The system in our body that we rely on so much when there are colds/flu going around is our personal “warrior”: the immune system. In Chinese Medicine, the immune system relies heavily on the state of the body’s Wei Qi (“way-chee”), otherwise known as defensive qi. This defensive energy is like a protective “rain jacket” that circulates on the exterior of the body and can be affected by both internal and external factors known as pathogens (like nasty bacteria or viruses). Internally, the immune system is most commonly affected by emotional distress (grief, sadness, stress, anxiety), while externally it is most commonly affected by wind, damp, and cold.
Pathogens (bacteria or viruses) can affect the body if:
- Wei Qi is deficient, allowing the pathogen to easily invade
- Wei Qi is strong but the pathogen is stronger, resulting in illness.
When we think of colds, we often consider the health of the lungs. The lungs are responsible for spreading Wei Qi. However, our lungs are also considered our most exterior organ, which means they are the most easily invaded by pathogens, since they interact directly with the environment. Impairment of lung function will ultimately impair the immune system.
Believe it or not, there are six levels of cold disease according to a treatise on Cold Damage called the Shang Han Lun. Here are the different types of colds and their symptoms:
- Fever, aversion to cold, stiff neck (Tai Yang)
- Alternating chills and fever, chest discomfort, dry throat, mental restlessness (Shao Yang)
- High fever, no chills, thirst, flushed face, constipation (Yang Ming)
- Chills, vomiting, poor appetite, diarrhea, abdominal pain, no thirst (Tai Yin)
- Chills, drowsiness, diarrhea, cold limbs, weak (Shao Yin)
- Thirst, hot/painful sensation in chest, cold limbs, physical collapse (Jue Yin)
How can acupuncture help with colds?
Recent research has shown that acupuncture can enhance the immune system by decreasing inflammation throughout the body. This is significant because inflammation in the body is not great: it can cause disease and make an existing illness, like a cold, worse. In addition to reducing inflammation, acupuncture can enhance the production of our natural killer cells (a type of lymphocyte) that attack bacteria and viruses and boost your immune system.
When is it best to boost my immune system with acupuncture?
- If you are feeling run down or just starting to get sick, you should go right away to help boost your immune system and speed up your recovery time.
- If you are recently recovering from being sick, you can benefit from rebuilding your immune system to prevent future illness.
- If you are healthy and looking to maintain your immune system