Immune system disorders include a wide range of conditions, ranging from common colds to allergies and auto-immune diseases. A healthy immune system should be able to ward off any pathogens from our organisms, maintaining a protective layer at the level of our skin, known as Wei Qi or Protective Energy in Chinese medicine. At the same time, this warding-off function should be used intelligently, without causing harm to the healthy organs and systems of our bodies. So a balanced immune system should be right between these two opposites - extreme weakness and excessive strength.
Here are some examples how Chinese medicine can help with restoring the immune system’s equilibrium:
a) Weakness (deficiency) of the immune system. In TCM, a cold or flu is interpreted as an invasion of our bodies by either Wind-Heat or Wind-Cold, depending on our specific symptoms. In this case, an airborne pathogen enters the body from the superficial (skin) level. If our immune system shield is not strong enough, the pathogen can then advance to deeper levels of the body - the muscles, bones and blood, lodging deeper and deeper. The aim of a TCM treatment in this case will be first to help the body to get rid of the pathogens and restore our strength and then gradually reinforce our protective shield, preventing the new pathogens from invading again.
b) Overactive (excessive) immune system response. This includes situations when the immune system “makes a mistake”, over-reacting to something normally harmless. A good example of this is a seasonal rhinitis or hay-fever, a condition when the immune system responds too strongly to the pollen. In this case, instead of reinforcing, it needs to be tuned down, thus reducing any associated uncomfortable symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and throat irritation. A similar principle applies to the treatment of various forms of allergies and more complex chronic auto-immune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome, for example.
Chinese medical treatment can thus be both preventative (strengthening and rebalancing the weakened or overactive immune system) and curative (expelling the pathogens already lodged in the body). We can use specific acupuncture points and/or Chinese herbs to harmonise the immune function, simultaneously reducing stress on the nervous system.
In Chinese medicine, the following major organs are responsible for our immune system’s health and balanced functioning:
The lungs - govern Qi (energy) and respiration / open into the skin, regulating opening and closing of its pores;
The kidneys - affect our birth, growth, reproduction and development / control the reception of Qi;
Triple heater/burner - called “the official of balance and harmony” in Chinese medicine, this function regulates distribution of fluids and temperature in three sections of our bodies (upper, middle and lower);
The liver, to some degree - one of the few organs that suffer from excessive heat and/or toxicity, thus can sometimes play part in overactive immune system responses.
Appropriate TCM treatments for immune system imbalances:
Acupuncture - ✅
Chinese herbs - ✅
Cupping - ✅ (occasionally, e.g. when expelling strong pathogens from the chest area)
Dietary/Lifestyle advice - ✅
Moxa/Heat lamp - ✅ (to facilitate recovery)
Qi Gong - ✅
Tuina (meridian massage)
Number of treatments required - 5-10, depending on the severity of symptoms/duration of disease. Additional maintenance/top-up treatments may be advised.
Frequency of treatments - 1-2 times a week, depending on the severity of symptoms/duration of disease.
Author Slava Sviridovs