Immunity in TCM

Chinese Medicine with its ability to balance the body can further ones sense of well-being and their immunity among many other things. When the body is in balance it can focus on it’s daily duties of maintaining our bodies ability to digest food, clean out the wastes in the system and keep bacteria and viruses from taking advantage of an unbalanced body.

The human body has two major systems that help it to prioritize its activities; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic system controls your bodies response to external stresses like attacking lions, fires and anything that might require you to either run for your life, fight or just play dead. The parasympathetic is responsible for body functions, such as blood pressure, blood flow, body temperature regulation, immune reactions and all functions that take place as you relax. Since we have long stopped running from lions and fighting for our food the sympathetic system has become overly sensitized. This leads to reactions to external stimuli that are usually uncalled for especially after adding in a latte and a cigarette. Most people never follow through with their impulse to kill the driver who just cut them off so that energy gets stored in their system instead of being released in the primitive act murder. After a short period of build-up this energy leaves the body to fight the stress you have accumulated throughout a given day. The right amount of exercise can help people to release most of this pent up energy but like proper weight training there are many facets to this build-up that must be addressed. Acupuncture can help to re-set the system with its ability to address sympathetic nervous function and help the parasympathetic system to take charge in routine maintenance.  Acupuncture helps the immune system to do it’s job and protect you the organism. The immune system is activated by stimulating specific portions of the autonomic nervous system, which in turn cause the immune system to respond. One study has found that acupuncture stimulation can cause a significant rise in blood levels of interferon, one of the immune system's messenger hormones. The effect lasts for several days and is much safer than other methods of boosting interferon.

Although no single theory (in western science) has been successful in discovering the secrets of acupuncture and how it works on the nervous system, studies have shown acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. These are the opioid peptides are a comprised of endorphins, enkephallins, and dynorphins, types of neurotransmitters, and are found in neurons throughout the body. Opioid peptides are thought to be closely involved with the perception of pain and the inflammatory immune response in the central nervous system.

Herbs are also commonly used to promote immunity in much the same way as acupuncture.  Herbs such Huang Qi (Astragalus) is one of the most frequently used Chinese herbs in the USA. It works by strengthening the bodies protective energy also called Wei Qi.  “Astragalus is known to increases both specific and non-specific immunity. In a clinical trial of 115 leucopenic patients, astragalus was found to be associated with an "obvious rise of the white blood cell (WBC) count" with a dose-dependent relationship. In addition, astragalus works well with concurrent drug therapy in enhancing the overall effectiveness of the treatment. It also potentiates the anti-tumor effect of chemotherapy drugs while reversing drug-induced immune suppression. Lastly, astragalus demonstrates anti-cancer activity by increasing the content of camp and inhibiting the growth of tumor cells.”  John Chen PhD.

Ling Zhi (Ganoderma) An important herb for enhancing the immune system. Typically used to tonify Qi and Blood into old age, Ling Zhi is a strong combatant when used as an immune booster. Ling Zhi helps the pancreas to create more white blood cells which help to inhibit the proliferation of viruses and bacteria. “It has been demonstrated to enhance the immune system in various clinical studies. The specific effects of ganoderma include an increase in monocytes, macrophages and T-lymphocytes. There is also an increased production of cytokine, interleukin, tumor necrosis factor and interferon. Furthermore, ganoderma has a broad spectrum of antibacterial activities, inhibiting the growth of pneumocci, streptocci (type A), staphylococci, e. coli, b. dysentarie and pseudomonas, among others.” John Chen PhD.

Dong Chong Xia Cao (Cordyceps) was discovered by the western world after the 1992 Olympics wherein the Chinese team had overwhelming victories after taking the herb. Known to increase oxygen to the heart and lung, Cordyceps is an excellent immune builder, though quite expensive. “Cordyceps is another herb which has marked immunomodulatory functions. It enhances overall immunity by increasing lymphocytes and natural killer cells and the production of interleukin, interferon and tumor necrosis factor.12-16 Cordyceps was also found to significantly inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells;17 in some instances, the growth inhibition rate of the cancer cells reached between 78-83%.18” John Chen PhD.

Keep in mind that while these herbs are effective individually, they should be prescribed in the content of an herbal formula to enhance synergistic action and minimize possible side-effects.  ­-All herb study information is taken directly from an article by John K. Chen, PhD, PharmD, OMD, Lac acupuncture Today March, 2000, Volume 01, Issue 03

Formulae that are easy to find and use on a daily basis are Jade Windscreen Powder and Astragalus and Ligustrum formula from Golden Flower Chinese Herbs. The former is much easier to obtain through your local health food store and most Chinese Herbal companies have a version available. The later you could obtain through a Chinese Herbalist and its being based on treating complex deep lying patterns such as AIDS Related Complex, or the effects of chemotherapy on the immune system makes it better choice for those with extreme immune weakness. 

Chinese Acupuncture and herbology have been working to help millions to stay fit and healthy even into old age. The key elements of Chinese medicine have always been longevity and preventative health. So rather than guessing what type of flu might come through this year build your immunity to help fight whatever comes its way.