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Chinese Medicine and COVID-19

Chinese Medicine and COVID-19, Good Hearth in Rockland, Maine

Chinese medicine is rooted in a long history of successfully combatting infectious disease. So, despite being the source of this new cornonavirus, perhaps due to questionable cultural practices, the medicine is sophisticated when it comes to colds/flus/infectious disease.  Just not in the way we think about Western Medicine being sophisticated. 

Instead of focusing in on the minutest of details at the molecular level and creating technological fixes that can be lifesaving in the most dire of circumstances, Chinese medicine excels at pattern differentiation leading to highly focused acupuncture and herbal treatment plans from the earliest to the latest stages of disease progression.  Here is an example of Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnoses and treatments prescriptions for COVID-19 that came from an integrated (TCM/Western) hospital in China.  A quick look will give you an idea of the detailed nature of symptomatic classifications through time and their associated treatment plans.

Little known, but true, the Chinese were the first to record experimenting with what would later become vaccines — using desiccated small pox blisters to inoculate people and give their immune system a chance to recognize the coming invasion.  They also developed two different understandings of pestilent diseases - the Warm Disease theory and the Cold Damage theory.

Rockland.Maine.Herbal Medicine.TCM.Chinese
These books are incredible in their depth of description on the differentiation, progression and treatment of colds and flus - which are often coronaviruses.

If you’ve ever noticed that some years you get a cold/flu that starts with chills, a stiff neck and a clear runny nose, and that other years you get a sore throat, a fever, and thick yellow mucous, you have discerned the essential differences between these two patterns of disease. From there the Chinese have mapped out the general progression of these diseases and have thousands of years of treatment notes and understandings of which types of treatments help to resolve the different stages.

COVID-19 is a warm invasion - with fever, chest congestion, sore throat, leading to thick, toxic mucous that is difficult to expectorate and, if allowed to progress, eventually becomes interstitial pneumonia.  It has elements of what TCM calls Toxic Heat and Dampness.

The reports out of China are that 75-80% of people infected with COVID-19 were treated with a mixture of Chinese and Western Medicine.  The power of this combination is credited with the resolution of illness in many many people.  More news articles here and here and here.  So, this means that the numbers may be skewed somewhat towards making us believe the illness is weaker than it actually it will be in other places without such sophisticated treatment of symptoms at each stage.

Especially prevention and management at the earliest stages, since it is easier to snuff out a match than it is to fight a forest fire.  Reports out of Italy of completely overwhelmed hospitals and medical staff may be what we ought to be expecting, rather than a somewhat swift recovery and slow down of transmission…

COVID-19.TCM.Herbal.Therapy.Granules.Rockland.MaineChinese Herbal Pharmacy in an integrated TCM/Western hospital. Note small text below the photo.

There is, however, excellent information coming out of China and passed among practitioners of this medicine around the world on the exact treatments that have been effective with people infected by COVID-19.  So, I have ordered the herbs that will help to prevent infection and also the herbs that help to control the disease in its earliest stages.  I will have them prepared into pill form in limited quantities within a week or so and am happy to make them available to people who meet the following criteria:

1. At risk due to advanced age and/or lung weakness; and
2. Likely to actually use them rather than leave them on the shelf.

To be clear, I DO NOT intend to open my clinic to people to come to me for treatment if they believe they have COVID-19.  Those people should self-quarantine and/or seek qualified western care in facilities that are equipped to contain the spread of the virus.  Assuming my family is well, I will make arrangements to have a family member or friend of a recently sick person pick up the herbs useful for the initial mild stages after a phone consultation to confirm symptoms and rule out contra-indications.  I will develop and communicate methods to ensure that the transfer of the herbs does not transmit the virus.

My current focus is on the prevention of the disease and containing its spread.  Lots of advice has been shared in that regard, but here it is again:

1. It is time to begin limiting our contacts with other people, especially large groups of people coming from different areas - the virus is in Maine and likely circulating in our communities with out us knowing it yet.  It takes up to a week for people to show symptoms, and some people, especially children never develop symptoms at all or show only mild ones.  These are the people who are unwittingly spreading it. This article explains in great detail the importance of acting now.

2. If you have to go out, practice social distancing.  This virus has been confirmed to travel through the airborne route.  Meaning a sneeze or even shared air for prolonged periods in indoor spaces can transmit it between people.

3. Even still, wash your hands a lot, try not to touch your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.  We've begun using our Neti pot each night before bed to flush out our sinuses and nasal passages, as a preventative measure, though we feel fine.

4. Stay calm - stress weakens our immune systems and leads us to do all kinds of weird things, like horde toilet paper.

5. Eat less sugar, carbohydrates, dairy and fried foods.  This disease uses excess dampness in your body to create phlegm. Excessive amounts of these foods are hard to digest, leading to dampness and phlegm in the body.  Instead, focus on vegetables, nuts, legumes and lean meats.  Eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables to ensure your body has the nutrients it needs.

6. Keep your blood moving with exercise, massage, acupuncture and moxibustion.

7. Protect your energy by getting enough sleep and maintaining your body temperature.  Drink warm liquids instead of ice water, cover up your head and neck out in the wind and rain, etc.

If you do think you are coming down with something do one or both of these things AS SOON AS YOU CAN:

1. Take a hot bath or soak your feet in hot water while drinking a hot beverage.  Get your body temperature high enough to induce a sweat, especially around the neck and head.  Make sure you dry off completely and stay covered up to keep the heat in.  Then go to bed.  If you get in bed while still really warm and bundled up, you may sweat more.  Make sure to drink enough water to replace fluids lost through sweating.  Another great description here.

2. Use pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid ONLY, with no sugar or minerals added) at high dosage (to bowel tolerance) to help your body fight off the virus before it begins to replicate at a high rate. More on this method here.
*I have relied heavily here on Duane Law's excellent Self-Care Advisor series on treating colds and flus.  Take a look at the rest of his writing and methods for helping people on

My clinic is currently closed for the weekend and I will be paying close attention to the news and recommendations of the MaineCDC and will make a decision about whether to open next week to continue treating patients without symptoms.  The risk of transmission vs. the good of supporting people to remain healthy will be my calculus, with emphasis on doing my part to protect public health.

Please contact me with questions and/or if you would like to be put on the list to purchase the preventative herbs (like the product Airborne, which is actually derived from a Chinese formula) or to be considered for herbs in the case of early mild stage infections.

Tobey Williamson offers Acupuncture / Herbal Medicine / Immune Support in Rockland, Maine