Increase Your Immune System’s Power With Traditional Chinese Medicine
Summer came and went at record speed this year with fall nipping at its heels. Now that the days are getting shorter and the nights longer we need to be extra diligent with our health regimen to help keep our immune systems performing in tip top condition because who has extra time to spare these days let alone the cost of having to miss days at work? An ounce of prevention equaling a pound of cure definitely applies in this case. So, how about getting some needles? No, I’m not talking about the flu shot. I’m talking about acupuncture, which is one of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) modalities utilized for enhancing and improving the immune system. What many people don’t realize about TCM is that it is big on preventative medicine versus how we are taught here in the states that you only go in to see a doctor when you are sick. In ancient times it was reserved only for the emperors of China and their families. Their Acupuncturists-Herbologists were hired on to keep them healthy. If they ever fell ill the practitioner was the first to be blamed and would be either excommunicated from the land or in some cases, executed. Now, I’m not saying if you get acupuncture you will never get sick again but it will certainly reduce your odds of getting sick. Germs are always around us, but it is the strength of our immune systems that will determine whether or not we will be infected by them.
How does TCM view colds?
Traditional Chinese Medicine’s diagnosis for the common cold is termed as an “Exterior Attack of Wind” which can either be that of a cold or hot nature. They didn’t have microscopes and other high tech equipment back then to know that we actually get sick from bacterias and viruses via our airways but they were smart enough to figure out that disease was carried via the air or wind which gets lodged in our more superficial organs and meridians. The lungs are one of these superficial organs and in TCM they are linked with the nose and throat which explains why when you get sick your nose and throat get affected as well as the cold settling in the lungs themselves. A superficial meridian that gets affected by “wind” is the Urinary Bladder meridian. There are special points along the back of the neck and upper back that can be more susceptible to a “wind attack.” When this happens we see symptoms such as a stiff upper back, neck and shoulders as well as headaches. When your grandmother used to tell you to wear a scarf or not to go outside with wet hair as to not catch a cold, she was absolutely right!
How does it work?
Getting a preventative acupuncture treatment to boost your immune system consists of using common acupuncture points on the body that will help increase your white blood cells and T-cell count, strengthen your internal organs such as your lungs and digestive organs, as well as decreasing cortisol levels and calming down your central nervous system-as stress plays a large factor in taking its toll on your immune system. In addition to these points, your practitioner will custom tailor your treatment to strengthen other system imbalances that may be already ailing you. Between 10-20 needles total will be used which varies from patient to patient and points along the front and back of the body will be utilized. The needles remain in place, per side, for approximately 20 minutes to allow time for the energy to circulate throughout the body for you to reap the maximum benefits from the treatment.
One common point that will be needled which has many studies to back up its effectiveness is Stomach 36 or ST 36. ST 36 is located below the lateral sides of the knees, one finger breadth proximal to the tibia bone. ST 36’s name in pinyin is Zu San Li which the translation is Leg Three Mile. Zu San Li is an excellent point for almost everyone which will increase your energy level, benefit your metabolism and increase the fighting powers of your immune system. Along with getting this point needled, your practitioner will apply a warm heat to the point called moxibustion. Moxibustion is a type of Chinese herb called mugwort or artemesia vulgaris, that is compacted into a cigar-like stick form. It is lit and then held next to a point to warm the area. Moxibustion is like adding a vitamin to the body which further enhances the immune system. Another modality which will be used is a technique called flash cupping. Flash cupping is applied to the upper back of the patient on either sides of the spine. The cups suction up the muscles of the upper back and removed in a circular pattern. You can read more about cupping and its wonderful benefits by checking out my previous article about it on our blog.
Glass cups and moxabustion pole
Things I can do now, on my own, to prevent getting sick?
Some words of advice to prevent colds are as follows: get adequate hours of quality, deep sleep every night in complete darkness; do at least one thing you enjoy every day; make produce and other whole foods be the majority of your meals along with drinking good quality purified water; get your vitamin D3 levels checked to see how much you should be safely supplementing with; up your vitamin C intake to 1,000 mg per day; stay active through yoga and cardiovascular exercises that suit your level of fitness; dress adequately for the weather so that you aren’t exposed to direct breezes and cold air. There are also herbal formulas and supplements you can take, which are too numerous to include in this article, that I recommend you speak with a qualified herbalist or holistic health practitioner on to help guide you in selecting the right fit for your constitutional needs.
What should I do if I do get sick?
If you do find yourself catching a cold, despite your best efforts to stay healthy, do not be hard on yourself. This is simply your body’s way of telling you that you need to take a break from life and REST! Rest is the secret ingredient to overcoming colds. You can take all the best herbs, supplements, and drink the best fluids, but without rest it will take longer for you to return to good health. Colds are also your body’s way of ridding itself of weaker cells that would otherwise stay in your body if you didn’t get sick. It is a type of internal cleanse, so just try to go with the flow and allow your body to do its part in getting you well. Acupuncture, again, can help you get relief faster than letting the cold ride out on its own. Below is one of my favorite tea recipes to take upon the first signs of a cold:
• 1 bunch of fresh mint
• Peel of 1 organic orange (eat the orange)
• 3 slices of fresh ginger with the skin
• 1 chopped green onion, both white and green parts
• 1 tablespoon of honey
Bring ingredients to a boil in 4 cups of water then turn heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes and let cool down enough to sip comfortably. Cover up with a warm blanket and rest. This tea is meant to make you produce a sweat, which is one of TCM’s theories of how to get rid of a pathogen. In conclusion, don’t starve yourself during a cold. Your body needs more energy than usual to conquer this cellular level warfare. So eat, drink plenty of fluids and broths, and sleep like a bear. With all this in mind and practice, you will be better prepared to guard yourself against future potential invaders.