are also great when someone in your home is sick.

Identification in Chinese Medicine

As we all know, you can do all the right things and still catch a cold or the flu. And aside from symptom relief, there is very little that can be done aside from letting the virus take its course.

There are 100’s of cold viruses and 3 main types of flu viruses, and symptoms can overlap. The CDC lists the most common or usual symptoms of the flu as: rapid onset, fever, aches, chills, fatigue, chest discomfort, cough, and headache. The common symptoms of a cold are: gradual onset, slight aches, sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, and mild-moderate chest discomfort & cough.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, distinguishes colds and flu by more than the above symptoms. Which type of cold or flu you have influences both the acupuncture points used and the formula prescribed.

In Traditional Chinese medicine, the most common types of cold or flu are:

  • Wind-Cold Type: Sneezing, cough, runny nose with white watery mucus, slight fever, neck aches and stiffness, and dislike of cold.
  • Wind-Heat Type: Fever, sneezing, cough, runny nose with yellow mucus, slight sweating, sore/itchy throat, swollen tonsils, thirst, and aversion to wind (including from a fan or vent).
  • Wind-Dry Type: Fever, slight aversion to wind, slight sweating, dry skin/nose/mouth/throat, dry cough, and sore throat.
  • Wind-Damp Type: Fever, swollen neck glands, nausea, sweating, body/muscle aches, swollen joints, feeling heavy.

Treatment with Acupuncture & Herbs

Both acupuncture and herbal therapy can be excellent choices to help speed up the resolution of a cold or flu.

An acupuncture treatment will use the pattern type to determine which points are best, and will work to reduce symptoms while strengthening the immune response so your body can better fight off the virus. Many practitioners will also utilize something known as gua sha, which translates to scrapping, to release the surface and let out the virus.

Herbal therapy utilizes different formulas for different presentations. But the most common symptoms are easily identified and have great options that can be kept on hand.

  • Yin Qiao – good for patterns with a sore throat
  • Gui Zhi Tang – good for patterns with aches and coughs

Either of these formulas (along with Gan Mao Ling) can be used during the early signs of onset to prevent further development.

Single herbs can also be very helpful if you don’t have a formula on hand. Chamomile, for example, can be made into a very strong tea and help release the early stages of a cold or flu!

If you are unsure, or for more serious/complicated presentations, it is important to speak with an herbalist as soon as possible to make sure to get the correct formula.



Arranz, L., Guayerbas, N., Siboni, L., & Fuente, M. D. L. (2007). Effect of Acupuncture Treatment on the Immune Function Impairment Found in Anxious Women. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine35(01), 35–51. doi: 10.1142/s0192415x07004606

Bensky, D., Gamble, A., Clavey, S., & Stöger Erich. (2015). Chinese herbal medicine. Seattle, WA, USA: Eastland Press.

CDC. (2019, December 4). FluSight: Flu Forecasting. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/flusight/index.html.

CDC. (2019, February 8). Cold Versus Flu. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/coldflu.htm.

Liang, F., Cooper, E. L., Wang, H., Jing, X., Quispe-Cabanillas, J. G., & Kondo, T. (2015). Acupuncture and Immunity. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2015, 1–2. doi: 10.1155/2015/260620

Maciocia, G. (2015). The foundations of Chinese medicine. Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.