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TCM and the Immune System

BY ANTONIO PIRRELLO

 

With the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), which is challenging public health officials worldwide, many people are feeling the need to take preventative measures. Interestingly, the concept of ‘supporting a healthy immune system’ is not a clearly defined concept in evidence-based medicine, but Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does offer some insights based on centuries of clinical experience. 

According to TCM, illnesses are more likely to occur when the body’s defences have been compromised, depleted and weakened by an unhealthy diet, poor sleep habits over time and a stressful lifestyle. It is crucial to remember that the human body is designed to heal itself when placed in an ideal environment.

The immune system as considered by TCM in terms of two parts, one internal and the other external. The external part, called Wei Qi (defensive Qi), is the responsible for the body’s natural ability to fight microbes that can cause illnesses, such as colds and flu. 

It is well established that cold and flu season peaks during the colder months, and it is generally accepted that this is partly because cold stress alters immune function in complex ways that weaken our defences, making it easier for viruses to infect cells.  This is described in the classical TCM literature, which uses a metaphor to describe a pathology called Wind Cold. Basically, TCM teaches that excess wind and cold will weaken the Wei Qi, making us more prone to external pathology like viral infections.

TCM practitioners/Acupuncturist commonly use diet, extracts of astragalus (Huang Qi) and other plant remedies, and acupuncture to reset balance and restore more normal function of the Wei Qi.  In terms of acupuncture, some of the most commonly used points include:

  • Li4; Harmonize Qi.
  • Lu7; expel the pathogen “wind”, and descend Qi (facilitate breathing).
  • St36; support and strengthen the Qi.
  • Bl13; strengthen the Lungs, reduce cough and phlegm.
  • Bl12; strengthen the Wei Qi, stimulate the immune system.

These points can be used as a preventative measure, or soon after the onset of Wind Cold signs and symptoms.  These include shivering, headache, dry throat, muscle aches and fatigue.  Other commonly points include: 

  • Gb20; expel the pathogen “wind”.
  • St40; reduce phlegm.
  • Herbs: Sheng Jiang (ginger), Chon Bai (green eschalots). 

Acupuncture involves stimulating these points with needles. Acupressure is also commonly recommended for self-care, which involves stimulating acupuncture points using firm finger pressure, typically with intermittent pressure for 30/40 sec on each point, once or twice per day. 

The coronavirus is an imminent and serious public health threat, but it is only one of many viruses that have shared the environment for thousands of years.  Proper medical assessment and treatment is essential, especially if an infection makes breathing difficult or laboured.  But based on the recognized fact that modern medicine has no effective treatment for coronavirus, this pandemic is an ideal time to learn about lifestyle and wellness approaches that may support the prevention and treatment of these kinds of illnesses.

Antonio Pirrello, R.T.C.M..P., R.Ac.

(antonio@vitalitytherapy.ca)