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    Making Sense through the Lens of Classical Chinese Medicine

Can Classical Chinese Medicine Prevent or Treat Viruses?

No.  When classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) textbook like Shang Han Lun (Febrile Disease) was written (200 BC), there was no concept of virus. The first virus was discovered around 1892 or 1898. 

Can the understanding of CCM help us during the flu season or a pandemic?

Yes. Helping the body return to homeostasis is critical in fighting off external pathogens, such as viruses, and maintaining good health.

CCM observes how different factors affect the homeostasis of a human body:

1.         External Environment (e.g. wind, coldness, summer heat, dampness, dry heat, fire, and other pathogens). When the body’s protective energy is deficient, these external factors will disrupt the homeostasis of the body, in which case they are called external Invasion.

2.         Internal Environment (e.g. interior wind, interior coldness, interior dampness, interior dry heat, and interior heat). The homeostasis of the body is disrupted when there is external invasion or imbalance of the functions of organs, Yin and Yang, Qi and Blood. As a result, internal imbalances such as interior dampness are created. Over a long period of time or when severe enough, the imbalance will lead to illnesses.

3.         Excess and unresolved emotions

4.         Injuries

5.         Other factors

We will discuss the first and second factors today.

What happens in the body when there are extreme external factors (e.g. viruses)? If the body’s protective energy is very strong, the person will be asymptomatic. Either the external factor doesn’t get into the body or it will be processed and eliminated by the body easily. If the body doesn’t have enough protective energy, the external factor affects the body and becomes an external invasion. 

Steps: Let’s look at some possible scenarios of the steps of an external invasion.

Step 1. The external invasion goes into the body, starting from the surface/exterior layers, such as the skin, throat, and nose. A battle begins between the body’s protective energy and the external invasion. You may experience aversion to wind, feeling cold, sneezing, sore throat, or runny nose, etc. 

Step 2. If the protective energy loses the battle, the invasion goes deeper into the next layer. You may experience muscle ache, headache, neck pain, nasal congestion, fever, feeling chills, decreased appetite, tiredness, etc.

Step 3. If the protective energy loses again, the invasion goes deeper into the organs (e.g. lungs) and causes interior imbalances. 

a. When external coldness (and dampness) goes into the lungs, it may lead to interior coldness (and dampness). You may experience a cough with white or clear phlegm, shortness of breath, extreme coldness inside, white mucus, lack of appetite, fatigue, etc.

b. When external heat goes into the lungs, it may lead to interior heat. Or if Step 3a is not resolved, over time the interior coldness may turn into interior heat. You may experience high fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, lack of appetite, exhaustion, and when severe, even lung scarring and stiffness. The interior coldness and dampness may turn into interior heat and dampness. You may experience high fever, shortness of breath, cough with thick yellow phlegm, lack of appetite, exhaustion, etc.

c.  Less common steps: 

When the dampness affects functions of the heart, you may experience chest tightness and/or pain, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, numbness in fingers, etc.  

When the functions of the lungs and/or heart are affected, the functions of other organs may also be affected.

Step 4. If the external invasion goes into the Shaoyang layer, you may experience nausea, fluctuating between feeling hot and cold.

Step 5. If the external invasion affects the Taiyang and Yangming layer, you may experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Now that you understand from CCM’s point of view how external invasion and internal environment work in the body, you can see how self care and herbal care may help re-establish the body’s homeostasis.