A study published by the National Institutes of Health evaluated the efficacy of acupuncture for stimulating or regulating the immune system by comparing the results from several studies that each used different methods of acupuncture. Through the use of electroacupuncture, moxibustion, herbs and acupuncture, the studies concluded Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM, can be helpful for the immune system. The combined studies demonstrated that moxibustion helped repair the gut mucosa of rats suffering from ulcerative colitis, electroacupuncture can increase the number of T cells in the body and that general acupuncture can decrease inflammation, which plays a vital role in the immune system.
Your immune system is what keeps you healthy and helps you ward off pathogens like the flu or a cold. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time worrying about our immune system until we’re sick. Then we reach for the over-the-counter medications to help relieve our symptoms. By looking to TCM instead, we can be proactive about supporting our immune systems in a safe and natural way.
According to TCM, the body is protected by something known as the Wei Qi (pronounced “way chee”). The Wei Qi, or defensive Qi, is comparable to the immune system in conventional medicine. It acts as the first line of defense when the body is under attack from external pathogens. If the Wei Qi is strong, then the body is capable of fighting off bacteria and viruses. Extreme stress, lack of sleep and a poor diet can all play into how strong the body’s Wei Qi is and how well it performs.
There are multiple tools in the TCM practitioner’s tool box that can assist in keeping the immune system strong and healthy, including acupuncture, moxibustion, electroacupuncture, herbs, cupping and nutrition.
Each of these tools has a similar effect on the body. TCM can regulate immune function, while also treating the underlying causes of the disease. This is done by reducing the symptoms, speeding up the healing, decreasing excess phlegm, decreasing inflammation and boosting the immune-mediated cells in the body that help ward off invasions.
Studies show regular acupuncture treatments can actually increase the number of T cells the body produces. T cells destroy harmful bacteria and viruses in the body. Acupuncture needles stimulate the brain into thinking an invader (virus or bacteria) has entered the body. The brain signals the increased release of T cells and white blood cells to fight off the intruder. The amazing part is the increased cellular response lasts for several days after the acupuncture treatment. Thus, receiving regular acupuncture treatments can actually prevent the body from getting sick.
Heart health is extremely important. Without a healthy heart, the body does not function properly. The same can be said for a healthy state of mind. This is where Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be extremely beneficial. TCM, a medical system that dates back nearly 3,000 years, uses multiple modalities to treat illnesses and conditions of the mind and body.
When the heart is strong, circulation will be sufficient, the body will be well nourished and the pulse will reflect that by being full and regular. Both TCM and conventional medicine agree a weak heart can manifest as palpitations, chest pain and even heart disease or a heart attack. Where the two medical systems diverge is this: Traditional Chinese Medicine also acknowledges that the heart “houses the mind.”
In TCM, the heart and the mind are virtually inseparable. The heart governs the ability to think clearly and sleep soundly. Our emotional state is strongly influenced by how healthy or unhealthy our heart may be. A weak and deficient heart may create feelings of anxiety and mania, while also contributing to insomnia, forgetfulness and lack of concentration. And conversely, a weak mind or uncontrolled emotions can lead to a sick heart.
Heart health can be reflected in the facial complexion also. A nice rosy complexion indicates a strong, healthy heart, while a pale or sallow complexion is indicative of a deficient, weak heart. If the heart blood becomes stagnant, the complexion may have a purplish tint. When the complexion is reddish, this may indicate heart heat. This is one of the diagnostic tools that TCM practitioners use to determine the disease pattern of their patients.
Looking at some of the different modalities incorporated into TCM, there are many ways a person can manage their heart health. Here are some ways that TCM can help.
Acupuncture for Heart Health: Inserting hair-thin, solid, filiform needles into acupressure points along the body can help tremendously to keep your heart healthy. Acupuncture has been shown to lower blood pressure, calm the mind, relieve stress and decrease any pain that might be occurring. Acupuncture also stimulates blood flow, making circulation more effective.
Favorite Acupuncture Points for Heart Health:
· Governing Vessel 20 – This point is located on the top of the head, midway between the apexes of both ears. GV20 stimulates circulation throughout the body and calms the mind.
· Heart 7 – This point is located bilaterally on the underside of the wrist, at the outermost end of the wrist crease. H7 can help with heart arrhythmias, panic attacks, hypertension, insomnia and much more.
· Liver 3 – Located bilaterally on the top of the foot, in the depression about one thumb-width from the edge of the webbing between the first and second toes. L3 is a great point for improving blood circulation and relieving anxiety.
Chinese Herbs and Formulas for Heart Health: Another important component of TCM is the use of herbs and herbal formulas. Many times the herbs can be used alone, but there will be a more synergistic effect when single herbs are combined to make a formula. One such herb is San Qi. San Qi invigorates the blood, removing blockages, and it is also known to lower blood pressure. One of the most popular herbal formulas is Suan Zao Ren Tang. This formula nourishes the blood, calms the spirit and clears heat, which are all symptoms that can be associated with an imbalanced heart.
Dietary Recommendations for Heart Health: Nutrition can also be very important in keeping the heart healthy. Berries are loaded with antioxidants that can reduce the risk of heart disease. Chia seeds and flax seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids that can help lower blood pressure. Other foods like asparagus, nuts, dark chocolate, beans and green tea can also help to maintain a healthy heart.
Seeking help from a locally licensed acupuncturist is a great way to take care of your health. If you are experiencing any chest pains or stroke symptoms, it is best to go to urgent care first, just to make sure there is no serious damage.
Acupuncture is part of a medical system known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has been around for nearly 3,000 years. The practice uses hair-thin needles to stimulate acupressure points, specific points on the body that regulate the flow of energy through pathways called meridians. The free and balanced flow of this energy, or Qi, dispels pain and illness from the body, according to TCM. For many years in the Western world, in fact for most of the 3,000 years acupuncture has existed, people have been skeptical about placing their faith in a medical system that looks at energy pathways instead of veins.
Today, a growing body of research on acupuncture is going a long way to prove the efficacy of acupuncture for a variety of afflictions, and the practice is growing in popularity. If you’re one of those people still on the fence, take a closer look at these five prevailing myths about acupuncture before deciding it’s not for you.
Myth one: Acupuncture is painful.
It’s understandable to think being pricked with multiple needles will be painful or at least uncomfortable. In the West, our experience with needles is primarily through getting shots with hypodermic needles. Those needs are significantly larger than acupuncture needles, which are only about twice the diameter of a human hair. Acupuncture needles are also extremely flexible and can bend to a 90-degree angle without breaking. Rather than pain, most patients report a vague numbness, heaviness, tingling or dull ache around where the needles are inserted.
Myth two: Acupuncture only works to treat pain.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In Asia, acupuncture is used to treat just about everything, and stateside, research is showing it alleviates a multitude of ailments. Acupuncture has been shown to help everything from allergies to arthritis. Some hospitals are now offering acupuncture to help alleviate stress and anxiety in the emergency room, and the U.S. military is using acupuncture on the battlefield to help with PTSD.
Myth three: Acupuncture doesn’t really work: it’s just a placebo effect
Over the past decade, scientific studies have come a long way in disproving this claim. Most studies today test the efficacy of acupuncture treatments by performing true acupuncture on a portion of the study participants and sham acupuncture on another group. The sham acupuncture, placing needles in people at random points rather than known acupoints, is meant to test the strength of the placebo effect in acupuncture. Several studies have found that while people in both groups report some change (pain relief, less nausea etc. depending on the study), the group that receives true acupuncture consistently reports more significant change, for a longer period of time, and system-wide change rather than just localized effects where the needles are inserted. In May 2018, the Journal of Pain published a study that looked at acupuncture and chronic pain using data from nearly 21,000 patients. In their study, patients who received sham acupuncture did not see significant changes in their pain whereas the group that received true acupuncture did, adding to the body of evidence showing acupuncture cannot be explained away by the placebo effect.
Myth four: Acupuncture works miracles: it only takes a couple needles to cure you
The truth is that acupuncture works on a cumulative basis, just like building muscle or losing fat by going to the gym. You can’t expect to go to the gym once and look like Dwayne Johnson. It takes time. And depending on how long you’ve been dealing with your ailment, it may take quite a bit of time and multiple treatments. There are no instant fixes when it comes to health.
Myth five: Acupuncture is expensive
This all depends on the practitioner, the type of acupuncture being performed and whether or not you use insurance. Practitioners sometimes offer sliding scale pricing. Community style acupuncture, typically performed in an open setting with the practitioner treating multiple people at once, is quite affordable. And, as more and more insurance policies start to cover acupuncture, it is becoming more accessible to more people.
Summer is a time of abundant energy, long sunshine-filled days and warmth. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM, summer has many different associations that help define it and therefore help us understand how to stay in balance with the season. The element of summer is fire, the color is red, the emotion is joy and the governing organs are the heart and the small intestine. One way to stay healthy this summer is to adjust your habits to support your heart.
The heart is the main organ associated with the season of summer, and as such it should be paid close attention to and nourished to remain healthy. The heart’s main function is to circulate oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. In TCM, mental activity is also associated with the heart. This mental activity is known as Shen in Chinese medicine. Often compared to our mind, the Shen goes deeper to include our thought processes, memory, consciousness and emotional well-being.
Summer is the most appropriate time to calm the Shen and provide it with enrichment that will last throughout the whole year. When the fire element is balanced, the mind is calm, sleep is sound and the heart organ is strong and healthy. If the fire element is not balanced, there may be depression or an excess of joy which manifests as mania. Symptoms of an unbalanced fire element include heartburn, insomnia, agitation, nervousness, digestive upset, rashes, palpitations and excessive perspiration.
The small intestine, the second organ associated with summer in TCM, is responsible for separating the pure from the impure, allowing the body to use the pure and dispose of the impure. When the heart is not balanced, the small intestine, the brother to the heart, will not function properly either. For many people, this manifests as digestive upset of some sort: vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, etc.
Going outside and engaging all of your senses is an easy way to nourish the heart. A technique known as “grounding” has been gaining popularity over the past decade, and science is showing that it can be very beneficial. All one has to do is walk or stand in the grass while barefoot. The energy from the earth is incredible, and it can be very healing. While you’re there, take time to listen to the sounds of nature that surround you and enjoy the fragrances of the flowers. Taking in the experience with all your senses can be very grounding and have a calming effect on the mind and body.
Probably the two most important things you can do for heart health during the summer months is drink plenty of fresh water and eat cooling foods. No matter what season of the year, water is vital. It is recommended we drink at least 64 ounces per day. Cooling foods like fruits are good at keeping fire under control, which is healthy for the whole body. Other foods that are beneficial for the summer months include peppers, eggplant, cabbage, kale, broccoli, spinach, melons of all kinds, beets, radishes, jicama, carrots, berries, pineapple, cucumbers, peaches, peppermint, grapefruit and mushrooms.
If you notice yourself experiencing a heart or fire imbalance, consider adding acupuncture to your routine. Acupuncture is very good at reducing or increasing the body’s yang or fire energy, depending upon your individual needs. Ask me if you have any questions about using your acupuncture treatments to support your health this summer.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.