By Michael G. Pingicer, M.S., L.Ac.
Oh, winter. Yes, it's that time of year again. Coworkers in the office are out of (or in) the office with a cold or the flu. It seems like everyone on the subway and on the street is sneezing, coughing, sniffling, and blowing their nose. You see it every year, or you might be one of those people I am talking about. Do you tend to get sick multiple times during a season? Do seasonal bugs hit you hard and put you down for the count for weeks at a time? Do you have a hard time getting over a cold resulting in you having the sniffles all season? These patterns can tax your quality of life to a great extent. You may miss a lot of work because you are at home in bed. The holiday cheer that you were dead set on spreading has been put on the back burner along with that lengthy shopping and baking list for family and friends. Wouldn't it be nice to have a winter where you are not continually catching the latest strain of the common cold or flu? Maybe you would catch a cold only once during the winter like the others. Well, have no fear - Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is here.
What is the Immune System and Immune Response?
The immune system provides an individual's body with the ability to fight disease. It is a complex of organs - including highly specialized cells and even a circulatory system (the lymphatic system) separate from blood vessels - all of which work together to clear infection from the body. The organs of the immune system, positioned throughout the body, are called lymphoid organs1. You may have felt your lymph nodes around your throat swell when you are sick because they are working overtime to battle the acute infection that is in your body. This is part of the immune response, how your body recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, and substances that appear foreign and harmful to the body2.
The immune system produces cells that travel throughout the body looking for foreign invaders & pathogens that are aiming to make you sick. There are cells that can destroy the pathogens and other cells that create anti-bodies so that you don't get sick from that pathogen again. This is your body's line of defense against illness, but the immune system can often be compromised due to other illnesses or other stressors creating immunodeficiency. Among many other reasons, immunodeficiency can come from wide-ranging reasons such as a disease, like HIV and some forms of cancer, or it can come from history of malnutrition. There are some biomedical drugs that can improve immunity, but they are pretty serious drugs that are only given when the person's immune system is severely compromised. TCM is a way for a person who has lingering acute illness or chronic recurrent illness of a head cold or the flu to be able to kick it quicker or be sick less frequently.
Feeling under the weather?
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TCM Immunity Theory
TCM has long been used as a preventative medicine and has been used to improve immunity in people. The wei qi is known as the defense qi that circulates on the surface of the body near the skin. When the wei qi is strong, one is properly protected from invasions of evil qi. One can think of the wei qi as the immune system and the evil qi as the common cold/the flu. When one's wei qi is vacuous or depleted, one becomes sick because the external evil has invaded the body causing illness. If one's overall qi strong in general, one will overcome illness quickly and return to health, but if the qi is vacuous, one will have recurring or lingering illness. This is where TCM comes into play. TCM treatments of herbs, acupuncture, and dietary therapy can be utilized to strengthen the qi.
Acupuncture Research Studies & Immunity
A very recent study regarding acupuncture's effect on boosting immunity took place from July through November of 2007. The study looked at the effects of acupuncture on the body's natural killer cell response to strenuous exercise in endurance athletes. The results found that the basal activity in these cells, which are key to overall immune health, increased significantly in response to acupuncture treatments.3 Another study looked at the effect of acupuncture on the regulation of cell-mediated immunity in the patients with malignant tumors. This is a slightly different way to look at immunity-boosting than we have been talking about, but the basic principle is still the same. This study found that acupuncture can heighten the cellular immune function of patients, providing a beneficial effect in anti-cancer treatment.4 Moxibustion is a technique used often in boosting immunity along with acupuncture. In a study looking at the effect of moxibustion, 42 between 55-70 years of age were selected and given moxibustion and acupuncture. The results showed that immune hormone content increased significantly after the warm needling.5
Always getting sick in the winter?
Call (212) 894-0767 for a free 15 minute consultation.
Treatment & Prevention: Year-Round Immunity Awareness
Chinese medicine has successfully treated the cold and flu for thousands of years with Chinese herbs and acupuncture treatment. Our treatment either stops the cold and flu within one to two days or significantly reduces symptoms and duration.6 Chinese medicine also helps resolve sinus congestion, infections and coughs. For more detailed information on treatments read our article Treatment of the Cold & Flu.
For prevention the ideal time is to come for TCM immunity-boosting treatment is the height of the summer, the total opposite of winter. Summer is the time when the yang qi of nature is at its peak and the yang qi of the body should also be at its peak level. If it is not, this could mean a vacuity of qi and in turn, of the wei (protective) or immunity meaning more illness for you in the winter. The hottest point of the summer (August for New Yorkers) allows for the strongest tonification of the yang qi. TCM can help to tonify the qi of the body and the wei (protective) qi to help the body be protected in the winter.
Chinese medicine has successfully treated the cold and flu for thousands of years with Chinese herbs and acupuncture treatment. Our treatment either stops the cold and flu within one to two days or significantly reduces symptoms and duration. Chinese medicine also helps resolve sinus congestion, infections and coughs.
Don't get stuck being sick all of the time; improve your quality of life by improving your immunity through TCM.
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1NIAID Net News
2National Library of Medicine
3American College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
4National Center for Biotechnology Information
5Li Su, et al., Effects of warm needling at zusanli (ST-36) on nitrous oxide and IL-2 levels in middle-aged and old people, Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 2003; 23(2): 127-128
6Treatment of Cold & Flu, Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac.,
"Juliette wrote for the Pulse of Oriental Medicine website in its heyday, and we collaborated on a few other such efforts. She is one of the most professional, intelligent, and sensible practitioners of OM I know. She can teach complicated topics in an engaging and even entertaining way. I highly recommend her and her work."
- Dr. Kevin Scrigeour, L.Ac.