Lifestyle and Diet for a Cold or Flu: An Asian Medicine View

In preventing a cold or flu an important place to begin is to make sure to wear the appropriate clothing for your environment. There is a higher likelihood of catching a cold on a windy day, especially when there is a combination of wind, cold, and/or damp weather. Be sure to have clothing layers on hand if you live in an environment where the temperature fluctuates often. A simple solution is to wear scarves to protect you against the wind. It is also important to sleep enough, in particular when feeling vulnerable, or if prone to sickness. Be sure to close all windows at night before sleeping to prevent dampness from entering your house and body. 

During the cold and flu season, it is essential to manage stress and not push yourself if already feeling vulnerable to catching a cold or flu. Treat any cold/ flu thoroughly, so that it does not repeat. This means stay home and rest until your sickness is completely gone. It is helpful to drink more water, warm teas, and to take warm baths. It is important to consume appropriate foods and herbal remedies that will help to speed up your recovery time. If preventative measures are taken at the onset of an illness, the sickness can be prevented from becoming full-blown. If prone to re-occurring colds/flu taking preventative measures can assist in stopping the cycle of reoccurrence. Acupuncture and/or herbal medicine is taken 1-2 months and/or 1 season ahead of time can prevent reoccurring colds/flu. Also, acupuncture and herbal medicine can be utilized in all phases of a cold or flu to speed up the healing process. It is best to seek the help of a practitioner to receive the most appropriate treatment for a speedy recovery.

Consuming an appropriate diet is essential in quickly resolving an illness. It is beneficial to sweat out a sickness, especially during its initial onset. It is also beneficial to strengthen the body’s Qi (energy) as a sickness preventative. It is important to avoid dairy, wheat, and sugar, as well as cold/ raw/ and/or frozen foods. If exposed to wind, rain, and/or cold: consume hot spicy soup to help sweat out the potential sickness (this can also can be done during the initial onset of a cold). Another technique that can get rid of sickness right away is to drink a lot of warm to hot temperature water and then to go to sleep early during the initial onset.

Chicken soup is a European folk remedy for colds and flu. The Chinese medicine perspective on why chicken soup is so effective is as follows: the hot soup helps to sweat out sickness, onions or garlic can be added to helps clear sickness from the lungs, and the chicken strengthens bodies qi, aka. builds the body’s strength to fight against the sickness.

Garlic oil stimulates the immune system and is considered an herbal antibiotic. It also has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Garlic can be used for prevention, as well as for an acute cold. Garlic oil can be added to an already cooked meal. To preserve its healing properties, it is important to not cook the garlic oil. Consuming the garlic in the form of oil helps it to have medicinal strength without being too hot for the digestive system. Rosemary, oregano, and/or thyme can be added to the garlic oil to strengthen its healing properties & to enhance its flavor. To make garlic oil: chop the garlic finely, fill a jar with the garlic (and rosemary, thyme, or oregano if you wish) 1/2-3/4 full, cover the garlic with olive oil by 1-2 inches and leave some room at the top of the jar. Let the garlic sit in the sun (a window sill also works fine) for 5-7 days. Shake the jar daily. It is normal for it to bubble. Then strain out the garlic and throw it away. The oil (uncooked) can be added to your meals daily! The healing properties of the garlic are then infused into the oil.

The following are some preventative foods, or for a weak person who has a cold, or flu: Conjee, which is a rice soup, strengthens the body against sickness, post sickness, and supports a weak person who has a cold/ flu. Root vegetables strengthen a weak person whether they are sick or not. White foods (such as baked pears, onions, garlic, etc) strengthen the lungs. Warm moist foods strengthen the digestive fire, aka. strengthens the immunity. A cold bodied person can benefit from taking a bath in and/ or drinking ginger tea as a preventative measure.

**note: Immune stimulants, such as garlic and ginger, should be taken in moderation or avoided by individuals with autoimmune disorders.




  • Haas, Elson M., “Staying Healthy with the Seasons,” Celestial Arts (Pub), 2003
  • Five Branches University education
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