Since moving to Colorado, as an acupuncturist I’ve encountered a phenomena that I never saw in California: constant colds and upper respiratory infections (URIs).
All it will take is one person coming in for their regular acupuncture appointment saying they have a cold, and the next thing I know, almost everyone is coming in fighting something as well. Patients I haven’t seen in several months suddenly pop up on the schedule to get treated for a URI.
People are coughing in the theater, sniffling in church, kids are home from school…and as soon as this round is over, we seem to have only a few weeks before the next round begins.
What is going on?
Granted, my acupuncture practice does focus on treating people who are dealing with quite severe and/or complex health issues, so on the one hand it makes sense that their bodies are weaker and they will be susceptible to more colds.
But what surprises me is that even seemingly strong people come down with more infections than would seem normal for their level of health.
This quandary has got me chewin’ on my noggin’ this week, trying to put together both what I know about the immune system from a western perspective, along with what Chinese medicine’s acupuncture theory says about it.
How Chinese medicine views the immune system
To review, for those of you who have not read my blogs about this in the past, the immune system is translated as Wei Qi in Chinese medicine. Basically, the theory goes that when our body’s Qi is strong and abundant, then part of that Qi circulates on the perimeter of our body, acting as a shield to ward off external pathogenic invasion.
This is the Wei Qi, or protective Qi.
As long as that Qi is stronger than the Qi (or virulence) of the bacteria or virus, then a person will not get sick. This is like saying a strong immune system will ward off illness.
However, if the virulence of the pathogen is really strong, then more people will come down with illness, and only those with extremely strong immunity, or Wei Qi, will be protected.
It stands to reason then that you would want to do everything possible to build up your ability to fight illness, whether you think of this function as Wei Qi or immunity.
When is the best time of year to build your Wei Qi?
The biggest time of year to push for this, according to Chinese medicine, is in the fall, since that season relates to the Lungs, which we say control and regulate the Protective Qi. Also, by nourishing up the lungs in the fall, a person is arming themselves for the winter cold season just around the corner.
But what does this have to do with Colorado?
Everything in Chinese medicine comes down to balance. If you have a symptom of anything, whether it’s a cold, or migraines, or constipation, it means that your body was/is imbalanced and is not able to function properly. That imbalance could be caused by stress, or a weakened system that could not ward off illness, and/or many other issues.
But what is unique about Colorado compared to where I lived before, is that our weather is extremely imbalanced/unstable. We were in single digits and below freezing for a couple weeks, then we hit record highs for this time of year, then we were back to below freezing and today it is much warmer. My theory is simply that our bodies just can’t handle these sudden changes, as they cause imbalances within our system as well, weakening us and making us more susceptible to catching every cold that comes through.
What to do about it?
What I’m finding is that it is not sufficient to take the approach that might suffice elsewhere. In California, I would focus on building and “securing” the Wei Qi in the late summer and fall, and this would be very effective.
But after 5 winters here now, I’ve come to believe that I/we need to expand this strategy by combining the knowledge and wisdom of both Chinese and western medicine, helping people also utilize the modern nutritional insights about keeping the immune system strong.
This means that we will be pushing for high amounts of foods specifically for supercharging your immune system (from a western nutrition perspective) while they’re in season, combined with what we already know about the foods that individuals need to eat to stay balanced from a Chinese perspective, for their particular constitution.
A lot of this incorporates eating “superfoods”, as well as taking supplements that specifically build immunity. Since we will be heading into the growing season soon, I will be writing about this throughout the spring and summer, as these foods become available. Also, I am going to start offering “immunity kits” of Xymogen supplements available to purchase at the clinic, for a reduced price over what it would cost to purchase these supplements individually.
Stay tuned next week for Part II of this topic, where I will go into more detail on what these supercharging foods and supplements are. As much as possible, I will build bridges between Chinese and western viewpoints on this topic, helping people make the connections between the two.
And in the meantime, whether you are a patient of mine, I met you at one of my Seasonal Eating talks, or you’re just tuning in to my blog, I hope you all remember (or know, if you’ve had the benefit of seeing an acupuncturist in your own hometown) the foods that are medicinal for you to be eating in general for good health and vibrancy.
And if you need some extra help with your immune system, you can schedule some acupuncture today, and we can find out your unique imbalances that are contributing to your frequent illnesses.