Building the immune system with Chinese Medicine.
In recent days reports of the COVID-19 (commonly referred to as Corona Virus) virus spreading around the globe and into the U.S. has a lot of people worried about preventing and treating such a disease.
The last pandemic –type virus seen in the U.S. was the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009. A lot of the same precautions and treatments hold true for patients now that worked back then. These include behaviors like hand washing, avoiding large crowds and staying home when you are sick. These are all great advice for any viral issue and will certainly slow the spread. The CDC actually recommends thorough and often hand washing as the number one way to prevent contracting or spreading this virus, as it is known to be spread more through contact with contaminated surfaces, as well as through air-born particles. Wearing masks isn’t recommended since the particles can penetrate all but a certain surgical variety (N95) which are uncomfortable for many to wear.
It’s also interesting to note that about 80% of the COVID-19 cases have been mild, much like a cold or mild case of Influenza, with only 20% of patients developing serious or life-threatening symptoms. What protects some from the virus an not other? It is most likely a strong and stable immune system.
Chinese Medicine and the immune system:
The Ancient Chinese physicians understood the immune system to be a function of several body system functions. The main ones of these systems were the Lung and Spleen systems.
The Lungs are the first defense system in the body. They are connected to the idea of the “Wei Qi” – a system of defense that resided under the skin and protected the body from invasive “evils”. The mucosal membrane serves to repel and push out invasive organisms. The Lungs are also responsible for our skin in Chinese Medicine, and skin is an excellent barrier to most infectious organisms.
The Spleen system in Chinese medicine is involved in extracting needed nutrients from foods in order to create strength in the body. In Western medicine, of course the spleen is part of the lymphatic system, which removes waste and toxins from the bloodstream. A weakened Spleen system in Chinese Medicine is responsible for creating phlegm in the body, which can go up to the lungs and block their ability to repel invaders.
How do we avoid getting viruses like COVID-19 (or colds and flu)?
As with other viruses, reducing and managing exposure is key. Frequent hand washing is always a good idea (even when there is no looming pandemic) as it stops us introducing pathogens by touching our eyes, nose or mouth – as we unconsciously do many times per day. Using alcohol based hand sanitizers and wipes when no hand washing is available is a good secondary step. Be aware of your surroundings and protect yourself from direct exposure to coughs and sneezes. Virus particles can travel up to six feet. This means to make sure and contain your coughs and sneezes (into your elbow/sleeve) as well to minimize spreading a virus.
If you feel sick, stay home. If you display severe symptoms (cough, sneezing, congestion, fever, body aches) or have them more than 1-2 days you should see your doctor and be checked out for the Flu or COVID-19 (right now it is more likely you have Influenza – but that is contagious and can be severe as well).
The best defense is to create and maintain a strong immune system.
Lungs and Spleen are both susceptible to poor diet. A poor diet is one with high amounts of sugary, greasy or processed foods. It is advisable to clean up your eating during times of potential risk. You can boost your immune system with clean eating, including fresh produce and lean meats, along with some whole grains will create strength in the Spleen system and support a strong immune response. Reduce dairy, sugar and processed foods as these tend to create more phlegm and inflammation in the body, both of which hinder the immune system.
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Adequate rest is also extremely important. Letting your system become run down will weaken the Lungs and Spleen capabilities to maintain strong defenses.
Acupuncture treatments and herbal supplements can help to strengthen your immune system and help you become more resistant to viral infections. A strong body will, when exposed to an invasive organism, be able to fight it off and subdue it without creating a major threat to the body as a whole.
Inevitably we are all exposed to multiple viral and bacterial pathogens daily. If we keep our body’s systems functioning at a high level, the likelihood of these pathogens creating a severe disease situation is reduced. The old saying “the best defense is a strong offense” is certainly true in this case. By using healthy lifestyle choices, smart but simple preventative measures, and the benefits of a holistic, function-based therapy (like Acupuncture and Chinese herbals) one can be ready to weather the attacks by these and other disease processes.