As we approach the winter months, it’s important to be mindful of our health and understand the ways in which we can support our immune systems. This is particularly apt in the wake of the upcoming flu season which is further complicated this year by the COVID 19 pandemic.
It is understandable to feel fearful as many people think we have little control over our health and reactions to infections, but this is not strictly true. The good news is, there is plenty we can do to strengthen our immune systems and reduce the risk of severe illness from any virus.
The Eastern Approach
In Chinese Medicine a pathogen (virus) can only enter the body if a persons Wei Qi (pronounced way chee) is weak. Wei Qi can also be described as defensive Qi (think of the red glow in the ready break advert), this is the way Chinese medicine views the immune system. This model mirrors our western understanding of why some people have severe reactions to viruses, whilst others are described as asymptomatic. They just have good Wei Qi !
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a medical system that has been used for over 3000 years. It evolved in a time where modern drugs were not available. It was peasant medicine, used to keep the population fit and able to work. The major difference between western and Chinese Medicine is that Chinese Medicine was designed by necessity to be preventative medicine. This was partly because pandemics were a major threat at that time, so it was essential that the population remained as strong and healthy as possible. Interestingly, the village doctor would only get paid whilst their patients were well, but not if they got sick. This is completely at odds with our western thinking, but in light of our current situation, I think it is pretty smart.
It may be surprising to learn that back then, food was used as first line medicine. Doctors would prescribe a broth to help boost the patients immune system and to ward off any illness; if this was unsuccessful, then herbs and acupuncture would be added. This is not at odds with our understanding now. We know that quality, nutritional foods play a major role in the health of our society. If we lack essential nutrients in our diet or eat too much sugar or processed foods then we are more susceptible to disease.
Chinese Medicine has lots to offer in terms of immune boosting as it was designed to work this way. My heart sinks when a new patient comes in with a long-standing, chronic condition and says “you are my last resort” as I know had they come to me sooner, that their journey to health would have been far quicker. Unfortunately, culturally we are brought up to only seek treatment once we are really sick rather than engage in treatment in order to stay well.
Over the last 5 years Western Medicine has caught on to some of these ancient techniques to boost the immune system by utilising methods which use immune acupuncture points with a burning herb called ‘Moxa’ (Artemisia vulgaris). This protocol is currently being used successfully to boost white blood cell counts during chemotherapy in cancer care and to reduce many of the side effects associated with chemotherapy, supporting the patient to complete their full treatment schedule. Moxa on the immune points is also proving successful in the treatment of drug resistant tuberculosis in parts of Africa and for many years It has been utilised in the NHS for turning breech babies, so, it really is a bit of a wonder herb!
Top Tips for boosting immunity:
1. Eat quality whole foods that have high nutritional value
2. Get your daily free dose of Vitamin D by getting out in the sunshine ( even on a cloudy day)
3. Take regular moderate exercise
4. Get adequate sleep
5. Maintain a healthy weight
6. Don’t smoke
7. Drink alcohol in moderation
8. Consider supplements like Vit C, Vit D and Zinc
9. Keep well hydrated
10. Visit a TCM practitioner for an immune boosting treatment