Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Tampa Florida

Beat Colds and Flu with Chinese Medicine – at Home!

by Tom Elman, AP, LMT, CH

When was the last time you were advised to do something for your health that actually felt good? Well, here’s your chance!

When I was growing up, my mom worked in doctors’ offices and research labs. We were very devoted to conventional Western medicine. I got my whole series of childhood vaccines, and every year I got a flu shot. Over the years, I learned a little about biology and the history of polio and smallpox, and I came to understand the science behind immunizations. It made good sense to me, and I never came down with the mumps or measles, and I certainly never saw an active case of polio or smallpox. Although I’ve never needed to take medicines over a long term, pretty much everything that was ever prescribed for me worked exactly as it was intended—except for flu shots.

For 37 years of my life, I got a flu shot every year… and I got the flu every year. It wouldn’t be a response to the shot—I never even felt run down after the shot, and the illness wouldn’t hit until a month or more later. Occasionally, I’d even get the flu twice a year. Sure, sometimes this was because the vaccine was for the wrong strain of flu, but every year? That doesn’t make sense. For some reason, despite the science that made sense to me about how our immune systems operate, flu shots didn’t work for me.

Eventually, I ended up going to school to learn acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. During our first year as students, we asked the Chinese doctors if they got flu shots, and none of them did. Naturally, we wanted to know what they did instead. Was there some mysterious combination of acupuncture points? It turned out to be something much simpler, and it’s something that everyone can do at home.

Place a heating pad across your shins, just below your knees, on a low to medium setting, for at least 15 minutes a day. It can be longer, but don’t make it hotter! Rice bags that you heat in the microwave will work, too. Just be careful that they aren’t hot enough to burn you.

In a moment, I’ll tell you my experience with the effectiveness of this home treatment, but first, here’s the explanation for why this works. Just to the outside of your shinbone, about three inches below the knee, lies a point on the stomach meridian known as Stomach 36 (the 36th point on the stomach channel) or “Zusanli.” In Chinese Medicine, the stomach is linked to the spleen, and warming this point strongly tonifies or builds up your spleen “qi.” Generally speaking, qi is the energy that flows through our bodies, but specific types of qi do specific things. Your spleen qi and your lung qi combine to form your “wei qi” or your defensive qi. This protects us from pathogens like the flu. By building up your spleen qi, you also build up your wei qi.

For 37 years of my life, I got a flu shot every year, and I still got the flu…EVERY YEAR! For the past 20 years, I’ve been using a heating pad across my shins every night, faithfully, even when I go out of town, and I haven’t had the flu…for 20 years! I still catch colds, but they’re less frequent, less severe, and they’re shorter in duration. That’s some of the best medicine I’ve ever used, and sitting with a heating pad across your shins forces you to slow down and take at least 15 minutes just to relax and take care of yourself in a way that actually feels good. You can do this regardless of whether or not you choose to get a flu shot. It will help you either way.

But what if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold anyway, despite all your precautions? The most important thing is to catch it early. By the time you know for sure that you’ve got a cold, it’s too late. You’re just going to have to get through it. If you stop it early enough, though, when you just feel that first sniffle and tickle in your throat, and you’re wondering whether you might have the first symptoms of a cold, then you have a chance to knock it out. Traditional Chinese Medicine would typically recommend a formula like “Gui Zhi Tang” which means “Cinnamon Twig Decoction.” This is made with cinnamon, ginger, Chinese dates, licorice root, and the root of a white peony. Most of us don’t have all these ingredients lying around, but ground cinnamon and ginger are easily available at the grocery store. Try taking a quarter teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, a quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger, just a dash of hot pepper, and mixing them together in hot water. Wrap up extra warm in sweats and blankets and drink it down hot (but again, make sure it’s not hot enough to burn you). You want to try to break a sweat. The hot liquid and the blankets basically help you to induce an artificial fever, which is exactly what kills many viruses and bacteria. Plus, cinnamon and ginger are natural antibiotics and antivirals and they’ll be washing directly over your throat. For many people, as long as you’ve done this early enough, this can stop a cold in its tracks, and it actually tastes good. You can do this up to three times when you first feel that tickle.

There you have it. Two ways to fight colds and flu this season that feel good and are good for you. Happy, healthy holidays to all!

Tom Elman, AP, LMT owns Jade Tree Wellness Center, located at 3039 49th St. North, in St. Petersburg, where he has been practicing acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine for 18 years. You can reach him at 727-344-8690 or visit