Cold and Flu: How can acupuncture help?

Infographic of Acupuncture for Cold & Flu.
Benefits of Acupuncture for treating Cold & Flu.

Benefits of Acupuncture for Cold & Flu

Treating Sore Throat With Acupuncture
Acupuncture for sore throat

The first sign of an impending respiratory infection is often a sore throat. Sometimes this worsens until it hurts to swallow or eat. Research is ongoing, but current medical understanding points to these causes of sore throat:

  1. Inflammation of the throat as part of the immune system’s response to the virus.
  2. Physical tissue damage to the throat due to coughing.
  3. Changes in the pain receptors (nociceptors) in the throat, leading to increased sensitivity/pain.

Put simply, sore throats can be caused by local swelling/inflammation due to the infection, physical tearing of the tissue from coughing, or increased sensitivity due to changes in the way the body senses pain at the area of infection. According to the National Institute of Health, acupuncture is effective in reducing the pain of sore throats in post-operative scenarios. In our clinical practice of acupuncture, we have found similar results in using acupuncture to treat sore throat symptoms in patients with Upper Respiratory Infections including Cold & Flu. Acupuncture reduces pain by stimulating the body’s opioid receptors; this increases the body’s release of natural chemicals that modify the perception of pain in the brain. Acupuncture has also has been shown to lower inflammation and increase growth factors that allow for regeneration of healthy tissue.

Acupuncture For Fever
The body’s natural temperature is controlled through a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. When we are sick, our immune cells send signals to the hypothalamus to raise our body temperature. Medical science believes that higher body temperature increases our immune cell’s ability to fight off the infection. Additionally, medical research has confirmed that higher body temperature damages/weakens some bacteria and viruses. That said, mild fevers were associated with better clinical outcomes, with temperatures between 99.5*F and 102.9*F having the best effect. Fevers above 103*F may be cause for concern in adults; while Fevers in infants and toddlers should be treated with more caution.

There are many reasons that our bodies have increased core temperature and it is important to note that we are specifically discussing fevers in response to the Cold and Flu Viruses in this article. While a mild fever may be beneficial during an infection, body temperatures around or above 103*F are concerning from a healthcare perspective; fevers above 104*F are considered immediately dangerous. High fevers can cause cell death, organ damage, systemic inflammation and the migration of toxins due to increased permeability of blood vessels, including at the blood-brain barrier. Different people may also have varying tolerance for high fevers along with different health risk factors, so you or a loved-one may need medical care even if your fever is below 103*F. Genetic factors, health concerns and age all influence the way we each respond to changes in body temperature and our ability to protect our cells against high temperatures.

For some, even mild fevers can still cause a lot of discomfort. When fever reduction is needed in a non-emergency case, acupuncture is a safe and effective consideration. Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective as an antipyretic (fever reducer). Acupuncture’s fever reduction effects also mitigate some of the negative downstream effects of fevers, such as inflammation. Even one acupuncture treatment can significantly reduce a non-emergency fever. In a study of 260 cases published in the US National Library of Medicine, acupuncture patients treated with just one acupoint (GV14) had significantly better cure rate and faster fever reduction than the control group. Medical science has shown that acupuncture is effective for fever reduction and reducing inflammation associated with non-emergency Cold and Flu. With this in mind, acupuncture is an effective alternative to non-emergency Urgent Care or Zoom-Care.

Acupuncture to Clear Congestion
The nasal congestion (or “stuffy nose”) that comes with respiratory infections is largely due to the swelling of tissues and blood vessels in and around the nose. While nasal/sinus congestion usually isn’t the worst symptom of a respiratory infection, it can make sleeping and breathing more difficult. By extension, anything that negatively affects the ability to sleep will make it harder to recover. As discussed above, acupuncture is very effective at decreasing inflammation and swelling, making it an effective treatment for nasal congestion. Interestingly, acupuncture has been shown to be effective in treating congestion from allergies as well. This makes acupuncture a medication-free alternative for managing Cold & Flu symptoms.
Improving Immune Function With Acupuncture
Each day, every person encounters numerous viruses and bacteria in the environment. Luckily, healthy immune systems are well-equipped to deal with minor exposures to most common pathogens. Problems arise when the immune system is already compromised due to existing stressors on the body like exhaustion/exhaustion, improper nutrition, lack of exercise, emotional stress or exposure to a particularly strong pathogen. Chinese medicine and the acupuncture system directly support immune function. A study published in the National Institute of Health showed that acupuncture significantly increased the production of T-lymphocytes and Natural Killer Cells, the cells that fight infection. Acupuncture also promotes blood flow and decreases stress by modulating the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis, which handles the stress response), improves sleep and calms emotional stress. By supporting better functioning throughout many systems, acupuncture frees up energy for the body to heal more efficiently.

As Autumn becomes Winter, we enter peak months for colds and flu. Thankfully, there are many researched-backed benefits to using acupuncture to help ease symptoms and speed recovery from Cold & Flu. In fact, the World Health Organization supports the use of acupuncture for respiratory and infectious complications of the flu. One of the many benefits of using acupuncture is that it also builds up your immune system and improves your overall health.

The Common Cold and Influenza (The Flu) are often mentioned together because the two diseases have many similarities. A Cold and The Flu are both caused by viruses that trigger inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, which consists of the nose and sinuses, throat and the bronchial tubes in the lungs. The cold and flu also have a similar list of symptoms such as sore throat, fever, congestion, cough and fatigue. However, the flu has a rapid onset, more severe symptoms and often involves additional symptoms like headache and muscle soreness. Here it’s worth noting that The Flu (Influenza) affects the respiratory tract and is not the same disease as what is often called “Stomach Flu”. “Stomach Flu” is more accurately described as Viral Gastroenteritis and is a different virus that infects the intestines of the digestive tract. This article explains how acupuncture treatment can help treat Cold & Flu. For more info, see our related article on Natural Cold & FLu Remedies.

Since the Common Cold and The Flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics (which target bacteria, not viruses) will not help you get better. In otherwise healthy people, the cold and flu are considered self-limiting diseases, meaning that these diseases will usually go away on their own. However, Cold & Flu can cause discomfort and can be dangerous because these diseases may weaken your immune system enough that you may be more at-risk for catching an even worse disease. That said, in infants, the elderly and in immuno-compromised individuals, Cold & Flu viruses can cause serious, even life-threatening complications. If you are experiencing difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue, high fever, chest pain, extreme head and neck pain, other severe symptoms, or if your symptoms have lasted for more than 10 days, please seek urgent or emergency medical care.

At our Integrative Medical Practice in Portland, Oregon, acupuncture plays an important role in the care we offer. We find that the principles of Naturopathic and Chinese Medicine boost the immune system and lower the risk of getting sick. However, despite these best practices, it is still possible to get sick once in awhile if one is exposed to the wrong circumstances at the wrong time. While there is no cure for the common cold or flu, there are many things one can do to decrease discomfort, recover faster and reduce the likelihood of secondary infection.

What can I expect from my acute cold/flu acupuncture appointment?

While our doctors use acupuncture as part of our normal doctor’s office visits, our 30 Minute Express Acupuncture Visits offer are tailored to be an acupuncture alternative to places like Zoom-Care or Urgent Care. At the Express Visit, you will first be evaluated to see if your condition is stable and appropriate to treat in the acupuncture office context. Next, your practitioner will use Chinese medicine diagnostics, such as tongue, pulse, and abdominal diagnosis, to determine the nature of your condition. They will then select the appropriate treatment that is tailored to you, which may include retaining acupuncture needles, acupressure, cupping, moxibustion, Japanese non-insertive techniques and/or Asian bodywork.

At Terrain Wellness, our doctors are dual-licensed as acupuncturists and Naturopathic Doctors. As such, we always look at each case from both perspectives and recommend additional supplements, treatments, or at-home therapies that come from both traditions. We strongly believe in the Naturopathic principle of Docere (“Doctor as Teacher”) and do our best to educate patients on ways they can improve their health outcomes. Please contact us if you have further questions or would like to book an acupuncture appointment.

    Medical & Acupuncture Works Cited:

  1. World Health Organization: Acupuncture (Web-MD Article)
  2. Acupuncture Improved Outcomes for Post-Op Patients with Sore Throat (PubMEd, US Natl. Institute of Health)
  3. Mild Fever Improves Immune Response (PubMEd, US Natl. Institute of Health)
  4. Fever Improved Clinical Outcomes (BMC Research, BioMed Central)
  5. Fevers in Infants & Toddlers (WebMD)
  6. Antipyretic Effects of Acupuncture (PubMEd, US Natl. Institute of Health)
  7. Clinical Observation of Acupuncture for Colds (PubMEd, US Natl. Institute of Health)
  8. Acupuncture’s Effects on T-Lymphotcytes & Natural Killer Cells (PubMEd, US Natl. Institute of Health)
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