The immune system is the name given to the body’s defensive and protective mechanisms. It is composed of many different layers and types of protection and its job is to protect the body from invasive pathogens: bacteria, viruses, parasites etc. Humans and all other verteberates, including most fish, reptiles, birds and mammals have what is called an “adaptive immune system”. If a pathogen makes it through the body’s basic innate immune response, the adaptive immune response can help the body identify pathogens and deploy specific mechanisms to eliminate them. When the pathogen has been eliminated the immune system remembers the pathogen and develops further refined responses to subsequent exposures.
In humans, the respiratory tract including the skin, nasal passages and lungs are the foremost barrier to incoming pathogens. Mucus helps protect the nasal passages, lungs and gastrointestinal tract, while other substances like tears help protect the eyes and urine flushes out the genitourinary tract. Many of the body’s defenses also have a chemical barrier built into them. Enzymes and anibacterial agents exist in many of the body’s fluids helping to protect the body on the exterior and interior.
In Chinese Medicine, all of the components that constitute an individual tend to be described in terms of different types of energy or “qi” (sometimes spelled chi). The Chinese parallel to the western immune system is what is called the “Wei Qi”. The Wei Qi is considered to be the protective energy that surrounds the body and protects it from invasion of external pathogens. The Wei Qi is considered to be closely related to the Qi of the kidneys, lungs, spleen and stomach and is basically the sum total of the body’s defenses, created by the harmonious interaction of the body’s internal organs and their respective roles in energy transformation. In a small nutshell, the energy derived from the food we ingest and the air we breathe is transformed in combination with our emotional energy and inherent genetic energy we possess, into the body’s defensive “Wei Qi”. Disharmony or weakness in any of the main organ systems can lead to insufficient Wei Qi and immunodeficiency; and predispose one to colds, flus, allergies, other types of infectious disease, autoimmune diseases and even cancer.
In summary, the healthy immune system, described as abundant Wei Qi in Chinese Medicine is the product of the harmonious interaction of all the body’s main energetic systems. The energy of the kidneys, lungs, spleen, stomach and liver must all be functioning correctly and efficiently in order for the Wei Qi to be generated at optimum levels. In instances of immune deficiency, acupuncture and Chinese Medicine offer specific treatment plans including herbal formulas, acupuncture point prescriptions and dietary and exercise recommendations to help fortify the individual and improve immune function directly.
Terry M. Chen, Licensed Acupuncturist
Open Sky Acupuncture, Eugene Oregon