Within each of us is a complex system of cells, proteins, and signaling molecules constantly adapting to new intruders, bacteria, and viruses that threaten our body. This is the immune system and is the body’s first line of defense in keeping us alive and healthy.
What a Western approach often overlooks, though, is how the whole body is synergistically involved in immune function, and how we can support this vital and complex system.
From digestive health to managing stress, and mental health–each system plays a critical role in immune function, and by connecting these systems we can create a truly robust immune system.
We take immune function for granted until it’s too late, but the pill-for-an-ill mentality doesn’t apply here! With east west medicine, there’s a solution to many of our immune problems.
What A Healthy Immune System Does
Immune cells are capable of recognizing friend from foe by interpreting the proteins on the surface of almost any organism–bacteria, virus, food, and parasites.
When immune cells detect an unwanted pathogen, they send signals to inflammatory proteins, called cytokines, that mount an appropriate response to neutralize or get rid of the offending cells.
Healthy immune systems are responsible for being constantly vigilant in monitoring for things like cancer cells, invading bacteria, and potentially lethal viruses, like coronavirus. If they detect one of these pathogens, cytokines recruit different types of white blood cells to rid the body of threats (1).
Resilience with an East West Medicine Approach
Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda tells us that immune function becomes more vulnerable with stress, nutritional deficiencies, and chronic illness.
Our modern lives make us especially susceptible to illness and disease, because we are primarily reactive, rather than proactive about supporting these systems.
To make the body stronger against infection, Eastern systems of medicine teach prevention in the form of nutrition, spiritual, and immune-boosting therapies.
Ayurveda teaches us that improperly digested food contributes to a buildup of negative energy in the body. And Western medicine shows us that gut health and immune function are inseparable. About 75 percent of the immune system resides in the gut. This makes sense when you think about all the food and liquid that pass through it (2). The gut immune system must decide what is allowed into the bloodstream, and what should pass through the body as waste.
Immune cells in the gut secrete antibodies that fight infection, communicate with the nervous system, and send signals to recruit other immune cells if necessary.
When digestive health isn’t functioning optimally, the cells in the intestinal lining can become “leaky” in response to inflammation. With a leaky gut, substances can now leave the gut through the abnormally large gaps between intestinal cells. This means that improperly digested proteins, bacteria, viruses, not normally present in the bloodstream can now pass through a damaged gut membrane.
When this happens, our immune system mounts an appropriate response to these intruders, but when it occurs continuously, and over time, our immune system can become overactive, and disrupt the delicate balance of inflammation and cytokine production.
We are then unable to properly respond to invading pathogens and experience a higher likelihood of autoimmune disorders (3).
Healing Leaky Gut Improves Immune Function
If you suspect food sensitivities, inflammation, or have irregular bowel movements, you’re not properly eliminating toxins, waste, and bacteria from your digestive system, and your gut will continue to be a victim of inflammation.
Leaky gut leads to poor absorption of nutrients and can result in nutritional deficiencies that can severely impact immune function. Poor gut health leads to reduced vitamin A, C, and zinc status–all of which are necessary for healthy immune function.
Because healing the gut is paramount for immune health, and the health of your whole body, I recommend beginning with my Belly Fix course as the first step to healing inflammation and restoring proper balance.
The Belly Fix course will teach you:
- Which foods are your digestive triggers
- How to detox the gut and support liver health
- The herbs needed to prime digestion
- How to heal leaky gut and properly absorb nutrients
When we’re stressed, the body’s ability to fight off pathogens is reduced. The stress hormone, cortisol, suppresses immune function, making it more difficult to recruit white blood cells and neutralize the offending intruder.
When we undergo short-term stress in response to a singular event, like, a big presentation in front of other people, or a fight with a friend–this can actually support a portion of our immune system (4).
However, that’s vastly different from the type of stress that modern people struggle with. Our stress is chronic, and usually a result of lifestyle or status in life. We have demanding jobs, families, and are living disconnected from nature. Chronic stress hinders immune function and can severely impact our ability to maintain health in the long-term.
The East West Medicine Healing Modalities
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda teach that healing the gut is the foundation of health throughout the whole body–including immune function.
Traditional healing wisdom teaches us that the brain, immune, and digestive systems are inextricably linked and that we have a greater connection with the natural world than what most of us acknowledge.
It’s by supporting the interwoven framework of all these aspects that we create a healthier and higher functioning physical body.
Traditional Chinese Medicinal and Ayurvedic Remedies
Many of the healing modalities employed in TCM and Ayurveda support an array of systems at the same time.
Tulsi and ashwagandha are masters at supporting the body’s response to stress, thereby supporting immune function and mental clarity (5)(6).
Panax ginseng is used to support energy production and vitality. And the reishi mushroom contains hundreds of different bioactive compounds that strengthen immune response and replenish the body’s “Qi” or life force. TCM also uses reishi for a calm mind and a healthy respiratory function.
Turmeric and licorice root have a profound impact on the body’s inflammatory response, and licorice root aids in proper digestion and maintaining a healthy intestinal lining (7).
Astragalus, a traditional Chinese medical herb, modulates the immune response and supports a healthy expression of proteins involved in immune function (8).
East West Medicine: Eastern Philosophies Meet Western Practice
Acupuncture for Holistic Healing
Acupuncture can be traced as early as 6th century Japan and is one of a growing number of healing modalities that successfully connects Eastern and Western practice. Acupuncture teaches that by understanding the flow of energy through meridians in the body, we can restore balance to systems that have become imbalanced.
An acupuncturist will take a comprehensive approach to therapy instead of isolating each symptom and addressing them separately.
Benefits of acupuncture include:
- Stimulating muscle relaxation and lowering cortisol levels
- Redirecting brain signals
- Supporting hormone and neurotransmitter communication
- Promoting the release of endorphins
- Enhancing pain relief (9)
For those of us who might be dissuaded from acupuncture by the use of needles, laser acupuncture is also a welcomed option for adults and children.
Most of us don’t need to be convinced of the benefits of massage, but you might be surprised to learn that they go much deeper than muscle relaxation and stress relief.
Massage is a way to manipulate fascia, connective tissue, and muscle in the body to restore balance, release toxins, and support immunity by facilitating the movement of lymph fluid throughout the body. Hormones are released during the massage that alleviates pain and enhance immune function (10).
Massage has been shown to help with sleep, digestive function, and improve circulation. All these aspects have a significant and positive impact on whole-body health, and immune function as well (11).
As much as we strive to take our vitamins, get sufficient rest, and eat a whole foods diet, many Americans still experience a struggle to find the energy they need or feel that their mental cognition just isn’t quite where it used to be.
Supplements taken orally can be effective for many people, but if you’re like a growing number of those with any digestive dysfunction, you may be unable to properly absorb many micronutrients–and this could go on for years without you being aware. Factors like age, chronic illness, the quality of the supplement, or additives to it, are all factors that slow or inhibit the absorption of supplements.
This is where IV therapy bridges the gap. Intravenous administration of nutrients bypasses the biological and mechanical means that inhibit the absorption of nutrients and deliver them directly to the systems that put them to use.
IV vitamin infusion may be more effective than oral or topical treatments for correcting nutrient deficiencies within cells. Patients report benefits such as:
- Better cognition
- Clearer skin
- Increased energy
- Feelings of wellbeing
- Better sleep
- Lower stress
When Immune Function is Breached
Many times, and for reasons outside of our control, we encounter a virus or bacteria that we have no immunity to, and it begins to replicate and cause symptoms within our body. When this occurs, the best plan of action is to support a healthy immune response and let the robust immune system we’ve created through digestive wellness and stress management complete its job.
There are a few natural east west medicine ways we can support this process.
Vitamin D is necessary for immune function, and less than optimal levels have been shown to make us more susceptible to illness.
Supplementing with elderberry, Umcka, probiotics, are all great ways to support the body during times when our immune system is trying to battle a pathogen like coronavirus, or the seasonal flu.
Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic remedy to reduce symptoms of body aches, fatigue, and congestion.
Best Practices for Viruses
The best way to prevent coronavirus, and other unfriendly viral infections, is to avoid contact with the virus itself. Once you’ve been infected with the virus, it’s up to your immune system to mount the appropriate response and rid the body of infection. We can support it during this process, but the best course of action is to avoid the virus altogether.
We do this by continually washing our hands, keeping them away from our face, and by avoiding densely crowded areas where people could be sneezing or coughing, and expelling the virus into the air.
Nutrient deficiencies, leaky gut, and poor digestion are significant risk factors for poor immune health. If digestion isn’t functioning optimally, my 21-Day Belly Fix course has all the resources you need to heal your gut, detox the body, and give your immune health the foundation it needs.
By learning more about east west medicine practices, you can find ways to alleviate stress and help build a stronger immune system.