As we move into fall, a lot of people are worried about getting sick. I am cautious too, because during the change of seasons we are especially vulnerable; a sneeze, cough, or a cold wind can easily give you a cold. For some, once they get the cold, it can be hard to fight it off. The sniffling, coughing, or sneezing may not go away and can even last all winter long. But boosting your energy, or qi, can help improve your immunity, which will help you get colds less frequently and improve your ability to fight them off. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are powerful therapies to build up immunity and qi.
How Are Qi and Immunity Related?
As you all know, the immune system is responsible for protecting you from all types of invaders like viruses and bacteria. In Chinese medicine, immunity comes from qi, the body’s energy. Qi is similar to our general idea of energy in the West. It is the energy that gives us the power to do things, like work, study, grow, and exercise. It also protects us from getting sick. When we say, “I am wiped out, I have no energy,” you can also say you have no qi. The main way we build qi is through eating a good diet. We also store it while we sleep. This is why having good digestion is vital for having enough energy and building up your immunity. It is also why we often get sick easily when we don’t sleep well.
One difference between the idea of energy in the West and qi in Chinese medicine is that qi circulates through the body in channels, or meridians. Sometimes, qi slows down or gets blocked, which is a major cause of disease. We call this qi stagnation and it often happens as a result of emotional stress. This is why we get sick when we are under a lot of stress.
In Chinese medicine, poor immunity usually comes from a qi imbalance. Sometimes there is too little qi or the qi can become stagnated. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs work by helping to improve the circulation and the amount of qi.
Those with too little qi may experience the symptoms of frequent colds, fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, soft voice, poor digestion, a weak pulse, and pale tongue. This is also true often for people with chronic respiratory infections or autoimmune conditions, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or sinusitis and chronic sinus headaches.
Qi stagnation, when the qi is not circulating well, can also cause frequent colds and makes it difficult to fight them off. Those with qi stagnation will often get a cold after a stressful or emotional situation. They also may be prone to headaches, irregular bowel movements, ribside pain, and painful menstrual cramps.
How Does Chinese Medicine Boost Immunity?
Acupuncture, herbal therapy, and qi gong (which are physical stretches and exercises for your qi) help beat a lingering cold or reduce the frequency of colds, infections, and asthma attacks by correcting the imbalances in qi. Even doing one of these three simple activities can greatly improve your immunity.
Previously, I’ve written about how acupuncture helps the body to heal itself. Another way acupuncture does that is by stimulating the immune system cellular activity and gene expression as well as influencing enzyme activity.1 In Chinese medicine terms, we say that acupuncture is boosting the qi.
Many Chinese herbs also improve the immune system. For example, ginseng, an herb known for its ability to boost qi and improve immunity, has been shown to prevent colds and upper respiratory tract infections in a nursing home.2 Also cordyceps, a mushroom originating from Tibet, is now widely used to improve immune function. This herb can help in the winter and the change of seasons to boost immunity when everyone else is getting sick. It is especially good for those with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma and sinusitis. Remember, Chinese herbs are most effective when taken in a formula that is tailored to your specific imbalance. It is important to get a recommended formula from a Chinese medicine practitioner.
Qi gong exercises are another simple activity that boosts the qi. These slow moving meditative exercises help increase energy, improve circulation, reduce stress, and, over time, improve immunity.
It is best to improve your immune system in the fall in order to prepare for the upcoming winter. Be prepared. Follow these simple tips and you’ll also have a better immunity this winter!
1. Rho SW, Choi GS, Ko EJ, Et. Al. Molecular changes in remote tissues induced by electro-acupuncture stimulation at acupoint ST36. Mol Cells. 2008 Apr 30;25(2):178-83.
2. Predy GN, Goel V, Lovlin R, Donner A, Stitt L, Basu TK. Efficacy of an extract of North American ginseng containing poly-furanosyl-pyranosyl-saccharides for preventing upper respiratory tract infections: a randomized controlled trial.CMAJ. 2005 Oct 25;173(9):1043-8.