We are all thinking about protection a lot these days: masks, distancing, testing, avoiding crowds and even our own families and friends. How can we construct shields around ourselves that will be strong enough and impenetrable enough to prevent anything from getting in? How can we make it through this tough winter, to the other side where the vaccine awaits, unscathed? While these external precautions and protections are vital, we also need to think about the internal and innate protections that are inside each of us: our immune systems. Keeping these healthy and regulated is crucial in standing up against the coronavirus, as well as against many other microbes, viruses, and pathogens. So how can we make sure our immune systems are healthy and functioning properly?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, no pill you can take every morning that will cover you from all angles: boosting your immunity is a multi-faceted project that comprises diet and exercise, managing stress and mental and emotional health, and much more. That is why acupuncture, as a holistic healing practice that takes into account the whole picture of a person’s health—not just the symptoms or outward manifestations—is one of the most important and effective ways to boost your immunity.
Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have known for many years, but Western medicine is just catching up: acupuncture boosts and regulates immunity. Acupuncture has been proven effective in treating and alleviating conditions ranging from the common cold, allergies, auto-immune and immune-related disorders and diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis to name just a few. What makes acupuncture effective? The common link between these diseases is chronic inflammation, and acupuncture is well known to have anti-inflammatory effects.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is an important immune response in itself, in which inflammatory cells trap an “offending substance” or heal the tissue that is in distress. Fluid accumulates near the site of the injury, causing swelling, redness and pain. This is a necessary process that your immune system launches to heal itself. The issue arises when your body stays in this “high alert” mode for long periods of time, because of diet, environment, or perhaps a traumatic event. When those inflammatory cells are present for too long in the blood, they cause dangerous build-ups of plaque that can lead to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and many other serious illnesses.
How Does Acupuncture Reduce Inflammation?
A recent study conducted by scientists out of Harvard Medical School elucidates the science behind acupuncture’s effect on inflammation: acupuncture can “alleviate systemic inflammation by stimulating the vagal-adrenal axis—a signaling pathway in which the vagus nerve carries signals to the adrenal glands—to trigger the glands to release dopamine…vagus-nerve stimulation tamed the activity of inflammatory molecules.”
How Does Acupuncture Target the Immune System?
A study conducted at the University of Hubei in China found that in a related and simultaneous process to the vagus nerve stimulation, acupuncture also increases the body’s level of immune cytokines, proteins that help regulate the body’s innate and adaptive immune systems, as well as increasing helper T cells, a type of white blood cell that determines the body’s immune response to antigens (foreign substances—e.g. microbes and viruses.
Acupuncture & Immunity in TCM
All these studies are exciting developments in Western medicine’s gradual understanding and embrace of acupuncture. But for Eastern medicine practitioners, we have always known that acupuncture is a powerful healing therapy capable of balancing the body’s energy system from a deep level, strengthening the protective energy the body needs to fight external pathogens.
From an Eastern medicine perspective, the mechanism behind acupuncture’s ability to boost immunity is thus: the immune system (wei qi/protective qi) is closely associated with the internal organs, especially the lungs. We can think of wei qi as the shield that is always with us, protecting us from disease. It is located in the external elements of the body: the skin and the muscles. When there are energy (qi) imbalances or deficiencies in the lung energy in particular, external pathogens are more easily able to enter and attack the body and the wei qi, being deficient, is not strong enough to fight back. Acupuncture targets specific points on the body associated with the effected organs, and works to help strengthen it and fight pathogens. With free flowing strong wei qi (protective qi) your body will be able to resist, oppose, and retaliate against those dangerous outside substances. In TCM we also have chinese herbal medicine that is formulated to strengthen wei qi and boost your immune system. Combining acupuncture and herbal medicine is a powerfully effective combination.
Some of the most effective points to target when looking to boost immunity are the ST36, LI11, LV3, LU7, and LI14. You can activate these points at home on yourself using acupressure.
ST36 (Stomach 36)
When stimulated, this point, located on the shin below the kneecap, boosts the immune system, this is one of the best points for immune boosting. it also helps build qi and blood in your body, and strengthens your wei qi. It also aids digestion.
LI11 (Large Intestine 11)
LI11 is right where the elbow creases, and it helps regulate the qi and the blood and helps clear heat (yang) in the body, one of the main causes of inflammation.
LV3 (Liver 3)
LV3 is found on the foot, between the big toe and the second toe, and it soothes the liver, an important detoxifying organ in the body, increases circulation and supports the immune system. It also helps ease stress, which can exacerbate and/or make you more susceptible to illness.
LU7 (Lung 7)
Situated on the wrist, LU7 strengthens the lungs, which, as mentioned above is closely associated with the immune system in TCM.
LI4 (Large Intestine 4)
Located on the hand, between the thumb and the index finger, this point is a powerful anti-inflammatory, targeting “wind” conditions that result in cold and flu, fever, congestion, etc. When stimulated, this point is also a power anti-inflammatory.
So keep wearing that mask; continue to social distance; avoid large crowds. But make sure you are also nurturing yourself and making time for self care. One thing you can do yourself at home is stimulate the points listed above on your own with acupressure. And to boost your immune system this winter, work with a licensed acupuncturist. Book an appointment with Jen Becker Acupuncture, where we can make sure all your energies are in balance and your inner disease-fighter, your immune system, is strong and supported.