We can recognise three different patterns of problems within the Immune system:
1) Weak Immune System
In this condition our resistance to invaders such as bacteria and viruses into our system is low and so the immune system needs strengthening.
2) Confused Immune System (Autoimmune)
Our immune system starts to attack organs and structures in our own body. In this situation the immune system needs harmonising back to working order.
3) Over-Reacting Immune System (Allergies)
Our immune system can react in an explosive manner at the slightest provocation (as in hay-fever and other allergies). In these situations the system needs calming down and sometimes harmonising as well.
1) Weak Immune System
Weakness of the immune system is a common problem these days. The reason for that is probably the unhealthy lifestyle of modern times: too much stress, long working hours and bad diet taking its toll on the body. Often the immune system is one of the first to show signs of strain.
The manifestation of this condition can take a few forms: it can manifest as recurrent infections such as colds, flu, chest infections, skin infections, boils or any other kind of infection. It can manifest as the inability of the body to get rid of infection properly and can take a longer than usual amount of time to get rid of colds, flu, coughs etc. It can also manifest as the inability of the body to keep the infection at a superficial level. In these cases, for example, most colds will turn into chest infections.
All of these are signs of a struggling immune system.
Unfortunately there is very little modern medicine can do to help people in this situation. In almost all of these cases there will be no abnormalities in conventional tests (blood tests, x-rays etc). It is therefore a complete mystery to the G.P. as to why a person will manifest with these signs of weak resistance to microbial invasion.
The fact is that there is no medicine or other form of treatment available for this condition as far as modern medicine is concerned. However, in Chinese medicine we have a much better understanding of this situation and can therefore treat it effectively.
A weak functioning immune system is a result of a weak spleen. Our spleen performance can be damaged mainly by bad diet (too much rich, heavy, raw and cold food) and by too much stress and/or over-working. Luckily, the weak spleen usually reacts very well to a treatment with Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is effective in restoring the spleen to produce effective immunity; Chinese herbs however are incredibly effective when it comes to strengthening the immune system. One of my most used formulas for this condition is called Yu Ping Feng San which translates as Jade Screen (it creates an impermeable screen which stops invaders from entering our bodies.) It is a brilliant combination of three herbs: Astragalus, Atractylodes and Ginger. I have used this prescription many times for people with a struggling immune system and it has practically always worked. Weakness of the immune system can easily be treated with Chinese medicine.
2) Autoimmune Conditions
Autoimmune conditions arise when, for some reason, the cells immune system begins to produce antibodies which, instead of attacking invaders, start to attack our own internal organs and structure. Among the more well-known Autoimmune conditions are Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Psoriasis and Crohn’s Disease but there are many others. The question is why does this immune confusion happen so commonly? The truth is that there is no sure answer to that question. I personally suspect that environmental factors are to blame. All sorts of toxic chemicals, medicines and immunisations are probable contributors. The medical treatment for these conditions is with medicines called Immunosuppresants. These medicines, as you can tell from the name, simply suppress the immune system and by that action reduce the immune reaction. These medicines can be effective in reducing the symptoms of the condition. The problem, of course, is that these medications are also suppressing the normal work of our immune systems and this can lead to a whole host of possible side effects and risks-including a raised risk of developing cancer.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the approach to treating Autoimmune conditions is different to the conventional one. On the one hand we will aim to directly treat the symptoms and the manifestation of the condition in order to ease the patient’s suffering; on the other hand we will treat the source of the problem which is the malfunctioning immune system. Here is the big difference from the doctors’ approach: we won’t try to suppress the immune system but will try and harmonise it, meaning bringing it into working order again and, by so doing , stopping it from attacking our own body! The results of the treatment of Autoimmune conditions with TCM, using this approach, are very good – and, of course, it has all been done without the dreaded side effects.
3) Over Reacting Immune System (Allergies)
Allergic reactions occur when our immune system overreacts to a stimulation by an allergent. The more well known conditions associated with allergic reactions are asthma, hayfever and urticaria. There is a worrying increase in the prevalence of allergic conditions in recent times and, as with autoimmune conditions, the reason for this rise is unclear. Common sense will, however, point the finger of blame yet again at environmental factors such as air and water pollution, nutrition and, generally, a stressful and unhealthy lifestyle. The medical treatment for these conditions is with antihistamines. These effectively reduce the secretion of histamine from the immune cells thus reducing most of the symptoms experienced. The problem with this treatment is that it is not curing the condition and so continuous use will be needed.
In TCM we will try and find the reasons behind this immune dysfunction and treat it in addition to treating the symptoms. If this has been done successfully the results will be long lasting and there will be no need for a continuous, long term, treatment.
In TCM we try to regulate the immune system in order to stop it from overreacting. This is done by using Acupuncture points which are related to the immune system (mainly lung and spleen points), and herbs which are known to calm and regulate a misfiring immune system. Advice regarding lifestyle and diet will usually be given if necessary. The results are usually very good.