While most people dream of their projects and ideas going viral, there is one area in which we definitely want to avoid this — our health. And we are just at the most vulnerable time of year for “going viral”! There are four times when the seasons transition, and this particular one, when summer turns to fall, is when energies most radically shift, making us most susceptible to colds and flu.
Viruses are very interesting. Microscopic in size (smaller than bacteria), it must exactly fit a receptor’s docking site in order to activate (which is why viruses are species-specific). A virus can stay dormant in the body seemingly indefinitely. It is when the host immune system lowers that the virus hijacks the cell’s functions to reproduce and dump into the blood stream. Not all viruses are the same. Some we can live with, while others are deadly. Viral diseases include herpes, warts, cold sores, shingles, mononucleosis, hepatitis, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, polio, rabies, AIDS, ebola, West Nile, some forms of meningitis, encephalitis, leukemia, and cancer.


And what is the deadliest virus of all? The flu! More people died in 1918 from the Spanish flu than during the Bubonic plague (even though the latter was a bacteria that decimated one-third the population of Europe. Of course the world’s population was much greater in 1918 than in Europe when the Bubonic plague hit). I think it’s no coincidence that the movie Contagion came out now. (The question of how accurate the movie is along with the suggested 100% effectiveness of the vaccine developed is another thing altogether, although according to an MD herbalist friend of mine, its science is pretty good.)


An unidentified virus running rampant and killing much of the world’s population is certainly possible, so what would we do if such a virus occurred? We could turn to antiviral herbs for the answer. But just as all viruses are not the same, not all antiviral herbs are the same. Most people lump immune-potentiating herbs and cleansing herbs in with antivirals and consider their actions the same. They are not. However, strengthening the immune system and cleansing the body to reduce stress both do help keep viruses at bay. As well, using herbs energetically, such as choosing them according to their main and secondary properties, the organs they affect, heating and cooling energies and so on, and matching them to the person’s condition also assist in enabling the body to resist and treat disease.


In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are two general theories for treating colds and flu. The first approach uses the Six Stages, or treatment of diseases due to Coldness, to address the effects of seasonal change. In this method, one chooses herbs to stimulate the body’s innate heat to counteract coldness from low body metabolism. The second theory encompasses the Four Levels, or the treatment of infectious disease due to Heat caused by the invasion of external pathogens (virus, bacteria). Most Western herbalists approach colds and flu according to the first cause. They use herbs to raise metabolism, increase immunity, treat opportunistic infections and cleanse organs, blood and lymph to lower stress. This theory works very well in the initial stages and for diseases caused by Coldness, but not in diseases caused by Heat or in their latter stages when pathogens are well-established and need to run their course (viruses fit here).


Therefore, when a virus does occur, we need turn to antiviral herbs. Thankfully, there are many of them. While red marine algae, lemon balm extract, oregano and tea tree oils are just a few, we want those antivirals that specifically treat colds and flu now. “Strong” ones include andrographis, isatis and boneset and are particularly useful for conditions of Excess Heat. There are also “milder” antivirals such as dandelion, forsythia, olive leaf extract, cat’s claw and elderberry, useful for those with weakness, deficiency, or Coldness as well as for the elderly and very young.


A traditional Chinese pattern medicine used for many viral infections is Chuan Xin Lian. Composed of just three herbs — isatis, andrographis and dandelion — it treats both acute heat toxin inflammation in the blood, lymph or organs and viral diseases such as hepatitis, herpes, colds, flu, measles, mumps, chicken pox and tonsillitis. As well, it treats bacterial infections causing sore throat, tonsillitis, sinusitis, bacterial dysentery, skin infections such as boils, pelvic, ear, gum, throat and urinary tract infections, bronchitis, and acute gastroenteritis.


Planetary Formulas has two antiviral formulas. The first is called Echinacea, Goldenseal, Olive Leaf Combination (editor’s note: replaced by Echinacea Goldenseal), which I created with Chuan Xin Lian as its base. It treats the same conditions as the original Chuan Xin Lian but broader in actions. The second Michael created as Echinacea-Elderberry Syrup, combining echinacea, elderberry, isatis, honeysuckle, forsythia, platycodon, boneset, licorice and apricot seed. Also for colds and flu due to bacteria or viruses, it treats coughs as well. Both formulas are meant for short-term use only. They have a cold energy and bitter taste and so quickly clear infectious/viral conditions. If used too long — and this varies per person of course; it could be three, five, seven, or 10 days — they cause loose stools, diarrhea, poor digestion and or even possibly anemia, dizziness, and/or night sweats. In other words, long-term use of cold/cool and bitter substances deplete the Blood and Yin (stay tuned for a future blog on turmeric!).


Ultimately, this means that if any antiviral herb is going to work for the flu, you will begin to see results quickly, within hours to a day or two. If you don’t, try a different antiviral herb, take a combination or seek medical help. With the cold and flu season upon us, it is wise to have your favorite antiviral products on hand now. Perhaps the major approach to colds and flu is prevention. I have written several blogs on how to best adjust to fall through diet, lifestyle adjustments and herbs. Scroll through past blogs to find this information and stay healthy now and all year long. And so I wish you a “virus-less” season — except for what you want to “go viral,” that is!

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