Immune system

Immunity and the immune system

We regularly hear and read about ‘immunity’ and ‘immune system’ these days. It can be defined as the ability of the body to protect itself against disease. Holistic medicine, generally, and Chinese medicine, specifically, has some very useful insights to offer here.

In conventional medicine, the ‘immune system’ is primarily seen as protection against infection. And invariably, this focuses on thinking about antibodies which can ‘remember’ a previous infection by the same or similar organism. Antibodies are considered to be very important in the
prevention of infectious disease. Vaccination which aims at triggering antibody production is seen as being very important in disease prevention. There is currently a massive world-wide effort to produce a vaccine against Covid-19.

The relationship between disease, antibody production and vaccines is a complex one. It is the subject of continuing debate within and without the conventional medical profession about its safety and effectiveness.

In Chinese medicine, the immune system can be understood from a much wider perspective. We consider that Qi (energy) is the most external protection against invading organisms. So, we may not develop any symptoms or only very mild symptoms if Qi is strong and resists the organism.

A seminal text in Chinese medicine, Shang Hang Lun, dating from around 220 AD, clearly discusses our immunity or resistance to disease in terms of 6 levels of the body from the outside to the inside where the deepest, most important organs are found. It guides us as to the best treatments for each stage of the illness.

Immune system and infection

If climatic factors such as wind, cold or damp, (including an infective agent such as a virus or bacteria) gain entry into the body, the response depends very much on our vitality. Symptoms appear at a particular location depending on the state of health of the person.

  1. Symptoms are seen on the surface of the body in strong and healthy people. The initial symptoms of an invading virus such as Covid-19 would be high fever, sneezing, sore throat, stuffy nose. Here the appropriate treatment is to encourage the invading organism to leave the body perhaps with herbs to induce a sweat. The energy is basically strong and so needs only a little help to throw out the invasion.
    In conventional medicine, people would take anti-inflammatory drugs. However, inflammation is a natural healthy response and is essentially healing. It was recognised early in the Covid-19
    epidemic in France that taking the anti-inflammatory drug, ibuprofen, leads to worse outcomes as the protecting function of the inflammation is suppressed.
  2. When someone’s health is depleted for whatever reason, symptoms appear deeper within the body. There may be a mild fever with chills, fatigue and low energy, aches and pains, dry cough, tight chest and the cough may increase in severity. Subsequently, we may see the symptoms descending inside the body. Here we may see bowel symptoms such as diarrhoea and worsening respiratory symptoms such as breathlessness.
    Here the most effective treatments will be encouraging the virus to leave together with supporting the energy of the person. So, bowel symptoms may need supportive herbs for the digestion. Respiratory symptoms would point to the need for supportive treatments for the lungs.
  3. In a minority of people whose energy and health is very low, symptoms can threaten life. We consider this is a result of the disease reaching deep and important areas of the body such as the
    liver, kidneys and blood. Treatments at this level seek to ‘rescue’ the person’s energy and treat any toxicity and organ damage. People are in hospital at this stage.
    As we know from the data on Covid-19, the people who are most at risk of severe disease and perhaps death are those over 75 who already have health issues such as diabetes, heart and/or
    lung disease, those taking immunosuppressive medication etc.
    Immune system does not like these!

What factors adversely affect our immune system?

• Psychological stress such as fear, anxiety, worry
• Lack of sleep
• Poor diet
• Over (or under) exercise
• Over working

How is our immune system?

How do we know that our immune system needs support? In Chinese medicine, we say that it is better to prevent than treat. Seeking treatment when we are ill is like digging a well when we are thirsty. There are things we can do now to be as well and healthy as possible.

Symptoms to look for –

• Tiredness, lack of energy
• Frequent colds
• Pale complexion
• Tendency to chilliness
• Poor appetite
• Loose stools
• Easy sweating in the day or on exercise
• Frequent urination
• Low back pain

How is our psychological health? Powerful emotions or disturbed thoughts are a frequent and severe drain on our energy, sometimes much more so that physical activity.

Support our immune system

We need to take care of all aspects of ourselves, both psychological and physical. We always respond well to a regular routine (assuming that is a healthy one!).

• Eat regularly and well with a relaxed state of mind
• Gentle exercise such as yoga, tai chi or Qi Gong.
• Relaxation and meditation practices

I discussed these in my article on Covid-19 which can be found here.
There is also more information on my website here.

Tips for stress in 2020

Try to reduce stress with relaxation and meditation. These are excellent methods for calming the mind and can prepare us for those inevitable life events which can challenge our mental and emotional balance.

• Taking walks in nature
• Less screen time
• Enjoy the company of friends and family
• Race around slightly less often and slightly slower!

During the Covid-19 lockdown, many of us have experienced a slower pace of life. As we have adjusted to this, we may have noticed some benefit to our general well being. Perhaps some of this experience can be carried through as life returns to ‘normal’. So, although we may have experienced some negatives at this time, there are also positive experiences we can carry forward.

 
 
 
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