Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of natural therapies is their ability to optimize immune function and prevent illness and disease. In particular, Chinese and naturopathic medicine have a tremendous arsenal of natural remedies that can effectively heighten immunity and greatly reduce the chance of serious pathology from occurring. Immune weakness is certainly a ubiquitous concern in the modern world, as cancer, AIDS, autoimmune disease (multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, etc.), and pandemics such as the Avian bird flu constitute major health hazards for the global population. Although Western medicine can be miraculous in its ability to save lives, it is notably vacuous in its repertoire of natural agents to bolster immunity and balance one’s physiology. Therefore, it is imperative that the health benefits of natural therapies such as acupuncture, herbs, nutritional supplements, and dietary strategies be made available to as many people as possible. Let’s examine the main approaches of each of these therapies.
Practiced for over 2,500 years in various Asian cultures, acupuncture has finally made its way to the Western world. In my clinical practice, many patients have sought treatment for weak immunity. A typical pattern includes frequent colds and flus, recurring sinus infections, fatigue, stress, and insomnia. For this constellation of symptoms, acupuncture can be an effective way to break the cycle of chronic vulnerability to the elements. Acupuncture works by regulating the flow of Qi (life force) through 14 major meridians on the body. Immune weakness is typically due to deficient Qi of the lungs and spleen. When these organs are weak, symptoms such as allergies, diarrhea, fatigue, cough, and recurring infections are commonplace. For these issues, acupuncture points are chosen on the lung and spleen meridians to supplement the Qi, thereby strengthening immune function.
Moxibustion is also a powerful tool in the acupuncture repertoire. Moxibustion is a heat therapy that involves the use of mugwort, an herb that is applied topically on acupuncture points. Moxibustion has been shown in studies to increase white blood cell count in chemotherapy patients and other cases of immune weakness. For patiens with recurring infections and colds, moxibustion is an excellent technique for naturally bolstering immunity.
There is one Chinese herbal formula that has gained international recognition for its ability to immediately strengthen immunity. The formula is called Jade Windscreen or Yu Ping Feng San. It has been used in China for many centuries as a natural preventative against environmental pathogens. Jade Windscreen is a simple formula that consists of three herbs: huang qi/astragalus, fang feng/siler, and bai zhu/atractylodes. Astragalus is considered one of the most renowned immune strengthening herbs on the planet. It is very helpful for chronic cycles of infection and illness.
Another class of herbs that is used for a variety of immunity issues is medicinal mushrooms. This class of herbs is frequently used for immune regulation in serious patterns of cancer and AIDS. Mushrooms such as shitake, reishi, ganoderma, maitake, and poria have numerous health benefits that are beyond the scope of this article. If you have serious immune dysfunction, I recommend learning more about these amazing medicinals.
Echinacea is probably the most commonly applied herb for prevention of colds and flus. Recent research suggests that this herb is not as effective as many have been led to believe. A recent major study concluded that Echinacea is no more effective than placebo in warding off and treating colds and flus.
The food we eat is one of the most important determinants in not only our immune function, but our overall health. Many people have weak immune systems because they are eating processed, refined, and rich diets that are devoid of the essential nutrients that the body needs for optimal health. Here are a few simple steps you can take right now to greatly strengthen immunity:
- Start eating organic foods
- Drink 6-9 glasses filtered water daily
- Drink green tea instead of coffee
- Reduce intake of refined sugar and carbohydrates
- Eat 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables
- Minimize pasteurized dairy
- Eat a diet rich in essential fats and low in transfats and saturated fats
- Supplements such as zinc, vitamin C and green tea extract can be helpful adjuncts to ward off illness.
HEALING THE STRESS RESPONSE
Stress can be a major cause of immune weakness. Many studies from the field of psychoneuroimmunology have clearly demonstrated the link between stress and immunity. Along with acupuncture and herbs, two of the most powerful practices you can undertake for overcoming chronic stress are yoga and meditation. I recommend practicing each about 1/2 hour per day. This can profoundly heighten your quality of life and health.