Our immune system is responsible for keeping bacteria, viruses, microbes and toxins from interrupting the normal functions of the body. It is a complex system that involves specialized cells (such as T-cells, B cells, macrophages and others) that recognize and destroy foreign entities. Poor nutrition, stress, lack of sleep and repeated exposure to harmful agents all lead to a declining immune system that is no longer able to respond effectively when the need arises. And once it is compromised, a weak immune system results in frequent colds, allergies, the inability to fight off infections and general feelings of malaise.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are effective tools to strengthen a weakened immune system. The National Institute of Health and many published studies concur that acupuncture has far-reaching effects on immune system health from increasing red and white cell counts in compromised patients to increasing lymphocyte proliferation and natural killer cell activity in patients fighting illness. This activity is accomplished through the needling of specific acupuncture points and their subsequent effect on the nervous system. Other effects of acupuncture relax the body, help a person sleep and promote healthy digestion all of which support a healthy immune system.
Many Chinese herbs prescribed in the clinic are recognized for enhancing the immune system and are combined synergistically to prevent and treat infections. A study published in Journal of Clinical & Laboratory Immunology found that astragalus (huang qi) increases both specific and non-specific immunity. Ganoderma (ling zhi) can increase the number of white blood cells and also inhibit the growth of various viruses and bacteria as presented in Cellular Immunology. According to the Chinese Medical Journal, Cordyceps (dong chong xia cao) has a strong effect on overall immunity by increasing lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Other herbs act to dry excessive mucus, relieve sore throat and sinus pressure, clear lung congestion and open airways.
Each person presents with different needs and deficiencies. Acupuncture points and Chinese herbs are tailored to the individual case to produce best results, but both offer a natural and effective way to strengthen the immune system. As Western science continues to study Traditional Chinese Medicine, we become more familiar with how it is able to influence our immunity in beneficial ways.