Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda to Boost the Immune System
How do you boost your immune system? Depending on who you ask, you will likely end up with a variety of answers. Your grandma might recommend a hot toddy or some chicken soup. Your friend at work swears you just need more vitamin C and zinc. Could it really be that simple? Probably not. In this article you will see the importance of TCM and Ayurveda to boost the immune system.
Ayurveda is an ancient healing science that originated in India and is currently practiced by millions of people across the globe. It encompasses a variety of health and wellness practices, including yoga, meditation, massage, and a proper diet to promote balance of the doshas, or energy systems of the body.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is another ancient health science that utilizes a holistic approach. It also encompasses a variety of strategies like nutrition, herbal medicine, and lifestyle practices to balance energy flow, or Qi, within the body. Although its origins are in the East, TCM is currently practiced by millions all over the world, as well.
If you asked an Ayurvedic practitioner how to use Ayurveda to boost the immune system, a variety of herbs, warming foods, skin exfoliation, and movement exercises would probably be recommended. A TCM practitioner would likely recommend a combination of healing foods, herbs, and various strategies to promote energy flow when posed with the same question.
Both practices also recommend specific strategies to fortify health based on the seasons. As you can see, the approaches are surprisingly similar. They both focus on balance and renewal through diet, herbal medicine, and lifestyle adjustments in tune with the change of seasons.
Since both practices are still highly respected after thousands of years, it’s pretty safe to say that they’re on to something! Let’s take a deeper look at how these ancient healing sciences approach immune system support and how you can incorporate immune-boosting strategies from both practices into your daily life.
Boosting the Immune System with Traditional Chinese Medicine
Like Ayurveda to boost the immune system, TCM also plays important role. Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends balancing Yin and Yang energy to support the immune system. Mood, circulation, blood production, and digestion must all be healthy to maintain a strong immune system. Acupuncture and movement exercises like yoga are used to improve circulation and remove blockages that restrict energy flow and compromise the immune system.
How the Yin and Yang Energies Influence Your Immunity
TCM describes Yin and Yang energies as opposites. Yin energy influences internal processes, while Yang influences the outside of the body.
- Yin: Yin energy influences the blood, fluids, and organs that are deep within the body, including the kidneys, liver, lungs, spleen, and heart. Tonics that support Yin energy are those that increase blood in the heart, liver, and kidneys, as well as fluid in the lungs.
Minerals that nourish these fluids are key, including calcium, iodine, and iron, which support circulation and purify the blood. Dried fruits, roots, and herbal soups that support these organs are also recommended.
Goji berry tea is a popular tonic for nourishing the immune system because it is rich in antioxidants. Sweet soups made from herbs, tubers, and sometimes pork or chicken are popular for detoxifying the body and nourishing the blood.
- Yang: Yang energy influences the outside of the body and serves as protection for the skin and outer or lesser organs, including the gallbladder, bladder, stomach, and intestines. Herbs that support digestion, circulation, and metabolism are key for balancing Yang energy and supporting the immune system. Yang also influences the adrenal glands, which are linked to the kidneys. In many cases foods that support kidney health also promote adrenal energy.
Nurturing Yin Energy to Boost Immunity
Yin energy should be nurtured whenever the weather is dry, especially in autumn and winter. TCM tonics for Yin energy include ginseng, sweet dried fruits, rhizomes, tremella white fungus, and bird’s nest soup. Dishes and teas made from goji berries are important for easing coughs, soothing dry skin, and fortifying the blood.
Stimulating Yang Energy to Boost Immunity
Yang energy should be stimulated when the weather is cold, as well as any time hormone production is low, you’re dealing with chronic fatigue or exhaustion, or when you’re feeling weak due to blood loss from injury, surgery, or childbirth. Aging, prescription medication, and chronic illness can also be detrimental to Yang energy and vitality.
Reishi and cordyceps are useful for balancing Yin and Yang energy, as well as supporting immune health. Chinese herbs that nurture Yang include cistanches and epideaum. They are often brewed together as a tea, along with Goji berry, to support immune health.
Qi and Your Immunity
In TCM, Qi, or the circulation of vital energy within the body, is an essential part of wellness and immunity. In a way, it’s very similar to the Vata aspect of Ayurveda to boost the immune system. Qi drives the actions of our organs and moves blood throughout the meridians, toward the skin’s surface.
Qi nurtures the organs and its easy flow throughout the body is vital for preventing illness. To prevent a cold we can further protect our vitality with nourishing foods. If we’re exposed to cold weather, Qi can prevent illness from entering and taking root in the body. For example, cinnamon tea can help us sweat out the chill, or engage Qi to “push out evil wind.”
When germs do manage to take root, antibiotic herbs are used to support Qi and natural immunity. Chrysanthemum and honeysuckle are useful as a tea for reducing fever and killing germs. Honeysuckle moves Qi downward in the throat toward the large intestine, where germs are killed and eliminated through the digestive process.
Chrysanthemum moves Qi energy and inflammation upward and out through the top of the head. It is useful for fever and headaches. Yoga and acupuncture are also utilized to promote energy and blood flow and encourage healing.
Boosting the Immune System with Ayurveda
Ayurveda to boost the immune system recommends building Agni, or digestive fire, to keep the immune system and body strong to fight off illness at the cellular level. Exposure to toxins, pollutants, junk foods, and cold foods in the environment and diet can be harmful to Agni.
Chronic stress and emotional upset are extremely detrimental as well. Ancient ayurvedic texts also teach that Agni changes with the seasons and lifestyle methods such as meditation and yoga can help to maintain balance and awareness.
The Doshas and Your Immune System
Your Dosha is the genetic, spiritual, emotional, and psychological constitution you were born with. There are three Doshas in Ayurveda- Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. In essence, they make up the three energies that influence your metabolism, moods, habits, shape, and activities.
We are each born with a certain amount of all three Doshas. Many are born with one dominant Dosha, while others are more equally balanced between two or even all three. The more dominant Dosha or Doshas can be brought into balance by leveraging the others.
Each Dosha is influenced by specific elements. So, a person who is heavily influenced by a fire Dosha will benefit from cooling herbs, foods, and activities to support the weaker elements and reduce energies that are causing harm to the immune system.
- Vata: Vata energy is influenced by the wind, so it tends to be cool and changeable. Those with a dominant Vata dosha tend to benefit from warming soups and cooked foods, including meat, root vegetables, iron-rich greens, and spices and oils that support digestion. These foods are said to ground excessive wind energy. Vata also suffers from hyperactivity, so meditation and herbs that support brain health will also be beneficial.
- Pitta: Pitta energy is influenced by fire, so it tends to be hot, overwhelming, and unpredictable. A person with dominant Pitta energy is often driven and overworked, which weakens the immune system and leads to exhaustion. Cooling the digestion with foods like steamed bitter greens, green tea, cooling herbs and spices, and coconut can be very helpful. Warm foods like alcohol, hot spices, and red meat should be avoided.
- Kapha: Kapha energy is influenced by the earth and water elements. They tend to become ill more easily due to a slow metabolism which leads to congestion in the upper respiratory tract. Foods that support metabolism will be important for boosting the immune system. This includes digestive spices and herbs like garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric. Exercise is also crucial for the metabolism and regulation of blood
Eating to balance your Doshas is the key to optimal health. Reducing daily stress with yoga and meditation is also essential. Chvawanprash and Triphala are popular remedies in Ayurveda to boost the immune system, balance the Doshas, and support digestion.
How the Seasons Impact the Doshas and Immunity
The seasons also influence the Doshas and immunity. For example, spring and summer are hot, humid seasons, so we should eat more cooling foods and do cooling activities during this time. Fall and winter are dry and cool, so we will benefit from warming, fortifying, and hydrating foods during these months.
Although each healing science has its own individual strategies and nuances, it’s clear that Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda support immunity in very similar ways. You can utilize Ayurveda to boost the immune system by applying these traditions to your everyday life. Try cooking nourishing and warming foods, using herbal tonics, and encouraging energy flow with practices like yoga and acupuncture to also gain an immunity boost and promote longevity.