Allison Millar, LAc
Immunity & Traditional Chinese Medicine
I've been wanting to share some keys to immunity from my perspective as an acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine for while. And, given the current COVID-19 situation, there couldn't be a better time!
In Biochemical/ Western Terms
We know that acupuncture works, although we don’t exactly know how. One of the reasons we know this is because we can measure the differences in blood serum levels of participants in studies before and after they receive acupuncture (Reference 1). And, here’s what they show:
Increase in White Blood Cells/ Leucocytes (which, help the body fight infections)
Increase in Prostaglandins (hormone-like substances that the body releases in response to injury or illness)
Increase in Gamma globulins (proteins needed to form antibodies in response to bacteria or virus’)
This is why acupuncture has been so helpful for patients I have worked with who used to experience recurrent sinus infections, those who frequently came down with colds, and even for patients that while undergoing chemotherapy, have needed to increase their WBC count.
In addition to biochemical actions, acupuncture also has an effect on the central nervous system. By activating the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest/relax mechanism) and down-regulating our sympathetic nervous system (our fight/flight response mode), it helps mitigate stress, a key underlying factor involved in immunity.
An important thing to note is that acupuncture works in a self-regulating way. It boosts the innate healing response of our body, which knows at a deep level, the right thing to do. So, interestingly, the same points have different effects on different people, depending on what is going on in each body, specifically. And, this explains how acupuncture also works well for patients with allergies and auto-immune conditions, which are both caused by overactive immune systems!
Wei Qi, Lung Qi and Kidney Qi
So far we’ve talked ‘shop’ in western medical lingo. In the language of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), when we work on the immune system, we are working to strengthen ‘Wei Qi’. Wei Qi is our defensive qi and it circulates throughout an outer layer of our bodies, between the skin and the muscles. It is produced by the combination of the air we breathe with the nutrients we absorb from food. The Wei qi prevents invasion of external pathogens such as wind, cold, or damp. In addition, it helps to regulate body temperature. If you have weak Wei qi or, your Wei qi has been compromised, you could experience aversion to heat or cold or excess sweating. Lung qi circulates our Wei qi and Kidney Yang plays a primary role in the production of Wei qi. We won’t go into detail about the Lung or Kidney organ systems but, it’s worth noting (and, time-appropriate) that the unbalanced emotion of Kidneys, the water element, is fear. And, the virtuous emotion is trust- as in, a deep sense of knowing that your body is taking care of you.
Wind-Cold vs. Wind-Heat
Above, I mentioned some examples of external pathogens like damp, cold , and wind. But, what is an external pathogen? Well, in TCM, there are 8 principles: hot/cold, yin/yang, excess/deficient, and internal/external. This means that with every pattern we diagnose via the scope of TCM, it can be classified as internal, or generated from the inside, or external, acquired from outside the body. For example, physical trauma is considered external, whereas a weak digestive system would be considered internal. External pathogens literally invade our bodies from the outside. They start at a superficial level and if the Wei qi is not strong enough to push them out, they sink deeper and deeper inward. The symptoms our bodies experience when we are fighting off a ‘pathogen’, such as coughing/sneezing, runny nose, sinus congestion, and body temperature fluctuations are all expressions our our body’s fight to overcome the pathogen. Symptoms of wind-cold invasion would be muscle stiffness (especially, a stiff neck, as this is the area of the body where it invades), chills and aversion to cold, headache, and white or clear-colored phlegm. Sings of a wind-heat invasion would be a sore throat, feeling warm and/or agitated (whether or not there is a fever), aversion to heat, yellow or green-colored phlegm.
When heat is present, my preferred method to clear the heat, besides acupuncture, is guasha. This involves using a tool to gently scrape the skin of the upper back. A redness will appear, which indicates the heat leaving the body. Another method I like to use, always with the patient’s permission, of course, is blood-letting. With this method, I use a lancet to prick visible small veins or capillaries on the elbows, back of the knees, or upper back, and release just a few drops of blood; it is an excellent way to clear heat.
If cold is present, my preferred method of warming, is moxibustion. Moxibustion is a type of heat therapy that has been used alongside acupuncture for thousands of years; I place a small piece of the herb mugwort, or “moxa”, on an acupuncture point, light it with a small stick of incense, and take it off just before it hits the skin. Burning moxa in this way penetrates heat deep within the body, which helps the body to expel the cold.
Stomach 36 is a particular effective point on which to burn moxa. I often send my patients home with either moxa sticks or moxa 'stick-ons', to treat themselves daily at home. Since, Wei qi is made from a combination of the air we breathe and the food we eat, it makes sense that a powerful point for immunity is located on the stomach channel. By the way, about 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut! (Reference 2)
Basic Balance Basics to a Healthy Immune System
It is easy to get overwhelmed amidst the multitude of immune-boosting advice out there; During this time, as always, please remember the basics:
•Get plenty of sleep and rest
•Reduce your stress
•Stay positive and grateful (Energetically, viruses feed on fear, which is a lower vibration. Substitute and/or balance fear with higher vibrations like love, joy, beauty, and humor) •Let nature support you
•Take a brisk walks daily: breathe deeply to clear and strengthen the lungs.
•Get full exposure to the sun; virus’s hate the sun.
•Decrease your intake of alcohol, sugar, and processed foods
•Wash hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes/nose/mouth As many are facing fear or anxiety regarding the uncertainties of COVID19 in the coming future, it may be helpful to remember that fear is a collective energy (ie. penetrates the energy field that we are all a part of). Therefore, creating energetic boundaries, so we remain uninfluenced by the feelings/responses of others, and focused on our own truth, can be very helpful.
•A simple and powerful exercise for creating an energetic boundary is to visualize a gold aura around yourself. Take a minute or two to sit in a comfortable position, quiet your mind as best as possible, take a few deep breaths, and envision being saturated and protected/shielded with this gold light. When you are in public, watching the news, or facing the opinions/responses of others head-on, simply call this light forward.
•A short and simple exercise to clear energy that is not yours is the qi gong exercise, “trembling horse”. And, here is a longer, 40 minute qi gong routine by Jeffery Chand, for immunity.
As, acupuncture is not considered an "essential business", appointments will resume May 4th. Please, feel free to reach out if you’d like some moxa to burn at home, or the location of Stomach-36 so you can stimulate it with acupressure.
Warm wishes and best of health to all,
Reference 1: https://www.evidencebasedacupuncture.org/
Reference 2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/