by Joel Delaney, Acupuncturist
Chinese medicine has understood the importance of the “immune system” for thousands of years. But what really is an immune system from an acupuncture understanding?
The energy that protects our body from getting sick is call the Wei Qi. It is the energy that sits on the top of our skin and protects us from “evil pathogens”, like wind and cold. Our Wei Qi needs to be stronger than the “evil pathogen” so they can’t enter our body and make us ill! Sound a little crazy? A lot of you might answer yes! But have you ever woken from a night sleeping under a fan or with the air conditioner on with a sniffle or sore throat? The terms used in classical acupuncture text may not have the same relevance today but these very primitive ways of looking at the immune are often still practically very relevant.
It is said that the Lungs govern the Wei Qi and their function is to push this protective energy to the surface of our skin. The Lung are also said to open to the nose and the throat, which makes sense when you think how we breathe. Have you noticed that when we get sick, first you get a sniffley nose and possibly a sore throat, “then it goes to your chest”, the lungs! Chinese medicine states that if the Lungs are strong then so is the “immune” or our ability to protect ourselves from pathogens. As the Lungs push energy and moisture to the skin, they nourish and strengthen our largest single organ (the skin). We often see this relationship highlighted with asthma and eczema often occurring together.
But it goes further than that. As most of us know, there is Yin and Yang. The Lungs are considered Yin and their Yang counterpart is the Large Intestine. With our modern understand of the immune system, we now know that 70-80% of it is made in the gut. This relationship has been known about since the development of acupuncture. The Intestines support the Lungs and visa versa.
When strengthening the body’s immune system with acupuncture, it isn’t as simplistic as just strengthening the Lungs or Large Intestine. It is about correcting your body’s individual imbalance so it can support and strengthen the Lungs and Large Intestine. This said, there are specific ways we can help support the immune when it is acutely run down (i.e. you have a cold.). These points can often relate to (you guessed it) the Lung and Large intestine. The Large Intestine channel ends at the nose and can often be used for nasal / sinus related issues. Techniques such as moxibustion can help increase white blood cell count which assists immunity.
Our immune system is one of the most complex systems we know and the intricacies of how it keeps us alive cannot be underestimated. Although refining the techniques of acupuncture can take a life time, the principles are simple: Support the body so it can support itself. By doing this, our primitive understanding of the body can harness the efficiency of our most complex system.
Wellness is a daily practice so I’ve included some tips to help you stay as well as possible and to support your immune system.
Some tips for staying well this winter:
- Cover your neck from cold winds (this area is considered most susceptible to “evil pathogens”)
- Keep your sinuses clean, this can be done with a Netti pot and warm salt water.
- Support your digestion: Eat nutritious, warming food.
- Take immune boosting herbs and supplements