COVID-19: Chinese Medicine Insights and Recommendations

Like you, we are also closely keeping abreast of the developments of the coronavirus both locally and abroad. Although COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, traditional Chinese medicine has experience treating epidemics throughout the ages and can offer unique insight and care.

In this post, we wanted to provide you with helpful information gathered from articles and discussion groups in the field of traditional Chinese medicine that include reports from TCM doctors in China with experience treating COVID-19 patients. We’ve also put together a list of recommendations of how you and your loved ones can keep healthy and safe at this time. Be sure to also heed the hygiene practices given by the CDC on prevention and treatment.

Patterns of Presentation  

What may strike many of us as a confusing feature of coronavirus reporting from the news, is the frequent mention of a broad variety of symptoms or little to no symptoms at all.  If you have any experience with traditional Chinese medicine, you know that we understand that every body responds differently to disease. Our diagnostic process is based on recognizing a pattern of presenting signs and symptoms. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to treating the same disease.  While there may be some shared and overlapping symptoms, it is the overall pattern of presentation, along with one’s body shape, unique qualities, tendencies and external environment that make up one’s constitution and inform us on how to best treat your present condition, as well as predict how the illness will develop so that we can interrupt its course.

According to numerous reports from China, there are various sets of symptoms that coronavirus patients may exhibit. In early stage presentations, patients may have any one or combination of signs including fatigue, epigastric fullness, nausea, a mild fever, sore throat, cough, and/or other common cold symptoms.  If the disease progresses further, the patient will develop more pneumonia-like symptomatology that ranges from moderate to severe and is usually accompanied by a fever.   

What is particularly distinctive about the different patterns of disharmony reported is that COVID-19 often includes a disruption in the patient’s fluid physiology, which creates ‘dampness’ according to traditional Chinese medicine.  Some signs of dampness in the body include nasal congestion, cough, wheeze, water and phlegm retention in the lungs, edema, body aches, nausea, diarrhea, digestive fullness and bloating.

It is important to remember that for most healthy people, symptoms will be mild and full recovery is expected.

Keep Your Immune System Strong 

Health is dependent on the relationship between the strength of our body in relation to the environment around us, and specifically in this case, the strength of the external pathogen. Even though coronavirus is highly contagious, whether or not we get sick depends very much on the strength of our entire body, not just our immune system.  Here is a list of recommendations on how to maintain general health and keep your immune system strong:

  1. Keep hydrated and eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Eat plenty of vegetables (cooked preferred over raw) and fruits, lean proteins, whole grains and good fats.  
  2. Minimize the over-consumption of alcohol, greasy fatty foods, dairy, sugar and processed foods. These foods weaken our digestion and immune system.
  3. Take vitamins D, C, A and Zinc. These are essential to a healthy immune system. 
  4. Take a fish oil supplement.  We tell this to everyone who walks through our office doors.  Fish oils reduce inflammation and most diseases are inflammatory. 
  5. Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms. We’re big fans of the medicinal properties of mushrooms here at Five Seasons, especially their ability to boost immunity and health. Add shiitakes and maitakes to your meals or take a daily supplement of cordyceps or reishi mushrooms. 
  6. “Immune boosters” that fit your constitution.  As mentioned previously, different bodies respond differently to stressors. Traditional Chinese medicine diagnostics are laser-sharp in determining your body’s response to disease. It’s a bit of a misnomer to say we prescribe immune boosters.  Our objective is to harmonize and resolve any presenting imbalances, regardless of whether or not it is respiratory or digestive in nature. When the body is functioning optimally as a whole, then our immune system is strong. 
  7. Licorice and Ginger Decoction. (Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang)  Although we find it best to match an herbal prescription to your unique constitution, this combination of herbs has been used by the entire staff of a TCM hospital in Henan province where coronavirus patients were treated and none of their thousands of employees contracted the illness.  (Those in direct contact with COVID-19 patients were given customized Chinese herbal formulas along with additional precautionary measures.) As herbalists, we find this formulation simple and elegant. Because COVID-19 primarily affects the respiratory and digestive systems and often creates pathological fluids like phlegm, fluid in the lung and some digestive complaints, these two herbs gently, but effectively warm and nourish the lungs and digestive organs and regulate fluid physiology.
  8. Exercise.  We are so lucky our bodies continue to breathe, digest, circulate and metabolize even if we are stationary all day long, but our bodies will function exponentially better if we get them physically moving.  
  9. Sleep. Sleep is so essential to the proper functioning of our bodies. Try to get 8 hours. If you have trouble sleeping, come in and let’s work on that. 
  10. Do less. Let’s face it, New Yorkers like to work hard and play hard.  We often tell patients that to keep healthy in this city we need to learn to say no. Try to lighten the load on your work and social calendar and focus on meeting the essential needs of eat, sleep, exercise, work, rest, repeat.  
  11. Connect and take care of each other. Although it is advised to avoid large gatherings, spend time with loved ones, connect with family, friends, pets and neighbors, and keep that heart open and flowing. Together as a community we can lift each other up and care for one another.

Prevention and Early Treatment is Key 

No matter what, don’t wait until symptoms worsen to seek care.  At Five Seasons, we’ve already taken measures to stock up on herbal formulas in the office that can help with the prevention and treatment of early and late stage presentations of COVID-19.  We sincerely hope to not have to resort to many of them, but the most important thing is to treat symptoms early, swiftly and accurately.   

  1. Address any underlying conditions or current presentations. If you are still recovering from a recent cold or flu, let’s work together to speed up your recovery so you are 100%.  Also address any symptoms that affect your energy, sleep, digestion, and stress levels. 
  2. Minimize seasonal allergies. The change of season is always hard on the body. The fluctuation in temperature, wind and rain challenges our systems. With the shift from winter to spring, many of us suffer from seasonal allergies.  And guess what we do when we have allergies? We touch our faces. Let’s get those allergies under control so you have less reason to touch your eyes, nose and mouth.  
  3. Treat any symptoms, however minor, right away.  An important characteristic of this virus is the speed with which it can develop and penetrate deeper into the body. Immediately address the first sign of any upper respiratory illness or digestive complaint. Come in or contact us if you need advice or care.


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