Can Acupuncture / TCM Help My Immune System
Immune system issues vary widely.
They range from an underactive immune system (as in recurring colds and heightened susceptibility to infections) to an overactive one (as in allergies or autoimmune disorders, where the body attacks its own tissues).
What is the immune system anyway?
Our immune system is our first line of defense, designed to eliminate intruders (pathogens) at the initial stage of invasion before they enter deeper into the body. In Western medicine, you’ll hear about white blood cells that engulf and destroy viruses and bacteria or create antibodies.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we talk about the Wei Qi—the protective energy that wards off External Evils.
The 6 Evils include:
- Summer Heat
The common cold from a TCM perspective:
Wind-Heat and Wind-Cold
In Chinese Medicine, we differentiate between two main types of the common cold: a Wind-Heat invasion and a Wind-Cold invasion. There are other variations, including Dampness, but the above-two are the most commonly seen types.
Depending on whether your body exhibits more signs of Heat (i.e. fever, headache, thirst, sore throat, sharp pain, thick, yellow mucus, redness of the tongue with a yellow coating and a rapid pulse) or Cold (i.e. chills, lack of thirst, scratchy throat, dull pain, thin, clear or white mucus, paleness of the tongue with a white coating and a slow or moderate pulse), we will choose a different treatment strategy.
Either way, our goal is to support your body in releasing the external Evil (pathogen).
If the body is deficient, we may need to strengthen your system, so it can effectively kick out the invader. Ideally, this strengthening takes place when you are healthy to prevent future illness by tonifying the Wei Qi. It’s akin to reinforcing the outer walls of a fortress to ensure enemies can’t enter. Once inside, more effort is required to kick them back out, and more havoc may be wreaked in the process.
Prevention is always the best medicine!
That said, if an invader does get in, we summon the troops to help win the battle.
An excess pattern is the presence of an external pathogen that has become too much for the body to cope with easily (i.e. excess heat would present with heat symptoms; excess cold would present with all the cold symptoms, and excess damp may present with lots of mucus or chest congestion).
With an excess pattern, we focus on strategies to release and drain, which could include modalities like cupping, scraping, and bleeding (releasing a few drops of blood by pricking the skin with a small, sterile lancet) in addition to acupuncture and herbs.
When to come in for treatment?
We can help you feel better faster during the acute stages of a common cold, but the best time to come in is before you get sick! When your stress levels are high, the last thing you may think to do is carve out time for self-care, but that’s exactly when you need it the most—before your body reaches its breaking point!
If you’re generally quite healthy, monthly maintenance care may help you remain strong.
If, however, you’re the first to catch any cold that goes around, you may want to come in twice a month or weekly for prevention.
Allergies are a sign of the immune system being overactive, tagging benign particles (pollen, dander, dust, etc.) as enemies.
While we do not suppress the immune system in TCM as some Western therapies do, we aim to modulate it. Some of the acupuncture points we choose can help the body to self-regulate—much like when we treat blood pressure or thyroid issues. We do not suppress or amp up—rather, we support the body in finding its own balance point.
With allergies, just like the common cold, prevention is key! If you know your allergies kick up every year in the spring, then start coming in for treatment two months prior.
Autoimmune (AI) disorders are complex, and there’s no one quick fix for them. However, acupuncture can be a very helpful tool in your kit to manage symptoms and improve the quality of your life.
Much like with seasonal allergies, the goal in treating AI issues is to help an overactive immune system to calm down.
We select points and herbs to reduce inflammation in the body and treat, as always, according to pattern differentiation, based on what we deduce from your tongue, pulse, and unique symptoms.
If you would like to know more about how acupuncture can help with your specific issue, give us a call for a free 15-minute consultation!
San Jose Acupuncturist
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