Boost Your Immunity with Tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Updated: Mar 17
Does the world face a new pandemic- the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV? How worried should we be? Which groups are more susceptible to infection? Why do some people easily fall ill while others don’t? These questions all seek to deepen our understanding of our immunity. Having a strong immunity seems to be a blessing. You have it, or you don’t. Is there anything we can do to strengthen our immunity? What can Traditional Chinese Medicine offer us, in regards to improving our body’s ability to heal?
Western Medicine categorizes immunity into 3 main lines of defense- chemical or physical barriers, non specific defense mechanisms and specific defense mechanisms. In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) good immunity is created by certain types of qi (energy). Defensive (wei) qi and Upright (zheng) qi are two important types of energy in TCM that keep us healthy from infections and allow us to heal quickly. Boosting immunity using TCM requires that we improve our health by improving our qi.
1. Boost Upright Qi
Zheng or upright qi is a term used for all the different types of energy in our bodies that defends against disease. A healthy lifestyle supports a healthy body. A healthy body has strong zheng qi or immunity. Adequate exercise, good diet, enough rest and good regulation of negative stressors all impact our body’s upright qi.
TCM teaches us living in harmony with the seasons is an important aspect of creating good health. Resting more during the colder darker months, eating more warm foods during winter- these are two examples of living in harmony with nature. Living in harmony with nature helps us maintain and create healthy upright qi, so we have stronger immunity.
2. Boost Defensive qi
Defensive (wei) qi circulates in the superficial layers ( nose, throat and skin) of our bodies and is our first line of defense against viruses and other pathogens. The health of our defensive qi is largely determined by the health of our digestive system and our lungs. The digestive system makes defensive qi, so to have healthy immunity our ability to digest our foods must be efficient. There are several things we can do to keep our digestive system healthy. Other than eating healthy foods, we must eat in healthy ways. Eating at regular times daily, eating moderate amounts of food (so as not to overwork the digestive system) and chewing food well (the first part of mechanical digestion) all support good digestion.
In TCM, the lungs help in the distribution of defensive qi. Keeping the lungs healthy also helps to create strong immunity. It’s important to keep the lungs and its' passageways healthy, by protecting them during cold weather ( cold weather can affect the delicate homeostasis of our bodies, which can lead to disease). Have you ever wondered why when we first contract a cold or flu we get itchy throats, headaches, or stiff necks? According to TCM these symptoms occur because the disease has invaded the most superficial layers of the body, which are controlled by the lungs. Covering the nose and throat with scarves will help protect against pathogenic invasion. Keeping the lungs moist especially in dry environments by using humidifiers, can reduce mild inflammation in the throat caused by dryness, and help maintain defensive qi.
3. Acupuncture and Herbal nutrition
Studies have found that after needling specific acu-points on the body, certain white blood cells increase in number. White blood cells are an important component of our body’s immune systems. Being able to increase white blood cells, particularly in persons with low amounts, may strengthen their immunity. One major acu-point that boosts white blood cell count is Zu San Li or S36, a point on the lateral lower leg, one hand’s breath below the bottom of the knee cap. It was common knowledge in China to tap on this point everyday to promote general health. Acupuncture treatments work cumulatively, so a round of acupuncture sessions will in most cases lead to general improvement in overall health and immunity. Investing in a course of 8 to 12 acupuncture treatments (with a trained acupuncturist) to boost overall health may be a good idea if you can afford to. There are also TCM herbs and formulas that boost immunity and overall health. Astragalus and ginseng are two commonly known herbs used to boost health. As always, check with your TCM doctor to see which chinese herbs are best for you.
Good immunity may be a blessing, but it doesn’t mean you can’t improve on what has been given to you. Invest in your health (weather by better health style choices or acupuncture and massage) and see the returns- things like better immunity- come to you. Good health is your wealth!