Your Immune System and TCM
Very few people can say they have gone their entire life without so much as a cold. For some, their bodies can fight it off quickly. While for others it takes substantially longer. Why is this? Why do some people get sick at a drop of a hat, and others go years without a sniffle? It all comes down to immunity. People with a stronger immune system, tend to be sick less often. So how do you get a strong immune system? Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture are one of the many ways to keep your immune system strong. Not just during the winter months, but all year long.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the immune system is called Wei Qi (pronounced “way chee”). In TCM each organ system has a specific function, that is not necessarily associated to the Western function. The lung organ system is closely related to the Wei Qi. When the energy of the lungs is well-balanced, Wei Qi is strong and can easily fight off any external attacks. In TCM the lungs dominate the skin and breathing. If the lung function is deficient or compromised in any way, then the body is more open to external pathogens like viruses and bacteria. It should be noted that in Chinese Medicine it is recognized that direct wind can weaken the Wei Qi allowing for pathogens to attack. Common symptoms of decreased Wei Qi or immune system include: coughing, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat, headaches, fever/chills, or body ache.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is over 4,000 years old. A TCM practitioner has a number of different tools to utilize to help build Wei Qi, including acupuncture and herbal formulas. Acupuncture uses single-use needles, that are the width of a hair, into specific acupuncture points to help boost immunity and balance hormones. It is believed that when the body is not balanced, then illness will occur. When using acupuncture to help boost the immune system, and Wei Qi, it will strengthen circulation of energy and blood, which will boost the body’s defense mechanisms, thus preventing illness. It has been shown that regular acupuncture treatments can also cause the brain to increase T-cells in the body. T-cells are responsible for killing bacteria and viruses. Acupuncture can provoke the body’s immune response by sending T-cells and white cells to the needle sites to fight off invaders. These effects have been shown to last several days, and can help keep the immune system stronger.
Chinese herbal medicine is another great way to build Wei Qi. Please see your licensed practitioner when it comes to herbal supplements. Although, herbal medicine is a great way to boost your immune system no two bodies are the same. In TCM, there are many individual herbs that boost the QI and some specifically boost the Wei Qi. Huang Qi (Astragalus) is one of the more popular Chinese herbs, and has even made its way on to grocery store shelves. It is used to tonify the Wi Qi, strengthen the lungs and protect against pathogens. Studies are showing that huang qi increases white blood cells.
Cordyceps (dong chong xia cao) is another immune-boosting herb. Like huang qi (astragalus), cordyceps helps to boost the immune system by increasing white blood cells, T-cells and interferon. It also has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. While it works well by itself, it works even better when used as a formula. An acupuncturist/herbalist will rarely recommend just one herb. A full herbal formula works in harmony, and prevents any one herb from being too powerful. Once again, please work with a qualified herbalist before you start anything. Some herbs are contraindicated with certain medications and pathologies.
TCM and all of its modalities can be very helpful in long term health. When combined with proper sleep nutrition, lifestyle, and drinking plenty of water it can help to keep your immune system strong and healthy.
Calandra Center for Health & Wellness has to convenient locations in the Chicago’s South Loop and Arlington Heights Illinois. Give us a call at 312.796.3965 to set up a complementary 15 minute phone consultation, or register for one of our complementary “Acupuncture Happy Hour”, or mini lectures.