Immunity Series Part 1: A Chinese Medicine Approach

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Lifestyle Practices (1)

The change from warmer temperatures to colder ones causes many shifts in the body that we must adjust to. From a traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, the summer months are the time of the Fire element, where it is promoted to eat more “cooling” foods like cucumbers, lemons and raw salads. At this time we are more energetic and our schedules will adapt to this.

Come late summer, during the transition time of the warmer summer temperatures to cooler temperatures, the Earth element is at play. This is linked to digestion and processing, which is controlled by the Spleen and Stomach in TCM. You can also think of this time of digestion, when the ground begins to decay, as a time of “inner processing” as well. This would be a great opportunity to introduce a mindfulness and gratitude practice, as the days begin to grow shorter and moods can often by affected, as we are less energetic. It is encouraged to consume more cooked foods such as brown rice and grains, vegetables and soups as the body’s digestive ability slows down with the seasonal change.

The cooler temperatures of Autumn bring in the heartier meals such as root vegetables, soups and stews – bringing together the last of the summer’s harvest. This would also be a great time to bring in “warming” spices such as ginger, cayenne and garlic that help bring warmth to the body to adjust to the cooler temperatures. Autumn is associated with the element Metal, and the Lung in Chinese medicine. The Lung corresponds with breathing and the respiratory system – therefore this is a good time to be taking care of this part of our body with healthy immune practices (stay tuned for tips on this on the upcoming posts!). A great mind-body exercise to incorporate during this season would be a form of breathing meditation or deep breathing to learn to “breathe” and let go of concerns.

Acupuncture (2,3)

A full TCM intake can reveal whether you may have some organ imbalances leading to lowered immune function or persistent colds such as  Lung or Wei Qi Deficiency. Another TCM diagnosis for a cough and red sore throat may be Lung Heat. Depending on what the unique TCM diagnosis is will determine the acupuncture point selection, and specific dietary and herbal recommendations. A study of 10 cancer patients with acupuncture points LU8, BL66, SI5, CV12, TW4 showed a statistically significant increase in CD3 and CD8 T cells (specific type of immune cell), and also relieved fatigue, making acupuncture a great tool to aid in immune function. Acupuncture is thought to regulate the neuro-endocrine-immune network, in other words affecting neurotransmitters and hormones that then have an effect on immune cells.

Herbs (4)

A great herb to incorporate into your immune support regime is Astragalus root. This herb is part of many immune formulas and also acts as an adaptogen, supporting the adrenal glands during both environmental and external stress. Astragalus root possesses a general Qi tonifying effect and is especially helpful for the Spleen and Lung in Chinese medicine. It has been shown in studies to prevent immunosuppression during chemotherapy and to have immune-modulating effects: stimulating a suppressed immune system and regulating an over-active immune system (Ex. allergies and auto-immune disease). The active component of Astragalus, triterpenoid saponins are antimicrobial, immunomodulating, antifungal and anti-parasitic. Medicinal mushrooms also are integral components in immune formulas – for example Reishi has been shown to increase natural killer cell activity (one of our first lines of defence against pathogens and even cancer). A naturopathic doctor can skillfully create an herbal mixture containing botanicals and chinese herbs to help prevent you from developing a cold or flu and also for helping to treat one.

Together, you can have a treatment plan that encompasses both herbal medicine, lifestyle practices and acupuncture for your immune health. Book your consult here or try a free 15-minute meet & greet by indicating so on the online “book ND consult form”.

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References:

Olson (2007). Five Elements for Five Seasons. Nutrition. https://experiencelife.com/article/five-elements-for-five-seasons/

Kim et al (2014). Efficacy of saam acupuncture treatment on improvement of immune cell numbers in cancer patients: a pilot study. J Tradi Chin Med. 2014 Oct; 34(5):550-4.

Ding et al (2014). Acupuncture modulates the neuro-endocrine-immune network. QJM. May;107(5):341-5.

Godfrey, Saunders (2010). Principles & Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine.