As the age-old TCM adage goes, “正气存内，邪不可干”. In summary, what this tells us is that as long as our body’s immunity is strong enough, we should be shielded from any pathogens that would otherwise cause us to become ill.
Even with precautionary measures like practising good personal hygiene and wearing masks, a compromised immune system would still make one highly susceptible to various infections. Using TCM theories and therapies, here are a few tips to help you ensure that your immune system is running at full capacity.
Get sufficient rest
Sleep is essential for cell repair, toxin removal, white blood cell production and a myriad of other functions that help to maintain the body’s normal immune function.
Most people are aware that the average adult requires 7-8 hours of sleep every night. However, the time in which we go to bed is also of equal importance. According to TCM theories, the optimal time to head to bed is at 11pm, as this timing corresponds to when our 胆 (dan) or gallbladder is the most active.
It is believed that the energies of all our other organs are rejuvenated along with the gallbladder and thus sleeping by 11pm will help ensure that we are getting the most benefits out of our sleep.
Two TCM organs in particular have a close relationship with our immune system, namely the Lungs and the Spleen.
The lungs are the first point of contact for most environmental pathogens that usually enter via the skin or openings of the face, while the spleen is responsible for the circulation of nutrients to immune cells throughout the body.
By ensuring these organs are healthy, it will give our bodies a better fighting chance should an infection occur. Below are a few acupoints related to the lung and spleen meridians that you can massage regularly to help boost your immunity.
列缺 (Lie Que, LU7)
- Regulate lung energy
- Dispel negative energies
How to massage:
Using your thumb, press gently into the acupoint, then rub in a circular motion continuously for 1 minute.
合谷 (He Gu, LI4)
- Increase immune function
- Promote Qi and blood circulation throughout the body
How to massage:
Using your thumb, press hard into the acupoint and hold for 30 seconds. Soreness is expected.
足三里 (Zu San Li, ST36)
- Stimulate and nourish stomach energy
- Remove spleen dampness
How to massage:
Using your thumb, press hard into the acupoint, then rub in a circular motion continuously for 1 minute.
中脘 (Zhong Wan, RN12)
- Nourish spleen and regulate stomach energy
- Remove spleen dampness
How to massage:
Overlap the palm of your left hand to the back of the right hand and place the palm of the right hand on the acupoint.
Move your hands in a circular motion in the direction of your right thumb for 2-3 minutes.
Exercise is another essential component of a healthy immune system.
Regular moderate exercise helps to ensure good blood circulation throughout the body, which in turn helps immune cells to perform their jobs efficiently. Exercise also releases endorphins that helps in dealing with stress, thereby improving both physical and mental well-being that will contribute to an overall healthier immunity.
The Health Promotion Board recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity a week. 八段锦（Ba Duan Jin）or The 8 Brocade Exercises is a form of Chinese medical qigong used traditionally to improve physical and mental health.
Here are 3 simple exercises extracted from 八段锦 (Ba Duan Jin) that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help energise and strengthen your body.
1. Sway the Head and Shake the Tail
Adopt a wide squat position with your knees pointing outwards at 90-120 degrees and your hands on your knees.
Bend forward from your hips and rotate from left to right in a circular motion, repeat this movement in the other direction.
Keep your body in the wide squat position for the entire duration of this exercise. Perform for 6 repetitions (3 rotations in each direction).
This movement helps regulate heart and lung function.
2. Separate Heaven and Earth
Stand shoulder width apart, with knees slightly bent and both palms at waist height facing upwards, thrust the hands slowly in opposite directions, one up and one down, with the palm of the top hand facing the sky and the palm of the bottom hand facing the ground.
Return to the starting posture and switch direction of the hands.
Perform for 6 repetitions (3 up and 3 down for each hand).
This movement helps regulate stomach and spleen function.
3. Bouncing on the Toes
Stand shoulder width apart, push upwards through the toes until you are in a tip-toe position, then drop on your heels with a small rocking motion upon landing.
Perform for 6 repetitions. The vibration effect created will help smoothen out the energies of the body.
As mentioned above, the lungs and spleen are organs that have an important role to play in our immune system.
Cold drinks and foods that are raw, sweet, spicy, fatty and oily place a burden on these organs and should be consumed in moderation.
For people experiencing symptoms like bloatedness, poor appetite, loose stools, chronic fatigue and recurrent flu, these are signs that your lungs and/or spleen may be deficient and as such more care should be taken with regards to your diet.
On the other hand, TCM herbs like 黄芪 (Huang Qi, Radix Astragali) and 白术 (Bai Zhu, Rhizoma Atractylodis) are well known for their nourishing and immunity boosting properties, while herbs like 金银花 (Jin Ying Hua) and 野菊花(Ye Ju Hua) are commonly used to dispel heatiness and guard against the onset of an approaching flu.
Here are 2 recipes that utilise these herbs.
黄芪 (Huang Qi, Radix Astragali), 白术 (Bai Zhu, Rhizoma Atractylodis) Pork Bone Soup
- 500g of pork bone
- 2 slices of ginger
- 15g of 黄芪 (Huang Qi, Radix Astragali)
- 15g of 白术 (Bai Zhu, Rhizoma Atractylodis)
- ½ tablespoon of goji berries
- 5 cups of water
- Salt (to taste)
- Blanch the pork bone
- Add blanched pork bone, ginger, 黄芪 (Huang Qi, Radix Astragali) and 白术 (Bai Zhu, Rhizoma Atractylodis) to a pot and fill with water
- Bring the pot to a boil using high heat
- Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes
- After 30 minutes, bring the soup back to a boil and add goji berries and salt
- Soup is ready for consumption
Functions: Nourish spleen and lungs, increase immunity
Indications: Chronic fatigue, bloatedness, poor appetite, loose stools, recurrent flu
Japanese Honey-Suckle and Wild Chrysanthemum Tea
Ingredients: (Serves 1)
- 1 tablespoon of honeysuckle and wild chrysanthemum flowers each
- 1 teaspoon of rock sugar
- 2 ½ bowls of water
- Rinse the honeysuckle and wild chrysanthemum flowers using water
- Place the cleaned honeysuckle and wild chrysanthemum flowers in a pot and add 2 ½ bowls of water
- Bring the water in the pot to a boil using medium heat
- Cover the pot and let the water simmer for 20 mins under low heat
- After 20 mins add rock sugar
- Turn off the fire once all the rock sugar has completely dissolved
- The tea is ready for consumption. Place in a bottle and consume gradually throughout the day.
Functions: Dispel heatiness, prevention of fever and flu
Indications: Heatiness, excessive thirst, ulcers, yellowish phlegm, yellowish urine, uneasiness
Article by Physician Tan Yuan Ming