Common Cold in Ayurveda

Common Cold in Ayurveda is called Pratishyaya and is usually an aggravation of  Kapha dosha. This is because its symptoms involves increased amounts of liquid discharge, build up of phlegm, and the sensation of feeling chilled. We are more susceptible to Common Cold when our Agni is weakened by overwork, stress, overexercise, catching a chill, eating too much heavy, sweet, rich, and cooling food. Eating too much cold food is always weaking to Agni, the operative term here being “too much.” But in Cold or Wet weather, and in Late Autumn to Early Spring, any amount of coconut water or frozen yogurt is inappropriate to the seasonal energy.

Elevated Kapha

Why is Common Cold in Ayurveda treated as Kapha elevation? Because of both the location and nature of the symptoms associated with colds.

One reason why Ayurveda sees the Common Cold as Kapha elevation is because symptoms of colds occur in tissues that relate to Kapha, namely the ear, nose, throat, and lungs.

The seat of Kapha in the body is in the Lungs. That means that this is the starting point for Kapha elevation. When, for whatever reason, diet, lifestyle, or experience, Kapha elevates in the body, the elevation begins in the Lungs. Colds infect the respiratory tract; and the respiratory tract includes the lungs, the bronchii, but also the throat, the sinuses and the eustachian tube, which are all anatomically connected and mutually influent.

The second reason why common cold in Ayurveda is seen as Kapha elevation is the nature of the symptoms.

The first thing that happens with colds is increased secretion of mucus and phlegm, and mucus and phlegm are Kapha symptoms, excessive liquid. Kapha is water and earth.. This is why people who are Kapha dominant, are prone to colds, phlegm, respiratory allergies, and sinusitis when their dosha is elevated due to errors in diet or lifestyle. It should be noted that all dosha is double edged. It is for the same reason, having the qualities of earth and water, that muddy mushy Kapha, when dried and baked by the kiln of correct diet and lifestyle, have the quality of bricks–stregnth.  Kaphas, when  healthy and balanced, have the strongest immune systems, and are capable of the hardest physical work. It’s a question of balance.


Elevated Pitta and Vatta

Some people’s colds involve the tendency to inflamed sore throat and other symptoms involving redness and subjective symptoms of heat. Or their colds easily turn to secondary infections in the throat or lungs. This may show the influence of Pitta and has to be treated with more Pitta pacifying medicines and less of the hot herbs mentioned below; however if there is mucus and phlegm in the head or lungs we still use pungent, bitter, astringent spices, as in Dr. Wickeramasinghe’s tea, below, but we may have to combine with anti-viral heat clearing herbal medicines.

Some people start out hot and or phlegmatic, as above, but end up with dry throat and dry cough. This is fire stimulating wind, or Pitta elevating Vatta. This happens often when Vatta types who are dry and fluid deficient catch colds that spread to the bronchii or lungs. They can easily fall prey to chronic dry cough, because they have so little Kapha their body cannot even muster the phegm response too well. If they have mucus or phlegm it may be quite sticky and hard to expel. These people will, for example, need to use more hot milk and honey with the below herbs, and more moistening foods, like stewed pears, or take a Chinese Medicine herbal prescription like Zhi Sou San with Sheng Mai San, that circulate Lung Qi, expel pathogens, and at the same time restores the Qi and Yin of the Lungs.

The Role of Ama/Digestive Toxins


Another important factor in how Common Cold in Ayurveda is delineated, especially when it comes to catching colds during holiday seasons filled with dietary indiscretions, such as excessive amounts of foods that promote digestive toxins, and that dampen digestive fire (like alcoholic beverages, sugar, desserts, flour, heavy foods like meat and dairy) is the role of what Ayurveda calls Ama, which are the sludge like “toxins” that clog the channels of the body and weaken digestion, metabolism, and the immune system. This is especially significant for people that get repeated colds, or more than the average amount of colds each winter, even more so if they have had repeated bronchitis or pneumonia. They need a diet and lifestyle matched to their dosha with a view towards eliminating Ama and promoting Agni/digestive fire. And again, if you are a Kapha type, you are naturally more prone to accumulating Ama than a Pitta or even Vatta dominant type.

How does this work? When the food and liquids we eat, and, for that matter, our life experiences, are not fully digested, then what should be a clear extraction supplying the organs, the tissues, and the mind or soul with high quality nutrition (Ojas) becomes instead supplyed with a kind of toxicity creating sludge that clogs the channels and tissues and interferes with deep levels of nutrition and immunity. This toxic sludge is called Ama.

People with this disease factor have what Chinese Medicine calls dampness, damp heat, Qi stasis, Blood stasis, and chronic food stagnation. In my San Diego Acupuncture and Ayurveda practice, I see this alot: pasty puffy skin, constipation, digestive disorders, allergies, chronic fatigue, susceptibility to lung and sinus infection, and above all frequent colds that drag on and on.

Do I Have Ama Accumulation

People with an Ama accumulation may have

*a thick coating on the tongue
*bad breath
*chronic sinus issues, allergies, chronic colds or bronchitis
*fatigue, lethargy, weakness, non-situational depression
*constipation and or digestive issues like gastritis
*foggy and hard to get up in the a.m.
*pasty, puffy skin

One of first organ systems to be affected by Ama accumulation is the respiratory system, and that makes these people more susceptible to colds and creates the conditions favorable to phlegm and mucus in the lungs and sinuses. It is as if the soil in a potted plant cannot drain well and starts to develop mold and smell badly.

How Do I Develop Ama?

The enemy of Ama is Agni–digestive fire. When Agni is burning bright, it is harder for Ama to collect. But Kapha and Vatta types tend to have weaker Agni, especially Kapha types. Both Kapha-Vatta or Vatta-Kapha have a hard time, as both doshas are cold. Whereas Pitta has naturally strong Agni, so much so that Pitta can be troubled by excessive fire in the body. Obviously, then, its hot weather that aggravates Pitta, and cold weather that aggravates Kapha and Vatta. Dry cold raises Vatta more and wet cold Kapha more.

Why We Are More Prone to Ama in Winter?

Midwinter and on is dominated by Kapha, because the weather is itself Kaphic–cold and wet. This makes us more vulnerable, especially if our Kapha is already elevated. And Kapha, being naturally cold and wet, has a more difficult time keeping strong Agni. That is why Kapha needs a diet that is light, lean, and high in vegetables and spices and low in damp producing foods like wheat, dairy, and fatty meat.

The problem, too is that the average American diet, heavy in Ama engendering Kapha building wheat, dairy, and meat, and light in cleansing green leafy vegetable and warming Agni engendering digestive spices gets even worse around holidays, with lots of sugar and heavy feasts that further weaken Agni and build Ama.

The key then is to eat a diet in winter that engenders Agni that keeps the body fires burning bright. This is easy, once you understand the common sense logic of Ayurveda

But Aren’t Colds Caused by the Rhino Virus?

Yes, of course. But that begs the question of why some people never catch them and some people always do and others do occasionally. The ability to withstand exposure to a virus is a function of your immune system. Ayurveda describes this in terms of Ojas/Vigor. This is a big part of how we look at Common Cold in Ayurveda

Ojas is the end result of an Agni engendering healthy diet, healthy living, a calm mind, and the blessing of a strong inherited constitution, too. You see Ojas in sparkling eyes, beautiful skin and hair, and healthy energy levels. It governs immunity, and when weak makes us susceptible to disease.

So the issue of susceptibility is key. Yes, colds are the result of an infection by a rhinovirus. And though colds are not “caused” by exposure to cold in the sense of cold being itself an infectious pathogen; it is true that if your immune system is already weakened, and you are over exposed to cold, wet, windy weather, that may be the last straw that makes you unable to fight off the bugs that are going around.

So, one thing to do when you are exposed to cold wet weather, or when you have symptoms that are in and of themselves an excess of wet and cold in your body (phlegm and mucus, feeling cold, chills, sneezing) is to warm and dry the soil of your inner garden.

Ayurvedic Diet to Prevent Colds


Cold Foods/Warm Foods

Avoid cold foods like ice-cream and yogurt. Some yogurt is fine at noon, but not at night. Follow the general Ayurvedic advice to drink liquids room temp or warm/hot. If you drink milk, drink it hot, simmered with ginger root, cardamom, or clove. Mediterranean sage tea is excellent for warming up after being out in the cold. Get it at Greek, Persian, or Arab markets.

Drink lots of soup! Soups are easy to digest and moisten and lubricate the mucosa in the nose and throat, making it harder for rhinoviruses to penetrate. Good time for warming fish or meat soups with veggies in them like bouillabaisse made with salmon, or chicken soup with garlic and onion and dill.


Stick to apples, pears and other seasonal or dried fruits like dates. Stewed fruits like cranberry sauce and apple sauce are good. Again try using spices. Avoid bananas, these are quite cooling. Good in summer!


Avoid cooling veggies like cucumber and  tomato. These are cooling the way watermelon is. God for summer. Avoid raw veggies and salad–these are cold energy because your body has to provide the fire to break down the cellulose–to much “cold” foods weaken digestive fire/Agni. In summer they are fine, because your body needs to be cooled off. In winter we need thermogenesis.  There are regional exceptions. A long hike in the desert sun in San Diego might lead to a small amount of cucumber with lunch, for example.

Favor warming and cooked veggies like baked hard squash, root veggies like daikon and parsnip, and as always, green leafy veggies, lightly cooked.


Keep yourself warm with thermogenic spices — cumin is an excellent burner of Ama. So are ginger, black pepper, coriander, oregano, thyme, sage, fenugreek, fennel. If you drink milk, drink it hot simmered with ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon. Add tea and you have masala chai!

Turmeric is an excellent spice that builds immunity and reduces Ama. So is fresh ginger. Use them in lentils, beans, meats and veggies. Any Indian cookbook or cook website will have great recipes. Substitute black pepper for chili pepper unless you are very Kapha dominant.


Sweet foods are naturally dampening to Agni. Have them, in moderation, especially in early winter, but take them separate from a meal, or in small amounts at the end of a meal, and have them with something that stimulates the digestive fire, like green or black tea, or herb tea made from ginger or fennel or chai spices.

Make your homemade cookies and cakes with less sugar and with spices like cardamom or cinnamon. Stewed fruits are a better choice than cakes. Stew with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, or clove.

Honey is the most warming and least Ama building sweetener. Good choice in tea and beverages. But don’t cook with it; it transforms this wonderful medicine into what Ayurveda considers a poison.

Ayurveda Treatment of Cold

When I studied Ayurveda in Sri Lanka, my teacher Vaidhya Wickeramasinghe taught me how to make a tea out of kitchen spices that is a powerful remedy for Kapha-type common colds with any combination of chills, subjective feeling of cold, aversion to wind, mild cough, stuffed nose, runny nose, easy to expel mucus, low fever, mild sore throat, fatigue. But it can also be used with the flu, though in that case I would combine it with other anti-viral, heat-clearing herbs from Chinese Medicine.

In Sri Lanka it is used especially during the rainy season, when colds are more predominant. It is an excellent balance for the very bitter cold herbs like Echinacea and goldenseal that are popular in USA and Europe for colds.

Click on this link to learn how to make and use Dr. Wickeramasinghe’s Ayurvedic Tea for Colds and Flu as your first line of defense Kitchen Medicine


If you are too busy to make the above, there is a product that is very popular in Sri Lanka that is now available on line. http://www.samahan.info/index.html
It is very similar to the above recipe, but I warn you, it is very hot. If you are a Pitta dominant you must mix it with milk. You might still get some burning sensations in the lower GI, and use with care if you have a tendency to hemorrhoids.

Anu Thailam

One other product I like is Anu Thailam. I get it from http://www.trihealthayurveda.com/thailams.htm
It is especially useful for allergies and sinusitis, but if you are catching a cold, and you have runny nose as a chief symptom, a drop of this oil in each nostril is very helpful. Read about it on the above website.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Colds

For colds with marked heat signs, like strong, rapid onset, painful sore throat, laryngitis, dark phlegm, I like to use a Chinese formula called Yin Qiao San, which I combine with the above herbal decoction, and take at a high dose for a couple of days. If the person is very run down, I like to use Source Naturals Wellness formula at a high dose for a couple of days. If there is sinus infection or bronchitis I use other formulas like Tong Bi or Qing Fei Tang.

Why I use these and not Ayurveda in these cases is twofold: one, I think Chinese Medicine excels at the differential diagnosis and treatment of hot type febrile illness in a way I have not found Ayurveda to. There is a 2,000 year written tradition on the treatment of infectious disease with hundreds of formulas based on symptom pattern. Ayurvedic treatment is more generalized in this particular case.

Second, I will not use or sell Ayurvedic or Chinese herbal formulas unless I know they are free of heavy metal contamination. The company I use, Ayush, is the only company I know of that can supply test results from independent labs. There are some very popular companies whose products have been found to contain lead, mercury, and cadmium.

This may be the natural result of high levels in the soil, or it may be a result of the deliberate use of heavy metal in the processing of herbs, which was part of Ayurvedic and Western herbal practice until recently when heavy metal toxicity began to be understood.

Ayush does not have the same kind of anti-viral herbal formulas that my Chinese herb companies do. And my Chinese herb companies, Blue Poppy and Kan, are able to furnish independent lab reports. The first dictum in the Hippocratic Oath is “do no harm!”



copyright Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac. 2016, San Diego, CA All Rights Reserved, Use With Permission

Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diegohttps://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com

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