In school, I wrote several articles about treating the common cold with Chinese medicine. This has always been one of my passions – since I find a lot of more complicated illnesses have their root in an untreated or mistreated common cold or flu. This is the perspective of my teachers, as well, and the one clearly laid out by Zhang Zhongjing’s works the Shanghan lun & the Jingui yao lue.
It’s common knowledge in the United States that there is “no cure for the common cold.” When pressed, most people with medical knowledge will agree that there are various ways to reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms, but that we have no Western medicines that directly work to kill the illness-causing pathogens. Thus, no cure.
This relies on a very specific definition of cure. The eradication of the pathogen in question with the result that the illness ends completely. When you tell a person there “is no cure” for a disease, however, I don’t think that’s the definition most people think about. Most people who come into my clinic don’t want to know if I can “cure” them. They want to know if I can HELP them in a significant way. In large part, I think most people looking for “cures” are just looking for effective treatments that can reduce the troubling effects of an illness down to the point of non-interference with their life.
How’s that for a definition?
The dictionary definitions for cure are many. Distilling the essence of the majority of these definitions, we find:
A cure is a process
A cure does not indicate that the disease never occurs (that’s more like eradication)
A cure involves treatment
I think one other essential piece of the idea of curation involves the ability for the cure in question to be always and everywhere applicable. We wouldn’t call something a cure that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. That may be the info behind the claim that no “cure” for the common cold has been found. That being said, under the care of a competent practitioner of Chinese medicine, I do believe that rectification of cold and flu symptoms can be reliably achieved.
If under such circumstances a person still suffers from their symptoms or, perhaps, even worsens (developing phlegm deep in the lungs, for example) this is likely due to some misunderstanding on the part of the practitioner in their diagnostic process. Perhaps a poor understanding of the patient’s underlying body constitution is at work, or perhaps it’s just a very complicated condition.
This is the case, I think, with any medical therapy and any disease – including Chinese medicine. Consider any disorder we consider to be “cured” in modern medical practice. If a person displays with that illness and the therapy is inappropriately applied or some pre-existing condition of the patient renders the therapy ineffective, we don’t cast shadows on the ability of that therapy to be curative for that disease.
For Chinese Medicine, curing a disease simply involves a restoration of the body’s natural balance. Yin and Yang come into appropriate relationship with one another and all the seasons of the body come in their course with a typical expression. The body responds easily to normal daily stresses and no symptoms of blockage (pain, pathological products) exist. Chinese medical therapies, when applied consistently and competently, rectify the state of health for many conditions for many people.
What is your understanding of “cure”? What would it take for you to consider the common cold to be “cured”? I’ll be interested to read your thoughts in the comments.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.