Ah, the new school year, 2013. The leaves are turning brown, there is an icy note in the morning air. Check that, this is Dallas! It's still 100 degrees, and the only reasons those leaves are turning brown are heat and dryness. But even though it doesn't look like fall (or smell like it or feel like it), the season of renewed germ exposure is upon us. Come in to Lake Highlands Acupuncture to get a boost for your immune system, helping you fight off more infections or rebound more quickly when one of those pesky viruses or bacteria sneak through. How can acupuncture and herbal medicine do this?

I've spoken in previous blog posts about the precious substance of qi. Qi is the body's vital energy, that which makes all of the organs function and perform the work of being a healthy human being. But qi, like blood, is not a single thing. Just as blood is made up of (among others) white cells that perform immune functions, red cells that carry iron, and platelets that clot, there are different aspects of qi as well. Today, I'm going to focus on wei or protective qi.

The great majority of the body's qi is derived from the food and water we consume. This nourishment travels from the mouth into the digestive system. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the stomach and the spleen are responsible for digestion, with the spleen's importance being paramount. This spleen is not exactly like the physiological spleen we understand in the West, but may indeed be closer in function to the pancreas. The aforementioned nourishment is separated in the stomach into two parts: the heavy and the light. The heavy is what is sent further into the intestines for the absorption of further nutrients. The light, a sort of precursor qi known as gu qi, is sent to the spleen where it is separated into ying qi, which is a nourishing form of qi that makes up part of the blood, and wei qi, the protective form of qi we are interested in here.

The spleen sends the wei qi to the lungs, which have the functions of controlling and distributing it. The wei qi has several functions, including nourishing and moistening the soft tissues of the skin and muscles, opening and closing the pores to maintain body temperature, and defending the body by preventing the invasion of external pathogens. Thus, the wei qi is an important aspect of your immune system. Because it protects the exterior of the body, it works rather as an armor against invading pathogens.

To best perform the job of immunity, the wei qi must be plentiful and must move freely. As described above, the wei qi is derived from the digestive process. So, if digestion is impaired, it is easy for wei qi to be deficient. Furthermore, the path of food and water intake is also a possible pathway for external pathogenic invasion, so peak digestive function (strong digestive fire) is directly as well as indirectly important in immunity.

Also as noted above, the lungs are responsible for dispersing the wei qi, helping it move in the spaces where it is needed. So, if lung function is impaired, wei qi's movement is impaired, and the defensive response is impaired. In TCM, the lungs are referred to as the "imperial carriage roof", meaning the organ that is above all the other vital organs and acts as a protective canopy-like barrier. This is where pathogenic invasions most commonly occur, because the lungs are the primary barrier to the exterior where the pathogens exist.

Sometimes, though, no matter what you do, some germ will sneak through and you may get a cold. You probably know the first symptom that alerts you to an upcoming sickness. It could be a scratchy throat, tingling back, bizarre fatigue. Whatever it is, you've probably had it enough to recognize it for what it presages: upcoming sickness. At this first sign, a home herbal remedy should be immediately applied! In a teapot or saucepan, add about 1 mugs-worth of good clean water, along with about a 1 inch section of ginger root cut into thin slices and a 2 inch section of the white end of a green onion. Boil for about 10 minutes. If you desire, for flavor, a bit (1/2 tsp or so) of honey may be added to the hot mixture after boiling. Let the liquid cool enough to sip, then enjoy it in a nice hot bath. The beverage will open your pores and the heat will cause sweating. The sweating is a good thing, as it releases some of the pathogen and impurities causing you to feel bad. After getting out of the bath, roll up under a heavy blanket and sweat for a few more minutes. Then, dry off and put on some warm clothes and socks. If done early enough, this simple treatment may knock out a sickness before it has a chance to take hold. Dealing with a cough? Try this recipe!

So you can see, keeping the digestive and respiratory systems functioning at their peaks is the most important way to promote immunity during cold and flu seasons. At Lake Highlands Acupuncture, we provide you with custom herbal formulations and custom acupuncture treatments that promote digestive function, keep everyday stressors from impeding digestion, promote respiratory function, and boost your wei qi. Come in early. It is much easier to boost immune qi before allergies and flus hit than after. If you know when respiratory allergies tend to hit, come in a good 6 weeks before, and we'll get your immune barrier functioning at its best.