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Enhancing Immunity Against Viruses: Why boosting one’s immunity is the best medicine for preventing viruses

Written by: Dr. Candace Liu, DAOM

 

Immunity is a physiological function of the human body that focuses on maintaining the human body's health. The human body relies on this physiological function to defend against and resist external pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, that attempt to enter the human body, and internal pathogens, which includes damaged cells that can produce tumors. Unlike Western medicine, which focuses on the physical structure of the human body, traditional Chinese medicine is based on the holistic view of the human body. Through the traditional Chinese medicine lens, the human body is a whole entity, and immunity, emanating from this whole, corresponds to nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) and defensive Qi (Wei Qi).

In Chinese medicine, nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) and defending Qi (Wei Qi) refers to a wide range of physiological processes. However, of these physiological processes, immunization is by far one of the most important. In Chinese medicine, Qi is one of the most basic and vital substances that constitute the human body and its life activities. It is the most crucial substance that constitutes the human organs, their functions, and meridian physiological functions. Among them, nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) supports the nutrition function and transports in blood vessels, while defensive Qi (Wei Qi) is responsible for defense functions and typically transports on the body's surface. Both nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) and defensive Qi (Wei Qi) are produced from water and food that is processed and transported by the spleen and stomach, combined with the energy of air that has been inhaled from the natural environment and circulated within the lungs.  Because of their different circulation systems, the functions of defensive qi (Wei Qi) and nutrient qi (Ying Qi) are also different. Defensive Qi (Wei Qi) travels outside the veins, defending the body against the invasion of external pathogens; nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) travels inside the veins, defending the viscera and provides warmth for the organs and muscles.

Immunity should be prioritized, especially in the context of a global pandemic. Building one's immunity is the best prevention method; therefore, boosting one's nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) and defensive (Qi) through lifestyle and diet is essential in decreasing the likelihood of obtaining a virus. Listed below are the following ways to do so and the corresponding research.

Lifestyle

1.     Get enough sleep

a.     Western medicine: A large number of studies have shown that staying up late at night can severely damage the body's immune system, making it more susceptible to viruses.

b.     Traditional Chinese Medicine: The famous doctor Zhi-Wei Zhi, during the Warring States Period, said, "Sleep is the first and best supplement for good health." During the day, there is sufficient yang energy produced through activity, and at night, yin Qi converts the energy into new cells. A good night's sleep is conducive to organ regulation, to generate enough nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) and defensive Qi (Wei Qi).

2.     Proper exercise

a.     Western medicine: A report from the National Library of Medicine shows that exercise can help "flush" bacteria in the lungs and make white blood cells circulate more quickly, improving the immune system's ability to detect diseases.

b.     Traditional Chinese medicine: The traditional Chinese medicine method of limb movement is called "guidance" (Dao Yin). It is characterized by the combination of limb movement, breathing, and self-massage. It uses regular breathing and different movements to relax joints. This stimulates the Qi and blood, reinvigorates metabolism in the body, and enhances physical fitness to prevent and treat diseases.

3.     Sunbathing

a.     Western medicine: A study by the Medical Department of Yale University found that regular sun exposure helps reduce the risk of influenza viruses and other common respiratory diseases. Researchers believe that maintaining high levels of vitamin D in the body can better prevent sore throat, common cold and stuffy nose.

b.     Traditional Chinese Medicine: Sunbathing can warm up the yang in the body and the head, which is considered "the leader of the yang". When the sun is shining on the top of the head, it can unblock veins and adjust the yang to strengthen the right Qi.

4.     Positive mentality

a.     Western medicine: Positive and optimistic mentality goes beyond reducing the level of human stress, and it can also promote sleep. Researchers at Stanford University have found that laughter can increase the number of antibodies and immune cells in blood and saliva. It can also excite parasympathetic nerves, reduce adrenaline levels, and relieve fatigue. Moreover, it serves as a good method to improve immunity.

b.     Traditional Chinese Medicine: Being angry leads to depression, while smiling promotes relaxation. Previous studies have shown that laughter can make people's lungs expand, and can clear the waste of the respiratory tract as laughter stimulates deep breathing movements; laughter can increase the secretion of digestive juice, enhancing the activity of the gastrointestinal tract and promoting appetite; laughter can also relax the mind and mood to improve sleep. The improved strength of the lungs can subsequently strengthen the spleen and stomach, ultimately improving the production of nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) and defensive Qi (Wei Qi).

5.     Quit smoking and limit alcohol

a.     Western medicine: It has been medically proven that human blood vessels are prone to complications when smoking and adversely affect the blood, nutrient, and oxygen supply to local organs and body tissues. In addition to the lack of nutrients and oxygen, the lack of respiratory tract mucosa decreases the body’s ability to resist disease. Drinking alcohol will also reduce the body's immune function and must be restricted.

b.     Traditional Chinese Medicine: In traditional Chinese medicine, tobacco is a hot and damp substance, which generates heat and builds dampness; wine is also a warm and damp substance, which builds heat and gradually produces damp-phlegm. Activities such as excessive drinking or substance abuse create dampness and heat properties in the body, thereby affecting the distribution of nutrient Qi (Ying Qi) and defensive Qi (Wei Qi).

Diet

1.     Balanced diet

a.     Western medicine: When an insufficient amount of vitamin A is absorbed, respiratory epithelial cells lack resistance and are often prone to illness. In the same vein, vitamin C deficiency leads to higher susceptibility to infection as vitamin C is a key component in white blood cells. Additionally, trace elements, such as zinc, selenium, vitamins B1, and B2, are related to the non-representative immune functions of the human body.

b.     Traditional Chinese Medicine: The five elements in nature correspond to the five organs of the body. Each organ also has corresponding color foods and flavors. Eating five different colors and flavors in a balanced manner can enhance the functions of the internal organs and their health effects.

2.     Yogurt

a.     Western medicine: A study by the American Health Association found that yogurt can reduce the level of "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein LDL) and reduce the risk of urinary tract infection by 47%, hence improving the body’s immunity and disease resistance.

b.     Chinese medicine: Along with moisturizing the skin, nourishing the yin, improving eyesight, and strengthening the teeth and hair, yogurt also supports the functions of the kidney, lungs, and spleen, all of which are central organs in traditional Chinese medicine. The kidney is the source of life and the motivating force of vital activities; the lungs maintain Qi regulation for the whole body; the spleen is the engine of transporting and transforming nutrition and distributes it throughout the body. If the lungs, spleen, and kidneys are healthy, the Qi is sufficient, and the evil Qi will not easily invade the body surface (Wei Qi).

3.     Garlic

a.     Western medicine: A study by the University of Maryland Medical Center found that eating garlic improves immunity and can help prevent heart diseases.

b.     Traditional Chinese medicine: Garlic is believed to be a natural antibiotic that can stop cough, sterilize the lung and stomach, and prevent influenza.

4.     Vegetable Chicken Soup

a.     Western medicine: A study by the University of Nebraska Medical Center has shown that vegetables with chicken soup has an anti-inflammatory effect, and provides a therapeutic effect to partially eliminate inflammation caused by colds. Vegetables that are commonly recommended to be put in chicken soup include onions, sweet potatoes, radishes, carrots, celery, and parsley.

b.     Traditional Chinese medicine: The addition of various vegetables enhances the already warming food function that chicken soup is considered to have. A vegetable combination that incorporates the five colors that correspond to the five major organs (the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys) will further strengthens the body's immunity.

5.     Regular ingestion of honey water, ginger water, or lemonade

a.     Western medicine: Studies have shown that the antioxidants in honey are boosters of immunity; ginger is a natural analgesic and antidote, and it reduces infection along with eliminating influenza viruses; lemon has large amounts of vitamin C, and is loaded with antioxidants.

b.     Traditional Chinese Medicine: Honey can help relieve fatigue, moisten the lungs, and soothe one’s cough; ginger can reconcile the skin and dispel the wind and coldness in the body; lemon can reduce one’s cough and phlegm buildup, relieve liver stasis, and strengthen the spleen and stomach. Both honey and lemon have a heat-removing effect, while ginger neutralizes the heat-clearing and stomach-relieving effects.

6.     Miso soup

a.     Western medicine: Fermented miso contains active probiotics, which can regulate intestinal health. More than 70% of probiotics exist in the body's immune system. Studies have shown that probiotics can help reduce inflammation and relieve colds and cold symptoms.

b.     Traditional Chinese medicine: The Japanese believe that miso is an excellent food medicine. It can nourish and regulate Qi and blood to enhance immunity.

 

References:

1.       Luciana Besedovsky, Tanja Lange, and Jan Borncorresponding author, Sleep and immune function, November 2011 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/

2.       Richard J. Simpson, Ph.D., Exercise, Immunity and the COVID-19 Pandemic, March 2020 https://www.acsm.org/blog-detail/acsm-blog/2020/03/30/exercise-immunity-covid-19-pandemic

3.       Carr AC, Maggini S, Vitamin C and Immune Function, November 2017 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29099763

4.       Cynthia Aranow, MD, Vitamin D and the Immune System, August 2011 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/

5.       Byambaa Enkhmaa, MD, PhD, MAS, Prasanth Surampudi, MD, PhD, Erdembileg Anuurad, MD, PhD, MAS, and Lars Berglund, MD, PhD,.Lifestyle Changes: Effect of Diet, Exercise, Functional Food, and Obesity Treatment on Lipids and Lipoproteins, September 2018 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK326737/

6.       Kris Newby, Immune system disruption, Fall 2014 https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2014fall/immune-system-disruption.html

7.       Naglaa Hani El-Abbadi, Maria Carlota Dao, and Simin Nikbin Meydani, Yogurt: role in healthy and active aging, April 2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6410895/

8.       Jamie Simpson, Aged Garlic vs. Fresh Garlic, https://www.livestrong.com/article/422068-aged-garlic-vs-fresh-garlic/

9.       Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, Robbins RA, Rennard SI, Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro, October 2000 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11035691

10.    Miki Fukuda, Kengo Kobayashi, Yuriko Hirono, Mayuko Miyagawa, Takahiro Ishida, Emenike C. Ejiogu, Masaharu Sawai, Kent E. Pinkerton, and Minoru Takeuchi, Jungle Honey Enhances Immune Function and Antitumor Activity, October 2010 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/908743/

11.    Toshihiko Kumazawa and Atsuhisa Nishimura,.Isolation of immune-regulatory Tetragenococcus halophilus from miso, December 2018 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6306251/

12.     Hiro Watanabe, PhD The Magic of Miso. Wise Traditions Conference, November 2006. http://www.fleetwoodonsite.com/index.php?manufacturers_id=11&osCsid=710d1e5b3567d83b3ec429eb228bb160