LOOKING AT IMMUNITY FROM A TCM PERSPECTIVE



“Those who act with bravery and courage will overcome diseases, while those who act out of fear will fall ill” - The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine.

In Chinese medicine philosophy, the body is protected by a protective layer called Wei Qi which when strong protects us from many diseases. However, if it is compromised or weakened by stress and neglected living, we can succumb to pathogenic factors (viruses, colds and flu). If very deficient, it can penetrate deeper and affect internal organs.



Wei Qi (the body’s protective energy) is governed by the Lungs which controls the opening and closing of the skin’s pores and the strength of a person’s immunity is dependant on the circulation of wei qi. It is often the throat and sinuses which are first affected by an external pathogenic attack.


Physical and emotional aspects are treated equally in Chinese medicine. Maintaining optimal health has been the priority of the Chinese medicine practitioner for centuries, incorporating diet and lifestyle choices for maintenance. The emotions associated with the Lungs are grief, sadness, worry and letting go. Thus, it is important for health to let go of worrying thoughts that we have no control over, be open to new ideas, and deal with grief issues in a healthy way.


A MODERN INTEGRATION.

From a western perspective, an overload of free radicals circulating within our bodies- caused from poor food quality and chemical additives, alcohol, smoke, pollution etc- can weaken our immune system.

Modern studies are now looking at the effect of stress and worry on the immune system. A meta- analysis published in the American Psychological Association stated- “for stress of any significant duration- from a few days to a few months or years as happens in real life- all aspects of immunity went downhill. Thus, chronic stress, through too much wear and tear, can ravage the immune system. The meta- analysis also revealed that people who are older or already sick are more prone to stress- related immune changes” (Segerstrom, 2006). Other studies have shown that stress influences the gut microbiome, which has now been found to influence not only immunity but many other emotional and physical conditions. (Hollins).


STRENGTHENING YOUR WEI QI WITH FOOD.

Chinese medicine focuses on the energetics of food and has categorised them by the actions they have on our body. Eating the right types of food will keep the dynamic yin/yang energy of Qi in balance. Food grown locally and corresponding with the seasons is preferred. As stated above, one of the best ways of promoting wei qi is by fortifying your

constitution with diet. Optimally, diet choices are decided by your individual constitution to balance the yin/yang energies and understanding your constitution from a TCM perspective is best if you visit a TCM practitioner for a consultation.


There are however, general principles that can be followed from a seasonal perspective that can benefit everyone. Moving into Spring, “warming foods” are preferred. These foods include root vegetables (carrots, sweet potato, onions, garlic, beetroot, ginger and turnips). To aid the energy used in digestion, meals easy to digest like soups and slow cooked meals will make digestion easy, leaving more Qi to aid the immune system if needed.

Adding ginger and garlic to your meals boost immune function as does the addition of oregano, fennel, basil, rosemary, lemon balm and pepper.

Chinese medicine has always advocated the drinking of warm water (room temperature or above). Warm water aids digestion, as the body doesn’t have to use more energy to warm the cold water to body temperature before absorption. Herbal tea such as Jasmine, Astragalus, Ginger and Chai are not only flavoursome but can aid in immunity building.


OTHER HABITS TO BUILD WEI QI.

Sleep and sunlight- or balancing your circadian rhythm are other essentials for building wei qi. Sleep allows the body to not only refresh and integrate our thoughts from the previous day but the body undergoes extensive cell repair whilst we sleep. In TCM our meridians are allocated to specific times within the 24hr day, and the traditional thought of getting to sleep before midnight has been proven in studies to boost immunity.

One study by Besedovsky, Lange and Born in 2012 showed suggest that sleep facilitates the extravasation of T cells and their possible redistribution to lymph nodes. (L.Besedovsky, 2012) They also noted that:“sleep on the night after experimental vaccinations against hepatitis A produced a strong and persistent increase in the number of antigen-specific Th cells and antibody titres. Together these findings indicate a specific role of sleep in the formation of immunological memory.”

Another study has shown that sleep after vaccination boosts immune memory. (T.Lange, 2011)

Developing a healthy sleep routine and a regular patter of when you go to sleep and wake can also produce improved wei qi and boost immunity.




Sunlight also plays an important role in immunity. We are all aware of the role sunlight plays in the production of Vitamin D, however, Georgetown University Medical Centre researchers have found that sunlight, through a mechanism separate than vitamin D production, energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity. (Georgetown University Medical

Center, 2016).

A daily sunbathing of 15 minutes in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t as strong and will not burn you may be a helpful practice to incorporate into you daily routine. Relaxing in the sun also reduces stress and can improve mood.


Of course, exercise cannot be left out. However, vigorous YANG styles should be moderated with YIN styles- in other words, if practicing strenuous exercise, it is best balanced by meditation, yoga or qigong.



 

If you wish to better understand your constitution from a TCM perspective and build a more balanced routine, Soulinspire can help. Booking an appointment with our Qualified and Registered TCM Practitioner today can get you started on a path of improved health and back to nourishing life.



 


Works Cited

Georgetown University Medical Center. (2016, December 20). sunlight offers surprise benefit- it energises infection fighting T cells. Retrieved from Georgetown University: https://gumc.georgetown.edu/news-release/sunlight-offers-surprise-benefit-it-energizes-infection-fighting-t-cells/

Hollins. (n.d.). Stress, microbiota and immunity. Retrieved from Sciencedirect.: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352154618301736

L.Besedovsky, T. J. (2012, November 10). Sleep and Immune function. Retrieved from PMC- US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/

Segerstrom, S. (2006, February 23). Stress weakens the immune system. Retrieved from American Psychological Association: www.apa.org/research/action/immune.

T.Lange, S. T. (2011). Sleep after vaccination boosts immunological memory. Journal of Immunology, 283-290.


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