The Cold Nose Theory & Chinese Medicine

cold nose theory, chinese medicine, wind cold invasion, common cold, flu, immune system

The Cold Nose Theory


Everyone has heard the precaution “don’t catch cold,” but is there any truth to this? Why is cold weather associated with an increased risk of getting sick? Well, have you ever heard of the Cold Nose Theory? Recent research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology discusses how cells in the front of the nasal cavity respond to viral exposure. Cells here can detect the presence of virus and react by producing “a swarm of extracellular vesicles,” which are coated with receptors that can bind with a virus. They also contain microRNA which can neutralize the virus by preventing its ability to replicate. This then intercepts the virus from invading the cells in the area.


However, when the nose is exposed to cold temperatures, this reaction is suppressed: not as many extracellular vesicles are secreted, the vesicles contain less receptors, and less microRNA. In other words, cold temperatures significantly inhibit the immune response in the nose, a first line of defense. Thus, the so-called Cold Nose Theory explains how cold exposure does in fact make you more vulnerable to illness! (Variations such as the length of time of cold exposure, the temperature threshold, and even the size of a person’s nose may play a role, too; more research is needed, of course.)


Wind-Cold Invasion


Chinese medicine developed long before the discovery of viruses or extracellular vesicles. And yet, based on their philosophy and their observations of the natural world and human health, ancient doctors conceived that cold can somehow penetrate the body and cause illness. According to Chinese medicine theory, the common cold and flu-like viruses invade the body when the defensive qi (or “Wei” qi) is weak, and the pathogen (or virus) is strong. Defensive qi is analogous to the body’s immune system and may be weak from emotional stress, overwork, an unhealthy lifestyle, and so on. “Wind-cold” is a term for a pathogen that causes symptoms with cold properties (like the common cold or flu), such as an aversion to cold or shivering, a low fever or no fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, body aches, slight cough, sneezing, running nose (possibly with white discharge) The tongue might appear pale and the coating thin and white, and the pulse floating and possibly tight. This type of invasion is more likely when the body is exposed to cold elements and can invade the lungs via the nose, or even penetrate through the pores or meridian channels. Acupuncture points that dispel wind and cold and strengthen wei qi maybe needled, and moxibustion and/or cupping might also be appropriate in these cases.


This phenomenon of a “wind cold invasion” can transform and progress into a heat condition, manifesting symptoms with warm properties: feeling hot, high fever, sore throat, thick yellow discharge, etc. Despite the scientific description of the mechanisms at play in the intranasal cavity, ancient Chinese wisdom had it right! Cold can invade and hamper the immune system, and it can attack through the nose. The scientific knowledge hadn’t developed yet, but the concepts were formulated many years ago in ancient China.

Wear a Mask?!?


Chinese medicine emphasizes moderate, healthy living, as well as preventative measures for staying in balance. A healthy diet, adequate sleep, regular exercise, and stress management are necessary for adequate Wei Qi. But in order to protect yourself from cold invasions, it also helps to cover your face with a scarf- or even a mask. A mask not only keeps a barrier between you and the environment (and any potential invading pathogens), but it also warms the air you breathe. At the very least, keep your nose as warm as you canon frigid winter days.

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