Using Traditional Chinese Medicine to Support Your Immune System

By: Dr. Ece Algur, LAc, DACM, MD.

In these stressful days of the coronavirus pandemic, we want to talk about practical ways for prevention and share some tips to stay safe, balanced, and support your immune system.

About 2,000 years ago, a famous ancient Chinese doctor wrote a book about herbs, herb combinations (we call them formulas), how to use them, and when to use them. During this time, there was an endemic that killed most of the villagers and infected all of his family members, and from the archeological findings and the symptoms he recorded in his book, it looks like a tuberculosis outbreak. In his fight with the disease, he documented his findings and remedies. These records became, along with the works of his apprentices, the major book of Chinese Medicine, Shang Han Lun (On Cold Damage), a 1,800-year-old Chinese medical text on externally contracted diseases.

We have already talked about how acupuncture supports the immune system, but in light of recent developments surrounding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), this time we want to provide more practical precautions everyone can take to stay safe and healthy.

  • The novel coronavirus is a comparably larger-sized virus, which means it cannot stay in the air for a long time. Practicing social distancing from other people can prevent airborne contamination.
  • The novel coronavirus has a capsule with fatty acids, and simple soap destroys this capsule. Washing your hands often with soap is preventive.
  • Keeping your work surfaces clean, wiping every day or after exposure to other people with bleach water can kill the viruses on the surfaces. For the surfaces, you can use 70% alcohol or bleach. You can prepare bleach water with 1 gallon of water and ¼ cup of bleach.
  • When the virus travels from nostrils or mouth into the nasopharyngeal mucosa, it takes about 4 hours until the virus goes into one of the mucosa cells. Once in the cell, the virus multiplies and bursts the cell. The process of these viruses attaching to the mucosal cells again and invading them takes another 4 hours. This gives a 4-8 hours window to mechanically wash out the invader.
    • Washing your nostrils, gargling, and washing the back of your throat with saline, Ocean saline nasal spray or saltwater may protect you mechanically from the invasion of the virus. If you can’t find a saline solution, Ocean nasal spray, etc. you can simply prepare a salt-water solution with 1-liter water and 1 tablespoon of salt (this can be saltier than the saline solution). Once you prepare this solution, pour it in a bottle and leave it by your sink. Washing your nostrils and gargling 2-3 times a day with it will mechanically remove the virus from the mucosa.

The Chinese doctor we mentioned before is Zhang Zong-Jing; in his book, Shang Han Lun, he explains a very simple tea to prepare for viral invasion/cold onset. This tea is effective only in the first 24 hours of the exposure. When you feel a cold coming on, have symptoms such as chills, cold feeling in your back, discomfort in your throat, neck tightness, slight headache, fullness in your sinuses, stuffy nose, runny nose, or achiness in your body, you can drink this tea to support your immune system and detoxify your body:

  • Scallion & Fresh Ginger tea: In 2 cups of water boil the white parts from 6 scallions with 6 slices of fresh ginger for 15 minutes. Drink the tea, go under the covers and wait until you sweat.
    • If you sweat, hydrate yourself with room temperature or warm water, change to dry clothes. If you don’t sweat, you can repeat drinking this tea a few more times.
    • Zhang Zhong-Jing’s book says “if you still don’t sweat, needle GB 20 until the sweat breaks.” Since we are practicing social isolation and you can’t come for an acupuncture session, try to apply acupressure to GB 20. This is an acupuncture point on the Gallbladder Channel; in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the acupuncture meridians or channels are named after the organs and although each point has a special name in Chinese, for learning purposes in the English learning system we remember them with numbers. GB 20 is located below the occiput, in the hollow between the origins of sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles. You can find this area with your fingertips in the back of your upper neck where your neck muscles meet your scalp and apply acupressure to the point’s location with your fingers.
    • This sweating is, in Traditional Chinese Medicine terms, releasing the exterior, meaning detoxing yourself from the first invasion of the pathogens, by bringing your temperature up and sweating out the pathogen or toxins.

Other easy tips that can prevent the first virus load from invading your system and in general, to keep your immune system strong are:

  • Healthy nutrition is crucial. Try not to skip meals, and since you’re probably spending more time at home, try to cook fresh and natural foods for yourself.
  • Sleep is very important. Now that you might be working from home, pay attention to your sleep hygiene as working from home may bring overwork and a change of sleep hours. Try to stay on your daily routine! Be mindful to not overwork and set time limits, and use your usual commute time to enjoy and relax, maybe listen to a podcast like you normally would.
  • Spare some time for meditation and exercise. If you meditate, start your day with 10 minutes of meditation, repeat this in the middle of the day and at the end of your day. It will be a good way to exercise your brain. If you don’t know how to meditate, now is a great time to start! There are plenty of meditation apps you can download on your phone that can guide you in short meditations, our favorites are Headspace and Calm.
  • Taking walks in the sun on nice days (without close contact with others) will be very beneficial. We want to really emphasize the benefits of getting fresh air and sunlight, as studies show these can boost your immunity to the virus.

We wish you healthy, happy days. Please feel free to reach out to us by phone or by filling out the form below if you have any questions about Traditional Chinese Medicine, how to better support your immune system during these times or anything else.

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