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Boost Your Immune System with Acupuncture

Updated: Jun 24



The immune system is a complicated subject. Here we will outline the basics of your immune system, how it functions, and how acupuncture can help support and strengthen your immune system. We will also briefly describe the different conception Traditional Chinese Medicine has of the immune system.


Immune System Basics

  • Your immune system fights infections.

  • A network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection makes up the human immune system .

  • The immune system records every germ (microbe) it has ever defeated enabling it to recognize and destroy the microbe quickly if it enters the body again.

  • Weaknesses and abnormalities of the immune system can lead to allergic diseases, immunodeficiencies and autoimmune disorders.


Primary Immune System Components

  • white blood cells

  • antibodies

  • complementary protein system

  • lymphatic system

  • spleen

  • bone marrow

  • thymus


The Body's Other Defenses

  • skin - a waterproof barrier that secretes oil with bacteria-killing properties

  • lungs - mucous in the lungs (phlegm) traps foreign particles, and small hairs (cilia) wave the mucous upwards so it can be coughed out

  • digestive tract - the mucous lining contains antibodies, and the acid in the stomach can kill most microbes

  • additional defenses - body fluids like skin oil, saliva and tears contain anti-bacterial enzymes that help reduce the risk of infection. The constant flushing of the urinary tract and the bowel also helps.

  • fever - this is actually an immune system response. A rise in temperature can kill some microbes. Fever also triggers the body's repair process.


The Immune System and Infection

By recording every microbe it has ever defeated in types of white blood cells (B- and T-lymphocytes), called memory cells, your body prepares itself to fight infections. It recognizes and destroys the microbe quickly if it enters the body again, preventing illness. This is one reason children, who are gaining exposure to microbes, often get sick more frequently than adults.

Some infections, however, have to be fought many times because so many different viruses or strains of the same type of virus can cause these illnesses. For example, catching a cold or flu from one virus does not provide immunity from other similar viruses.

The immune system also helps fight more serious illnesses such as cancer, by recognizing and fighting unhealthy cells that can become malignant.


Traditional Chinese Medicine Idea of the Immune System

Crucially, TCM views our biological systems as a complete whole and doesn't separate the immune system for the rest of the body. TCM is based on the flow of "qi", or energy, throughout the body. This zheng qi, or healthy qi, provides the body's resistance to disease and it's ability to repair itself. In TCM, to have robust immunity all elements of the body, including qi, blood and lymph as well as the meridians and organs have to be functioning well. TCM, by using acupuncture, acupressure, herbs, cupping and moxa, along with diet focuses on keeping our qi in balance and flowing, resulting in a robust ability to resist infection and disease.


Symptoms of a Weakened Immune System

  • frequent colds/flus (more than 2-3 times per year)

  • feeling fatigued and run down

  • unhealthy hair or skin

  • slow healing of injuries

  • digestive problems


Common Disorders of the Immune System

When your immune system doesn't work normally, it is called an immune system disorder.

You may:

  • Be born with a weak immune system. This is called primary immune deficiency.

  • Get a disease that weakens your immune system. This is called acquired immune deficiency.

  • Have an immune system that turns against you. This is called autoimmune disease.

  • Have an immune system that is too active. This may happen with an allergic reaction.


Underactivity of the immune system, also called immunodeficiency, can:

  • be inherited - examples of these conditions include primary immunodeficiency diseases such as common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), x-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and complement deficiencies

  • arise as a result of medical treatment - this can occur due to medications such as corticosteroids or chemotherapy

  • be caused by another disease - such as HIV/AIDS or certain types of cancer.


Overactivity of the immune system can take many forms, including:

  • allergic diseases - where the immune system makes an overly strong response to allergens. Allergic diseases are very common. They include allergies to foods, medications or stinging insects, anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergy), hay fever (allergic rhinitis), sinus disease, asthma, hives (urticaria), dermatitis and eczema

  • autoimmune diseases - where the immune system mounts a response against normal components of the body. Autoimmune diseases range from common to rare. They include multiple sclerosis, autoimmune thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, systemic lupus, erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic vasculitis.


How Acupuncture Can Help


Frequently people suffer from underlying conditions that can be addressed with acupuncture. Poor sleep, stress, and anxiety commonly contribute to a weakened immune system and acupuncture has a tremendous ability to treat these problems.

Acupuncture stimulates the body’s immune response and strengthens your body to improve your resistance to infection.

Extremely fine acupuncture needles are inserted in specific points on pathways, called Meridians, to stimulate the production of white blood cells as well as T-cells. Your acupuncturist will select points based on your individual situation.


Commonly Used Acupuncture Points




1) Kidney (KI) 27 (English Translation: Shu Mansion)

KI27 is a superior immune-boosting point. It is located roughly one inch from your midline (draw an imaginary line down the front of your body that passes from your nose down through your belly button), on the lower border of the collar bone.



2) Ren (CV) 17 (English Translation: Middle of the Chest) and Ren (CV) 6 (English Translation: Sea of Qi)

CV17 and CV6 both strengthen the immune system. CV17 is located on the midline of the sternum (breastbone) just slightly above the nipple level. CV6 is located on the midline, two finger-widths below the belly button.




3) Large Intestine (LI) 11 (English Translation: Pool at the Bend)

LI11, although more useful as a fever-reducing point, is also used to help prevent colds, flu and other immune-compromising conditions. Find this point at the lateral (outer) edge of the elbow crease.




4) Lung (LU) 7 (English Translation: Interrupted Sequence)

LU7 is a very common point to use for symptomatic relief of cough, headache and/or stiff neck. It can be used to increase the defensive qi and your immune system. To locate it make a thumbs-up sign. When you do that you’ll see a depression at the base of your thumb. From that depression, LU7 is located approximately two finger-widths up your arm.




5) Large Intestine (LI) 4 (English Translation: Junction Valley)

LI4 is a famous decongestant and anti-inflammatory point. It is a powerful point for any head pain or tension and strengthens the immune system. It’s located in the space between the thumb and first finger, half-way along from the wrist crease to the fist knuckle.




6) Stomach (ST) 36 (English Translation: Leg Three Miles)

ST36 is one of the most effective acupuncture points for strengthening the immune system and recovering from fatigue. ST36 is found about a hand length below the kneecap, slightly lateral and in beside the prominent tibia bone.




Cupping to Help Clear Lungs

Cupping therapy, frequently used to treat muscle injuries, also can help stimulate the immune system. For example, cupping the back causes minor inflammation over a broad area which triggers the immune system's response. Because cupping can effect tissue several inches below the skin it can loosen phlegm from your lungs.




Moxa

Moxabustion, or moxa for short, involves the burning of mugwort, known as “moxa”, which is an herb that facilitates the flow of Qi , strengthens the blood and maintains general health. Qi is thought of as life energy. The burning moxa is placed near the skin at a specific acupuncture point (ex:ST 36) warming the area and boosting immunity according to TCM. Here is a video that shoes how to use moxa at home.


Another benefit of utilizing moxibustion is increased immunity. Studies have shown moxibustion significantly increases the white blood cell count in the body, which is the major component of the immune system.

Moxibustion exerts its therapeutic effect by modulating the microbiome and intestinal mucosal immunity. It is used to great effect in tandem with acupuncture points, enhancing and maximizing the effects of the acupuncture needles. Moxa is used both directly and indirectly, depending upon the intended effects.


Helpful Things You Can Do To Strengthen Your Immune System

  • On your own, you can improve your body’s immune response by:

  • minimizing stress

  • getting enough sleep

  • eating a healthy diet

  • exercising regularly

  • You can also utilize acupressure.



Reducing Stress

Paced Breathing:

  • Deep, slow breathing from your diaphragm can help.

  • Typically you take about 12 to 14 breaths a minute and while Paced Breathing you take only 5 to 7 breaths a minute.

  • The paced breaths are slow, smooth and deep enough to move your diaphragm, the muscular wall located beneath your lungs, as you take full, deep breaths. Sometimes this is referred to as "belly breathing".

  • Try inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth.

  • Paced Breathing aims to reduce the stress chemicals your brain produces.

  • While it seems simple, Paced Breathing can take some practice to perfect. Using a Paced Breathing App (Breath Ball for example) can help with timing and consistency.


Sleep and Exercise

  • Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Occasional napping can supplement less nighttime sleep.

  • Aim for 20-30 minutes of cardio-vascular exercise per day. This can be as simple as a fast paced walk.



Diet Can Help Strengthen Your Immune System

Things to Consume:
  • According to Traditional Chinese Medicine locally grown, in season food is healthiest. By eating the right type of food we help keep the natural dynamic flow of Qi (energy) in balance.

  • Fresh Ginger, either grated and used as a spice, or brewed as a tea.

  • Garlic has excellent anti-bacterial and anti-viral characteristics and can be added (preferably cooked) to many dishes.

  • Additional beneficial herbs include oregano, fennel, rosemary, lemon balm, basil and pepper.

  • Vitamin C can help protect your body from infection and can stimulate the formation of antibodies to fight off disease. Citrus fruits, such as lemons and oranges, are known for their high Vitamin C content.

  • Vitamin A, found in broccoli, spinach, carrots and orange and yellow fruit, helps protect cells from attack.

  • Warm water is always recommended in TCM. Warm drinks should replace cold ones. Warm water aids digestion, helps to raise the temperature of your body and helps to fight off toxins.


It is important to note that in Traditional Chinese Medicine each individual can benefit from eating food that corresponds to their particular constitution and the balance of their yin and yang energies. To understand your constitution from a TCM perspective we recommend consultation with a well qualified TCM practitioner.


Acupressure at home:

HOW DO YOU USE ACUPRESSURE?

  1. Set aside several minutes.

  2. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.

  3. Relax, close your eyes, and breathe deeply.

  4. Place a thumb or finger on the acu point and gently massage in a circular motion

  5. Begin with gentle pressure and increase to firm, deep pressure for 1-10 minutes in a small rotating or up-and-down movement.

Here are four immune-boosting acupuncture points. All four are part of a grouping called the Heavenly Star Points which are some of the most important and effective points used in acupuncture. Refer the diagrams above to help locate the points.

Please avoid during pregnancy.

  • Stomach 36 treats many different disorders and improves general well-being. It boosts your energy and helps your body fight off any infections. It is located on the outside of the leg, just below the knee. Put your hand just below your kneecap and feel for a sensitive spot just outside the edge of the shin bone.

  • Large Intestine 11 helps reduce fever and prevents colds and influenza. As well, it is great for reducing inflammation. Large Intestine 11 is found at the end of the elbow crease on the outside of your arm.

  • Large Intestine 4 is an important point in treating any kind of pain, or congestion in the head. and also strengthens the immune system. It is also a great anti-inflammatory point along with Large Intestine 11. Large Intestine 4 is located in the space between the base of the thumb and the first finger, in the fleshy part of the hand.

  • Lung 7 is a "command point"for disorders of the head and neck, helping prevent colds and influenza. This point, also on the arm, is found on the thumb side of the wrist between the 2 tendons, just below the wrist bone.


Alternate pressure on all four acupuncture points, massaging each for around 30 seconds before moving to the next point. Repeat this cycle two or three times for a total of about five minutes. This is a great way to provide a healthy start to your day.


Hopefully this helps you understand the basics of how your immune system functions, and how acupuncture can help support and strengthen your immune system.

At EVAM we regularly suggest that our patients treat themselves with acupressure between visits to our clinic. Many patients find the few minutes it takes to stimulate several pressure points is relaxing and helps maintain the benefits of their regular acupuncture treatments.

Although there are many complicated aspects to the immune system, it has been shown to respond well to the variety of approaches we've reviewed above.

Our community clinic is dedicated to helping patients maintain their heath through proactive treatment and ongoing maintenance protocols as well as treatments focussed on more acute problems. Self-administered acupressure is a proven complement to acupuncture. Please feel free to contact us at EVAM to schedule an appointment with one of our wonderful practitioners.

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