Immunity Through Foods - Prevention for Viruses and Beyond

April 15, 2020

(DISCLAIMER: the information in this article is not meant to take the place of proven public health recommendations. No therapy or treatment is approved as prevention or cure for COVID-19 in Canada at this date, including Chinese herbal medicine. This is meant as information only)


These radish sprouts are a potent radish flavour. Delicious, and great for the Lung Qi


With the current health crisis, there’s a lot of talk these days about prevention of disease through minimizing exposure to the coronavirus by social distancing, frequent hand-washing, masks and other protective equipment —to prevent spread by “speaking moistly”—thanks for that image Trudeau!


These are most certainly necessary and vital steps in disease prevention, and by no means does any specific diet guarantee immunity to infection. But what often does get overlooked in public health is what makes one person more susceptible than another, once both are exposed. How do we make our internal environments less ideal for a pathogen? Here Chinese Medicine has a lot to say. 


Who is at Risk?


In Chinese medicine, we use terms from the environment around us to describe a pathogen—for example a common cold is a “cold pathogen”, if it gives us body aches and a chill. A fever is a “heat pathogen”, if it makes us feel hot and sweaty. In general, the coronavirus is showing up as a pathogen that likes “cold and damp”*, meaning it would thrive in those environments. Basically then, we can use the concepts from Chinese medicine to make ourselves less ideal hosts, by minimizing the “cold and damp” within us.


How do we know if our body’s are more prone to the “cold and damp” pathogens (i.e. are already cold-damp-types)?  We may have some of these signs:

  • lower body temperature

  • always cold when others are warm

  • intolerant to cold

  • tendency to have progesterone deficiency (in women) or testosterone deficiency (in men)

  • lower metabolism

  • dry skin

  • possible hypothyroid

  • resting heart rate lower than 60

  • brittle hair

  • tendency to gain weight easily

  • tendency to yeast and fungal infections

  • possible loose stool or bloating/gassy, indigestion

  • feeling of heaviness in the body and limbs

  • congestion in the lungs or nose

  • phlegmy or wheezy, especially when exposed to cold or damp environments

  • We may also have none of these classic signs, but would still be advisable to use the following dietary recommendations are “proper precaution”, essentially stacking our decks for optimized health. 

Think about throwing a wet load of laundry in the corner of a basement and leaving it there. First of all, our mothers would be horrified. Secondly, we might end up growing all kinds of mildew and bacteria. So the same is true within our bodies. If we load up on “cold” and “damp” foods, we are more prone to buildups of yeast and bacteria, excess mucus, and lymphatic congestion, and this generally impairs the protective screen or “wei qi” which in Western medicine lingo means it weakens immunity. 


What to Do About It


  • Minimize cold and raw foods such as gluten, dairy, sugar and other refined white powders (I wouldn’t have seen the connection between damp and gluten until a patient who is a baker told me the air in a bakery is dry because gluten is “hydrophilic”, i.e. it actually absorbs moisture right out of the air).

  • Add in peppery, or  “pungent” foods for the lungs such as radishes, arugula, any onion family, and garlic and ginger. If you think about how onion stimulates the tear ducts when we cut them, this has a similar moving effect on the fluids within. Again bearing in mind constitution, if you have excess heat signs or feel too hot or tired after eating these, reduce these.

  • In general, avoid very cold (temperature) or totally raw foods in favour of steamed, boiled, roasted, sautéed, etc. Even lightly steaming vegetables enables our systems to digest and absorb the nutrients much more easily. 


So firstly, follow social distancing and hand washing protocols. These are vital and necessary steps for public health. Western medicine has worked wonderfully in the past through following germ theory and minimizing exposure to a pathogen to the point of eradication. But secondly, know that a strong “screen” of defense is something that we can cultivate from within. 


Herbal Supplement company DaoLabs has a free downloadable Chinese meal plan, here:


For more on supplements and herbs for immunity, stay tuned!




*Footnote: Though I know it shows up as a fever in most cases, this has more to do with how pathogens morph within a host, and is beyond the scope of this article

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©2013 by Black Spruce Acupuncture. Photos courtesy of Bright Photo. Black Spruce Acupuncture operates on the unceded traditional territory of the Esquimalt, Coast Salish and Lekwungen First Nations.