Every Winter I see a steady stream of people coming into my office seeking relief from either an unwavering cold or flu, or a third or fourth bout of some kind of upper respiratory infection.
Droopy eyes, snorkely congestion, stuffy head and cough are common companions to these sufferers, as is the primary disabler, fatigue.
Lost work—and even worse, lost recreation—have become the norm, and these patients need help.
So why the compromised immunity? And what can be done to benefit it?
In Western Medicine, URIs (Upper Respiratory Infections) are diagnosed as being either viral, which are self-limiting, or bacterial, such as pneumonia or streptococcus. As Western medicine has been very effective at identifying many of the invading pathogens that cause these infections, Asian medicine has taken a different view in the causative factors and their subsequent treatments.
The combination of treating URIs with both acupuncture and Chinese herbs can in fact be a quick and thorough strategy in giving patients relief, as well as applying an approach to strengthening the immune response.
The foundation for building a solid immune response is:
- The efficiency of the respiratory system to give us clean and adequate air
- Our food choices and the efficiency of our digestive system to supply us with clean, nutritious food
- The mind’s ability to allow life’s challenges to occur without becoming overwhelmed
Exercise and just simply getting outdoor time can help expand our lungs and maximize our respiratory efficiency. By increasing the lung capacity, we increase our body temperature and increase our blood circulation. from there we begin to stimulate all of the body’s mechanisms to maintain health.
Another benefit of outdoor time is the accumulation of Vitamin D3.
Well-known for its benefits to bone health, D3 is synthesized from sunlight which directly improves immunity by protecting us from microbial infections. In the Chinese system sunlight is Yang, which benefits our active state, and supports the Wei (Defensive) Qi, the Chinese version of immunity.
In regards to digestion the food we eat must not only be clean and nutritious, but must be able to be absorbed properly.
Just because we drive a good car, keep it maintained, and fill up the gas tank doesn’t mean we will reach our destination if the roads are impassable.
So we look to the stomach and its Chinese medical partner, the spleen, to give us information on the digestive state and its ability to assimilate and transfer food and its role in supporting immunity.
One example of a disharmony in this area is a diet heavily weighted toward cold and raw foods. Though the meal may be rife with nutrients, they are less available since the cooking of food makes it more digestible.
Cooking is the first act of digestion.
If the food is served cold or raw, the stomach, which sits at approximately 98 degrees, must use energy to warm the food so that it can be digested. This is one reason why a person recovering from illness is given soup rather than cucumber salad. It is easier to digest and receive the nutrients.
This is not to say that a nice fruit or Caesar salad isn’t healthy or immensely enjoyable (particularly on a warm summer day). But if this kind of diet is the norm day-in and day-out, the constant taxation of the stomach and spleen (and small intestines) will take its toll, compromising the energy of the person and potentially weakening the immune response.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, psychologists in the field of “psychoneuroimmunology” have shown that our state of mind affects our state of health. Study after study have confirmed that stress, which in the Chinese system constricts and impedes, reduces the body’s ability to produce “natural killer cells” which fight infections and tumors.
In fact, numerous studies have confirmed that stress simply ravages all aspects of immunity.
This is particularly important with families whose parents have to work difficult jobs to make money as well as the elder population who already have weakened immune systems.
People over the age of 70 very often feel unsupported in our society, missing a sense of community, purpose and pleasure. With declining health and reduced lifestyle, depression and stress become chronic and debilitating. This opens the door to infections.
So, for beginning a strategy toward warding off the hazards of common colds, influenza and other infections, the strategy is three-fold:
- Exercise and spend time outside
- Eat clean and nutritious foods while supporting the vehicles that facilitate digestion
- Find tools to decrease and manage the stress in your lives