Reporter's diary: Could TCM cure my common cold?
By Morag Hobbs

Beijing has entered its notoriously long winter, which means flu season is upon us. Normally, this wouldn't be the cause of too much concern. But 2020 is not the year to show any sign of sickness. So, when I started to feel under the weather this week, it was time to look for a cure – and fast. 

I tried all the home remedies recommended by my Chinese friends – hot water, and brown sugar and ginger tea. But my cold refused to budge. After doing some reading, I found that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) might help ease the symptoms, and maybe even speed up my recovery. With that in mind, I booked an appointment at my local clinic to find out more. 

TCM practitioners say that treatment helps balance the yin and yang in your body. Dr. Xia Shuwen of Beijing's Vista Medical Center, a specialist in TCM, explains that in the simplest terms, traditional Chinese medicine is broken down into two parts: herbal medicine and acupuncture. "We use a lot of acupuncture treatment. It can deal with a variety of diseases, and has proven effective for hundreds of illnesses," he explains while examining me. 

Dr. Xia advises treating my symptoms with heat, and he prescribes cupping and acupuncture. 

Cupping uses small glass cups, heated with a flame, as suction devices. The focus is usually the bladder meridians (one on each side of the body) that run down either side of the spine and the back of the legs. The suction is meant to encourage healing by promoting blood flow, but many also believe it can be used to draw out pathogens and toxins. 

The treatment starts as a massage, with the heated cups moved up and down my back. However, the most commonly used cupping method comes next, where the cups are left on your back for an extended period to draw out impurities. This causes circular bruises, making me look a bit like a child's depiction of a dalmatian. While the process is meant to facilitate healing, it does feel rather strange, as your skin is pulled tight into a dozen or so cups. Perhaps I have a low pain threshold, as the doctor assures me it should be soothing. 

After the cups are removed, it's on to acupuncture. 

Acupuncture is said to be good for the immune system. In some studies, it has been found to reduce common cold symptoms by 50 percent after initial treatment. It is also said to be more effective than western medicine in reducing the duration of a cold.  

To treat a cold, needles are placed in the head, face, arms and feet. Dr. Xia explains that each area correlates with an organ and the needles will help with everything, from blocked sinuses, to lack of sleep. Because the needles are so thin, you barely feel them, with the worst sensation being rather like a bee sting. This is the most relaxing part, as the doctor leaves the needles in for 30 minutes to work their magic. 

The following day, I find I feel a lot better. While I'm still a little groggy, my nose is less blocked and the soreness in my head is gone. The thing that I notice the most, though, is that while before I had been struggling to sleep, after the treatment I've been nodding off as soon as my head hits the pillow. I'm not sure if it's due directly to the acupuncture, or if it's just that I'm still experiencing that feeling of relaxation. But it has definitely hastened my recovery. 

Have you ever tried TCM? What was your experience? Let us know! 

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