From the Common Cold to the Coronavirus: How Chinese Medicine Plays a Role in Boosting the Immune System
Mar 01, 2020 11:37AM
By Janet Lindsay
by Dr. Cynthia Clark, Acupuncture Physician, Applied Clinical Nutritionist
In about 200 AD, Governor Zhang Zhongjing watched two thirds of his beloved family and town die from a terrible disease. Governor Zhang was relentless in his pursuit of understanding and effectively treating the deadly virus. What resulted from this labor of love has given the medical world a lasting legacy of information. He charted out six fundamental phases of disease, then documented their specific characteristics and found a treatment for them in the seminal Chinese herbal classic: the Shang Han Lung.
Rather than just stating, “Take this antibiotic to see if it works and doesn’t wreck your digestive system in the process,” the information presented in the classical Chinese medicine training points instead, through symptom and observation, to which phase the disease is in and where it is headed next. A person might have one or more symptoms of a certain stage, and this technique needs to be combined with a proper tongue and pulse observation to confirm the diagnosis and accurately determine the right treatment.
These stages are as follows: Tai Yang (Greater Yang) with stiff neck, headache, chills and fever; Yang Ming (Yang Brightness) with profuse sweating, hot body temperature, thirst and constipation; Shao Yang (Lesser Yang) with a disease that has lasted more than five days accompanied by chills and fever, and chest discomfort; Taiyin (Greater Yin) with chills, distended abdomen, and vomiting or diarrhea; Shaoyin (Lesser Yin) with anxiety, drowsiness, diarrhea, chills and cold; Jueyin (Absolute Yin): thirst, difficult urination, physical collapse, pain in the chest, and hunger with no desire to eat.
In the first stage, a person might feel better from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the second, they might feel better from 3–9 p.m. In the third, they might feel better from 3–9 a.m. In the fourth, they might feel better from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. In the fifth, they might feel better from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. And in the final stage, that person might feel better from 1–7 a.m.
How is this information relevant today? In the past several weeks, a number of people have experienced sickness. Take a woman named Mary, for example, who had a wellness appointment scheduled at our practice, but called that morning to report she’d come down with an ailment and asked if she should still come in—she didn’t want to get anyone sick. This was considerate, but we told her, “Yes, this is the most important time to come in.”
Upon arriving, Mary’s pulse was “floating,” which means that it was close to the surface of her skin, and her tongue had a thin, white coat on it. She also presented with chills, fatigue, and a stiff neck and back. Mary received a tea which contained cinnamon twig, ginger, Chinese date and kudzu. These ingredients work together synergistically which means that when they are cooked together, new molecules form that enhance their healing properties.
She also received acupuncture which focused on bringing blood flow and T-helper cells to the points which stimulated her immune system and digestion. One of these was Stomach 36 which is one of the most powerful immune system points on the human body. By taking this tea, Mary felt much improved in just a few hours, and was able to return to work.
“The body is to nature as a violin is to the orchestra. The strings are to the violin as the organs are to the body. For the orchestra to play in harmony, all the instruments must be tuned to each other. If a single instrument is out of tune, the whole sound is dissonance rather than harmony,” explains the book Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. The immune system as a whole can be thought of in this way.
Chinese medicine has shown to be effective from diseases that range from the common cold to HIV to MRSA. In 2015, researcher Tu Youyou won the Nobel prize for the use of Chinese medicine in treatment of malaria. It has also been used to treat both the cold and flu for thousands of years. At this moment, various Chinese medicine herbs are researched for their use in boosting the immune system to prevent and recover from the Coronavirus.