As we move into the fall, I see more complaints of sore throat in my clinical practice as an acupuncturist. There’s a perfect explanation for this in Eastern medicine. Eastern medical philosophy is rooted in a deep study of nature, and applies the concepts yin and yang as well as the five elements to everything — including the outer environment and the inner body. According to five phase theory, autumn is associated with the lung organ and with dryness. That’s why sore throat, dry throat, and even dry skin are common occurrences during the transition from late summer to winter.
Before we dive into some home remedies for sore throat, let’s quickly examine some of the theory behind this. According to Bob Flaws, author and translator of Chinese Medicine, “the lungs govern the defensive exterior… the lungs are averse to cold… [and] the pharynx and larynx are the doors of the lungs” This refers to the protective function of the lungs as a first line of defense against pathogens, and tells us that the lungs are particularly vulnerable as the weather gets cooler. It also alludes to the pathway of the lung meridian, which travels through the respiratory tract and throat on its way down the arm. In fact, there is an acupuncture point on the wrist along the lung channel (LU-7, Lie Que) that is used to treat sore throat and initial stages of a common cold or flu.
In Eastern medicine, explanations for sore throat include common cold, flu, or eating too much spicy food or food that is hot in thermal nature. Sore throat may also be accompanied by cough, mucus, fever and chills, or headache. In general, acute sore throat can be treated with good results by immediate acupuncture, nutritional therapy, and herbs. If you have a persistent sore throat or symptoms do not improve after a few days with natural remedies, you may want to see a physician to rule out strep throat.
Here are some simple home remedies for acute sore throat:
- Drink a lot of water, and gargle with warm salt water. Use sea salt. You can gargle with salt water once per hour but at minimum twice a day.
- Use essential oils of oregano and/or thyme. Oregano and thyme essential oils have antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties, making them a good choice for stimulating the immune system and protecting the respiratory system. Essential oils are extremely potent, so you only need one or two drops per dose. To use, place in your diffuser, inhale the aroma directly from your palms, or drink in a glass of water.
- For a dry sore throat, take as spoonful of honey in a glass of warm water and drink. Honey works naturally to neutralize toxins and relieve pain. Honey moistens dryness, and treats dry or hoarse throat and dry cough. According to Eastern medical theory, honey has a neutral energy (neither cooling nor heating) and is therefore balanced in terms of yin and yang. You can also add Chinese Wolfberry (Gou Qi Zi) before steaming.
- Make steamed pear with rock sugar. In Eastern nutrition, pears are great for a sore throat, dry throat, dry cough, loss of voice, and excess mucus. Asian pears are preferable if you can manage to get your hands on them. Skin and dice the pears, placing them in a deep bowl with some rock sugar (or honey, if you can’t find rock sugar). Place the bowl in a steamer and steam for 10-15 minutes or until the pear is slightly translucent. Note that Asian pears, which are more dense, may take longer to cook. Eat while warm.
Here are some general nutrition guidelines according to the Eastern principles of nutrition:
- Eat foods with a neutral or cool energy, to help soothe sore hot throat. This includes lettuce, radish, cucumber, celery, button mushroom, asparagus, Swiss chard, eggplant, spinach, summer squash, cabbage (green, purple, or Napa), bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, zucchini, soy milk, tofu, mung beans and their sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, millet, amaranth, pears, apples, persimmon, lemon, watermelon, tomato, peppermint, dandelion greens, honeysuckle flowers, nettles, lemon balm, white peppercorn, cilantro, marjoram,
- Avoid foods with a warm or hot thermal nature, as they will exacerbate a sore throat. This includes alcohol, parsnip, parsley, mustard greens, winter squash, sweet potato, kale, onion, leek, chive, garlic, scallion, cherry, citrus peel, date, oats, spelt, quinoa, sunflower seed, sesame seed, walnut, pine nut, chestnut, fennel, dill, anise, caraway, carob pod, cumin, sweet brown rice and its products such as mochi, ginger, hot peppers, cinnamon, cloves, basil, rosemary, and angelica root.
- If dryness predominates, eat foods that are moistening. This includes pears, figs, soybean products (tofu, tempeh, soy milk), spinach, barley, millet, pear, apple, persimmon, loquat, seaweed, black and white fungus, almond, pine nut, peanut, sesame seed, and honey (cooked).
- If there is mucus, avoid products that contribute to more mucus and phlegm. This includes dairy products, mammal meats, peanuts, eggs, and soy products. Instead, eat more foods that dry mucus, such as lettuce, celery, turnip, kohlrabi, amaranth, aduki bean, wild blue-green micro-alga, asparagus, white pepper, alfalfa, pumpkin, vinegar, papaya, and bitter herbs: chaparral, pau d’arco, valerian, chamomile.
- Use cooking methods that are more neutral, such as boiling and steaming. Avoid baking, sauteeing, and deep frying.
Additionally, you may want to refer to this article on how to strengthen your immunity naturally.
Flaws, Bob. Statements of Fact in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Boulder, CO, Blue Poppy Press, 2004.
Kastner, Joerg. Chinese Nutrition Therapy: Dietetics in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Stuttgart, Thieme, 2009.
Modern Essentials: A Contemporary Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils. Pleasant Grove, UT, AromaTools, 2016.
Ni, Maoshing, and Cathy McNease. The Tao of Nutrition. Los Angeles, Tao of Wellness Press, 2009.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd edition. Berkeley, CA, North Atlantic Books, 2002.