Most Australians recognise that it is important to maintain a healthy regimen that includes a balanced diet, regular physical exercise, and self-care activities to reduce stress. Taking care of ourselves does not only mean keeping a healthy weight and clear skin, but also has the benefit of strengthening our immune systems against everything from the common code to the flu, or help our bodies to fight off sickness.
In light of the changes COVID-19 has made to everyone’s life around the world, many people began to turn their attention back to something we have control over in life, the balance of our immune system. In a time like this. it is more important to keep ourselves healthy and make healthy choices to keep our bodies in top condition. Immune boosting has become a popular health trend in recent years.
While there are many ways to boost our immune system, there are also ways to avoid putting additional pressure on our bodies, so when we are exposed to disease-causing microbes, such as the Coronavirus that is spreading globally at an extreme rate, our bodies can fight hard in order to limit the extent to which we are harmed. Before we delve into strategies to keep the immune system working efficiently and staying in harmony with the rest of your body, let’s explore what exactly the immune system is and how it works.
What is the immune system, and how does it work?
All living organisms, even microscopic bacteria, have an immune system. Humans have a much more complex immune system comprised of many biological structures and processes that work together to protect us against diseases. The main job of the immune system is to defend the body against foreign or dangerous invaders and promote clearance of dead or sick cells. It keeps your body from bacteria, viruses, and substances that look to be foreign and harmful to the body and protects us from getting sick from diseases they cause. (The immune system can distinguish between what belongs in the body (self) and what does not (nonself). When an invader is detected, an immune response is activated.)
White blood cells (WBC) play a key role in the immune system. They move through your bloodstream and tissues, looking for pathogens pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites that invade the body and can cause health issues. When WBC detect them, they launch an immune attack. WBC are made in your bone marrow and stored in the lymphoid organs. Some types of white blood cells, called phagocytes, essentially destroy and “eat” pathogens. Others, called lymphocytes, form a sort of memory of past invaders, produce anti-bodies, and stay on watch to alert the clean up cells if this pathogen returns – which is how immunizations work. When you feel you get an infection, the symptoms you suffer (fever, malaise, headache, rash) are not actually from the virus or infection itself but the signs that your body is fighting against the infection or virus and triggering an immune response.
Overall, the immune system is not a single entity but an extremely complex system. We need to have it being balanced and working at optimal levels at all times. A healthy immune system is extremely important for your overall health. To fight infections, viruses and other diseases, you need a robust immune system.
Traditional Chinese Medicine’s perspective on the immune system
The immune system and all other systems are viewed very differently in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM takes a holistic view of everything and does not separate the immune system from the rest of the body. In order to maintain a healthy immune system, all of the body’s systems, including qi, blood, body fluids, meridians, and organs, must be balanced and functioning optimally. These systems in the body work together to build up the strength of the body’s defences.
In TCM theory, the body’s ability to fight disease and heal itself when disease occurs is determined by the healthy circulation of “zheng qi”, or healthy qi, through the body. If “zheng qi” is abundant and flows freely, we can fight pathogens before they cause any significant damages. This “zheng qi” is similar to the movement of white blood cells in the blood. When ” zheng qi” is abundant, pathogens cannot dominate. So how can we ensure that we have enough of the zheng qi, as well as healthy qi, blood, body fluids, and the meridians and organs in our body are unblocked and functioning well? Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines are certainly very effective in maintaining perfect internal balance or restoring the balance for good health. There are also many other natural ways to bring balance and harmony to our immune system.
How Traditional Chinese Medicine can boost your immune system
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), including acupuncture and herbal medicines, is one of the many traditional therapies focus on disease prevention . The basic principle of TCM is to treat the cause or origin of the problem, not the resulting symptoms. Illness, pain, and dysfunction are considered symptoms or expressions of the underlying imbalance. By addressing the root cause, patients can see improvements in many aspects of their health and well-being. The goal of all TCM methods is to restore balance to the body so that it can heal itself, and the immune system is part of this healing. While more research is needed to determine exactly how TCM can help boost the immune system, there is increasing evidence that acupuncture, along with related exercises such as Qigong and Taiji, as well as herbal remedies (particularly mushrooms), can regulate the immune system of the body. Further studies are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of TCM on the immune system.
Acupuncture treats the mind and body as a whole, and may help with boosting serotonin and endorphin levels, calming the nervous system, clearing stagnant energy and assisting everything to flow as it should. Studies show that acupuncture modulates the immune system and also has anti-inflammatory effects, which is particularly useful for patients suffering from symptoms caused by the coronavirus. The studies have demonstrated that acupuncture increases the body’s ability to fight infection and alleviates the body’s occasional but very damaging tendency to overreact. In addition to the directly measurable indicators, there is also convincing scientific evidence from the studies showing that acupuncture can relieve symptoms of chronic pain, anxiety and stress. These debilitating disease states all have a significant and detrimental effect on our immune system.
TCM can help reduce the stress response and increase the liver’s ability to cope with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We can use herbs such as Astragalus, Cordyceps and Ginkgo biloba to strengthen respiratory function and ensure that the lungs work efficiently, preventing pathogens from entering and promoting good blood circulation in case something gets inside. Acupuncture can naturally calm the central nervous system, relieve pain, and move Qi, keeping the body prepared for healing.
Cupping can help keep the lungs clear and strengthen the immune system. Cupping stimulates the circulation of the blood and lymphatic system, and is usually used to treat muscle spasms, injuries and general well-being. The heat from the cups applies negative pressure , which causes quite a bit of local inflammation and stimulates the immune response. Cupping can also help loosen phlegm . If you’ve used cupping for colds, you may have noticed that mucus drains after a session. In short, cupping opens the pores in your back, which can release pathogens that may be trying to invade your body. This forced opening of the pores also improves the lungs’ ability to keep the pores open and closed as needed.
Demonstrating whether acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines can boost immunity remains a complicated problem. For example, while certain herbs appear to increase antibody levels in the blood, it is unknown by scientists as to whether they actually improves general immunity. Although more clinical studies and research are needed to provide substantial evidence of the effects of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines in boosting the immune system, many patients do report improvements after treatment..
Other natural methods of immune system enhancement
There are many things we can and cannot do beyond conventional treatments to protect ourselves. The first and perhaps most important step we can take is to ensure our diet is balanced and rich in fresh, nutrient-dense food. We know that vitamin C plays an important role in the immune system because it enhances the ability of white blood cells to destroy foreign invaders (microbes). Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that improves and supports the skin’s barrier function. We also know that things like sugar, alcohol and fatty foods will damage our digestion if not consumed in moderation, which can lead to a buildup of toxins for the body to process, as well as the risk of leaky gut, flooding the blood stream with unwanted substances. Both of these situations can weaken the immune system.
In TCM, foods are divided into categories based on one of five flavours and their effects on the body. It’s important to balance your food intake so you don’t end up tipping your balance off. For example, Dairy products are considered to contribute to promoting dampness in the body. Excessive amounts of these food may produce more phlegm, which can accumulate in many parts of the body, including the lungs. The presence of phlegm in the lungs inhibits the ability to regulate the opening and closing of pores. On the other hand, some foods such as turkey are drying and warming. So eating these food can help dry out phlegm in the lungs. Another example is alcohol, which can be a medicine in small doses because it can help dispel wind and cold and improve blood circulation. But when consumed in excess, alcohol adds excess heat to the body and can lead to liver damage and poor digestive function.
The next on the list is exercise. We all know it’s important to do some form of physical activities every day, but how does this affect our immunity? Exercise keeps us healthy by draining the lymphatic system. When we move our bodies, such as walking briskly, jogging or jumping up and down, gravity moves fluid through the lymphatic system. As we mentioned earlier, this is a very important function in preventing pathogens from invading. Along with movement of the lymphatic system, exercise also helps the heart pump blood faster, improving circulation to eliminate toxins. This is also supported by the TCM theory, we need to constantly move so that our qi, blood and body fluids keep moving as well.
Stress management is another important factor related to our immunity. Of course, sometimes this may seem easier said than done. We live in a fast-paced world where it seems there is always more expected of us. When we are stressed, our bodies get stuck in fight-or-flight mode, keeping our nervous system on high alert and suppressing the immune system.
According to TCM, when we experience stress, our liver becomes sluggish and unable to circulate qi throughout the body effectively. The lungs and all other organs depend on the steady flow of qi to function. Therefore, when stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious effects on every system in the body, including the lungs and immune system. Exercise will will pump up endorphins and reduce cortisol, and daily meditation for 15 minutes can profoundly affect our moods. Whether you practise meditation or enjoy a sport, maintaining a low-stress level will enhance your immune system.
It’s also critical to get enough sleep and rest every day. Researches suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake . Many important activities happen in our brains while we’re sleeping. Lack of good quality sleep can affect regulation of key chemicals produced by the immune system to fight infection and viruses. As a matter of fact, studies show people who don’t get enough sleep (less than 7 hours a night) are three times more likely to get sick.
While the idea of boosting the health of your immune system is enticing, the ability to refine your immune system has proven elusive for many reasons. The immune system is not a single unit, but a complex system. To function well you need balance and harmony. Scientists still know little about the complexity and connections of the immune response. There is currently no direct, scientifically proven connection between lifestyle and improved immune function. However, this does not mean that the effects of lifestyle on the immune system are not of interest and should not be studied in more detail. Scientists are conducting further research to study the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress and other factors on the immune response in animals and humans. In the meantime, general healthy lifestyle strategies make sense because they are likely to support immune system function and have other proven health benefits.
There is no panacea to prevent or combat disease. From time to time, germs can enter this mechanism and make us sick. However, there are many things we can do every day to keep our bodies in shape. We can’t always fight every possible infection, but we can keep all of our organs functioning optimally. This way, if we fall victim to a pathogen, it will be easier for us to fight it off.