How Strong Is Your Immune System?
By Maureen H. Rozenn, LAC, DAOM, PhD (c)
How prepared are you for the coming cold and flu season? In order to function properly, your immune system must be able to adapt to changing environmental influences. Those with a weakened immune system often complain of being susceptible to colds in the fall and winter. Other symptoms of an imbalanced immune system include fatigue, chronically swollen lymphatic glands, allergies, chronic ear infections, and weak tendons and ligaments. Asian medicine can be used to both strengthen immunity, and resolve the symptoms associated with an imbalanced immune system. Asian medicine practitioners use modalities such as acupuncture, tui-na (Chinese therapeutic massage) when treating children, and herbal therapy to strengthen the immune system.
The Western idea of the immune system is roughly equivalent to the Eastern concept of protective energy (wei qi). Protective energy circulates on the surface of the body and is the body's first defense against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. When the wei qi is strong, it can protect the body, and when it is weak, we are much more likely to become ill. Once our defenses weaken, a vicious cycle is created in which continuous infections weaken this system further, and we becomes more and more susceptible to disease. There are a number of factors that can contribute to this cycle such as: any chronic disease, sinus infections, shock and trauma, depression, anxiety, stress, chemotherapy and radiation, and immune suppressant drugs.
Fortunately, there are treatments for both children and adults that can balance the immune system through influencing lymphatic tissue, the thymus, white blood cells, and the spleen. In Eastern thought, these treatments strengthen the lungs, kidneys, spleen, and wei qi. Research has been done on a number of acupuncture points traditionally used to fight disease and strengthen defenses. Studies have shown that acupuncture can have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-allergic effects. There are specific acupuncture treatments that increase immune system activity, and others that are antifebrile. Acupuncture is occasionally used with children, especially during acute conditions such as an ear infection. However, children are usually treated with tui-na. Tui-na movements can be taught to parents, and if done at home regularly, these gentle massage techniques are very helpful to children suffering from recurrent colds, sinusitis, and ear infections.
There are a variety of herbs that tonify the body and strengthen wei qi. Astragalus is one of the main herbs taken preventively to strengthen the wei qi, and decrease the frequency of seasonal colds and allergies. Astragalus also has demonstrated anti-cancer properties by inhibiting tumor cell growth. Another herb that has been under study for it's immune stimulating effects is ganaderma. Ganaderma has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, in addition to its ability to increase white cell counts. Cordycepts is also used to increase white cell counts, and it is an energy tonic. Studies show that it can inhibit cancer cell proliferation.
Acupuncture, tui-na, and herbal therapy have been used for thousands of years to improve resistance to disease. One of the main emphases of Asian medicine is that of prevention. Taking steps to balance the immune system during season changes can drastically reduce the frequency and severity of seasonal colds and allergies, in addition to resolving the symptoms of an imbalanced immune system.