A word from Board President, Tournesol Kids, Harriet Benefield:

How Are You Doing in the Grip of Uncertainty?
by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, Chinese Medicine Works

Not being able to predict what will happen makes it easy to experience this as a surreal time. Being tossed by heavy surf that no one waded into by choice, it’s easy to feel out of control. One coping mechanism is understanding. There may be comfort in having a conceptual frame within which to hold unfolding events. If you prefer, jump right to the end of this article to learn about how Chinese medicine remedies fortify resistance and recovery. 

Paradigms Shape Us: We Make Our World 

Reflecting upon our worldview, values and beliefs is a way to understand the deeper source of the dramatic disruption we’re experiencing. The pandemic is itself a symptom of pre-existing problems in our social and natural world.

We who believe that we are interconnected and interdependent, existing within a macrocosm that has intrinsic balance and counterbalance borne from diversity know that the whole suffers when any part of it does. Yet our economic, social, political structures reflect the opposite. We value private rights over public welfare. Our institutions are organized to protect individuals (including corporations that enjoy legal status as persons). Property and the amassing of capital is paramount, superseding human and ecological welfare, not recognizing that they are the same. Humans have fouled our global nest rather than protected it. What kind of sense does that make? Perhaps this mess is one of the many consequences.

How Chinese Medicine Frames the COVID-19 Viral Disease 

In China, herbal formulas have become an integral part of the care of infected patients. During the incubation stage and the early symptomatic stage, herbal medicine alone has successfully treated and resolved the disease in many cases. Chinese medicine understands this illness as a Wind/Heat/Damp/Fire toxin epidemic disease. Let’s break this down. 

Wind refers to any pathogenic agent that penetrates and overcomes the body’s external defenses. The symptoms and signs of Wind-induced illness include headache, mild fever, easily chilled, shivering, aversion to drafts, sore & scratchy throat, body ache and sometimes dryness or thirst. 

Heat refers to the mobilization of Yang Qi (metabolic energy) to temporarily raise the body’s temperature to cope with the pathogen. Generating heat activates the Wei Qi, the body’s capacity to expel pathogens. This happens when we mount an inflammatory response to any infection or toxin. It’s the normal, healthy way we cope with a pathogenic invasion. Fever is produced by increased metabolic activity. An elevated core temperature creates a hostile environment for the virus, bacterium or toxin. Evidence from China and France shows that suppressing inflammation with steroids or NSAIDS worsens the condition and undermines recovery. 

Damp refers to the body’s mobilization of fluids and blood to increase delivery of nutrients and anti-pathogenic agents to the organs and tissues in which the infection has taken up residence. Dampness is characterized by the manifestation of edema, swelling, and accumulation of excessive phlegm and fluid in the lungs associated with pneumonia. 

Fire Toxin refers to the infectious agent, COVID-19, that acts like a poison and causes an accumulation of Phlegm, Stagnant Blood and trapped Heat. This toxic accumulation is the result of accelerated metabolism and immune cell activity that the body must detoxify and eliminate. 

At the same time as the body uses its energy to cope with the disease, it must maintain its strength and equilibrium in order to survive and recover. When faced with acute and extreme stress, the body draws on energy reserves in the muscles and fat, a process activated by the adrenal glands. In Chinese medicine, this is called Kidney Qi. The Kidneys are said to consolidate and store surplus Qi that we can draw upon in times of need when the daily energy generated by digestion and respiration is insufficient. 

Treatment principles are to Clear Heat, Dispel Toxins, Drain Dampness, Expel Phlegm, Replenish healthy Qi and Moisture (body fluids) by supporting Kidneys (stored Qi), Spleen and Stomach (Qi from digestion) and Lungs (Qi from air). This strategy helps people sustain themselves and optimally recover once the disease is resolved.