• Kelly Hora, MAc MS Bluestem Acupuncture, LLC

Covid-19 Insights from Chinese Medicine

What does it mean to be careful? How does self-care affect others?

As a child, we’re reminded to be careful crossing the street. One option is to find contentment on the side of the street we’re already on, so as to avoid any unnecessary risk. Another is to approach ‘full of care’ - to pause, look both ways, and confidently move forward. In many ways this public health scenario asks us to do both. And to focus attention on how we care for ourselves and the impact that has on others. That ‘self care’ benefits ourselves and others is an important reminder and my hope is that we can engage in self care as a strategy to shift our minds from worry and panic when those feelings arise. I’d like to share some specific tips for improving resilience and supporting health from a Chinese medicine perspective.

First, start with these common sense CDC guidelines:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

  • Stay home when you are sick.

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

  • Wash your hands frequently, using soap and water.

Insights from Chinese Medicine

Physicians in China are using a combination of western medicine and Chinese herbs to treat patients. The physician must diagnose the quality of the pathogen, as well as the constitution of the patient before selecting the appropriate herbal formula. An interview with Dr. Jin Zhao and his experience treating patients with Covid-19 in Wuhan China gives insights about how this disease is seen through the lens of Chinese medicine. In many cases patients in isolation are being treated via telemedicine by experts throughout China.

Dr. Zhao explains that this virus/pathogen is cold and damp and creates a ‘climate’ very similar to a cold, wet, snow-banked winter. The virus increases congestion and mucus (dampness) which impairs respiration. Therefore the strategy to cure many patients has involved using herbs and foods that are slightly warming and drying and taking steps to strengthen the immune system while protecting oneself from exposure.

Tips from Chinese Medicine

  • Avoid eating excess cold, damp, greasy foods. This is actually good advise in general, but also relates to covid-19 specifically. Since the pathogen is cold and damp, consuming these kinds of foods on a regular basis could exacerbate your reaction to the pathogen should you become exposed. We often view health and body through an ecological lens: if your garden is cold, muddy and damp, you may be facing a flood if it rains heavily. if your garden is dry and warm, then the extra precipitation may not create such havoc.

  • Damp foods are those that get sticky when heated (such as sugar and dairy); they tend to increase phlegm and mucus and would ideally be consumed only occasionally (ice cream and flavored yogurts are examples of cold + damp, sorry!!)

  • Choose foods that are room temperature or warmer and easily digested rather than overly rich/fried, processed, damp and cold foods. Eat a variety of foods including plenty of vegetables and fruits, quality proteins and grains. Soups and stews are nourishing options and taste delicious.

  • Avoid foods that cause your body distress. All bodies are unique; if there are foods that don't agree with you, consider eliminating or reducing them to decrease stress on your digestive system. A strong digestive system improves immunity and assimilation of nourishment.

  • Enjoy herbal teas that are gently warming and cleansing, such as ginger, cinnamon, tulsi, lemon.

  • Strengthen your resistance and improve immunity

  • Allow yourself the rest and sleep you need. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, allow yourself a quick nap, rest, or simply lie down for 15-30 minutes during the day.

  • Exercise and movement will help reduce stagnation and gently cleanse your system, opening your pores and stimulating optimal function. Too much exercise can deplete your system, while not enough can create stagnation; listen to your body. For example, if your lifestyle is stressful you may benefit from regular gentle exercise rather than hard workouts every day. Regardless, movement will keep you healthy, body and mind!

  • Chinese herbal formulas can help to create a barrier to illness by improving digestion and strengthening the immune system. I will have some preventative formulas in stock

  • Listen to your body

  • Stay home and rest if you feel sick ~ as a healthcare provider my office will be following CDC guidelines for isolation. If you are unsure if you should come to our appointment, please call, text or email me. Over the phone I can offer dietary and/or herbal suggestions, though not as a substitute for western medical care. I will cancel if I am sick, so as not to expose you to a potential illness.

  • Chinese herbal formulas can help treat symptoms during an illness. I will be stocking specific formulas for cold/flu that can be stashed in the medicine cabinet and used as needed.

Remember...self care is not selfish!


Center for Disease Control Coronavirus 2019, accessed online, 3/7/20, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

Qiological Podcast, Special Episode-Treating the Coronavirus With Chinese Medicine • Jin Zhao • Qi126, accessed online, 3/8/20, https://qiological.com/epidemic-disease/

American Society of Acupuncture Covid-19 Information Sheet, accessed online, 3/7/20https://www.asacu.org/wp-content/uploads/ASA-COVID-19-Info-Sheet.pdf

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods, Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, North Atlantic Books 3rd edition 2002.


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