It is estimated that COVID-19 could be up to ten times more deadly than the flu. This could be due to the intense inflammatory response it triggers in the body. Covid-19 seems to have an effect on the production of proteins called “cytokines” which are known to be involved in systemic inflammation. These Cytokines are found to be overproduced in those suffering from severe COVID-19.
A Cytokine Storm is "a severe immune reaction in which the body releases too many cytokines into the blood too quickly. A cytokine storm can occur as a result of an infection, autoimmune condition, or other diseases. It may also occur after treatment with some types of immunotherapy." A cytokine storm is the rapid release of pro-inflammatory proteins and is a classic sign to physicians as a symptom of sepsis; an often fatal response to infection. Symptoms of a Cytokine Storm fall in line with what we have been told to look for as common symptoms of covid-19 such as fever, swelling, severe fatigue, and nausea.
A study originally published in early August of 2020 (linked here) demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture. This certainly is not the first study to provide evidence that acupuncture can be incredibly effective in supporting the body’s immune function, however considering the current pandemic, it seemed to catch the eye of many concerned readers.
The study was able to conclude that though anti-inflammatory drugs are also effective, they come with undesirable side effects, including organ damage. Whereas acupuncture offered a safe, natural, and effective way of helping the body navigate the complexity of this disease with no lingering side-effects and many added therapeutic benefits.
Similar findings were reported in a study originally posted in September of 2020 (linked here). While investigating the effects of acupuncture on those suffering from asthma, they were able to conclude that acupuncture does in fact have an effect on the immune response.
Hang on, this gets a little science-heavy here, but this is an important statement from the above study as to why acupuncture is able to act as an anti-inflammatory treatment. “T-helper cell type 1 (Th1) plays an important role in cell-mediated immunity, whereas T-helper cell type 2 (Th2) is responsible for humoral immune responses, such as regulating immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgE secretion. Acupuncture has been shown to restore the equilibrium between Th1 and Th2 activity by reducing the production of Th2-specific cytokines”.
Though Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM) have been around for over 3,000 years, the efficacy of TCM has been questioned in Western medicine since its arrival on our shores back in the 1970s. A fundamental difference between the two is that Western medicine often seeks to block neural pathways in order to relieve symptoms (such as pain) as the first course of action. TCM uses a more holistic approach to wellness. An acupuncturist is trained to identify areas of disharmony (such as pain or heat) within the body and with this knowledge treat the diagnosed condition (or conditions), not simply mask the symptoms. A benefit to this type of medicine is that TCM looks much more thoroughly into the health and condition of organs and their contribution, or lack thereof, to the system as a whole. Though much work needs to be done in order to fully understand the relationship between cytokines, Covid-19, and TCM, this continuing research represents an important step. Ongoing efforts will continue in order to understand the neuroanatomy of acupuncture, and how it could, and quite frankly should be used safely and effectively alongside just about any other treatment modality.
What does all this mean?
Because of the disease’s potentially fatal production of these pro-inflammatory proteins, COVID-19 and Cytokine Storms have a lot in common. The good news is that acupuncture may be able to help!
If you are looking to simply boost your immune system, or require some input on what to do next, please reach out. We are here for you. Feel free to call or schedule your appointment today.
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.