Boosting Immunity With Acupuncture and Functional Medicine

Boosting Immunity With Acupuncture and Functional Medicine

By Helena Amos, M.Ac., L.Ac., Euro. Physician

As we all know, a second strain of COVID-19, the Delta variant, is in our midst with little sign of abating anytime soon. We must face reality and come to terms with the fact this pandemic isn’t going away any time soon. The healthiest thing to do now is prepare our bodies and minds for this long-term health situation. And good solutions are found when a Functional Medicine approach is adopted.

By this time, everyone should be more than familiar with the basic health precautions for protecting ourselves: wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent hand washing and surface sanitizing, etc., all to prevent droplet infection from spreading. These same measures are similar to any prevention of colds and flus. In fact, according to findings from various sources, including the CDC, Johns Hopkins Medical, and The Journal of Hospital Medicine, this last year has seen a significant drop in cases of the common cold and flu compared to previous years. And regardless of whether you love them or hate them, these public health measures have made us more careful about preventing the spread of pathogens, which has played a huge part in this decline. 

The Delta variant is particularly dangerous for children, and for people with weakened immune systems, chronic diseases, and cardiovascular and respiratory conditions (COPD, asthma, etc.). Individuals with these other conditions are also more susceptible to COVID:

• Diabetes, Type 1 and 2

• Obesity

• Autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis)

• Insulin resistance

• Severe, chronic stress and/or anxiety

• High cortisol levels

• Chronic fatigue

• Gastrointestinal problems (Crohn’s/colitis, Celiac disease, leaky gut)

• Liver disease

• Organ transplant patients

The effects of the wave of this strain are expected to peak in September and October 2021, but there is much we can do right now to protect our families and ourselves. Since Functional Medicine (FM) determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual, it makes sense that boosting our immune systems is one of our best, most effective and sustaining lines of defense. 

Immunity Boosting Nutrients

One of the reasons health practitioners expect the second wave to be more severe in fall and moving into winter is due to lower levels of Vitamin D3 in our bodies. Sunlight is the greatest natural source of Vitamin D, and shorter daylight hours, plus spending more time indoors, means we absorb less of this important immunity-boosting vitamin.

Any condition that prevents the absorption of vitamin D3 — especially leaky gut and other gastrointestinal disorders — is potentially harmful. Vitamin D3 not only mobilizes the immune system, it also acts like a protective hormone, creating a shield against viral invasions. Vitamin D enhances the pathogen-fighting effects of monocytes and macrophages — white blood cells that are important parts of your immune defense — and decreases inflammation, which helps promote an immune response.

The strength of our immune systems relies on having enough of the right nutrients in our bodies. In addition to vitamin D3, these are some of the most important nutrients and supplements to fortify your immunity:

Magnesium is absolutely necessary for the proper absorption of vitamin D. Sources of magnesium are all green leafy vegetables, as well as spirulina and chlorella — two types of algae packed with other vitamins and minerals, available also in supplement form.

Zinc is extremely important for stopping viruses from multiplying in our cells. Zinc is needed for immune cell development and communication, and plays an important role in inflammatory response. Zinc also specifically protects tissue barriers in the body and helps prevent foreign pathogens from entering. And just a side note: the only task of the controversial hydroxychloroquine is to improve the cellular absorption of Zinc.

Licorice root builds up the adrenal glands. Licorice contains many substances, including glycyrrhizin that may help protect against viral infections. The medical journal The Lancet published a study about glycyrrhizin as a powerful antioxidant that makes it difficult for COVID to penetrate the cells. And according to test-tube research, glycyrrhizic acid nanoparticles exhibit antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects against severe acute respiratory syndrome–related coronavirus.

Selenium is a very strong antioxidant that supports an excellent immune system.

Polyprenol antioxidants from pine needles provide super energy and build up your immune system response.

Vitamin C functions as a powerful antioxidant, protecting against damage induced by oxidative stress, which occurs with the accumulation of reactive molecules known as free radicals. Oxidative stress can negatively affect immune health and is linked to numerous diseases. Supplementing with vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold.

Establishing a nutrient-rich diet is one of the best, easiest and most delicious ways of immunity boosting. Broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables (or DIM supplements) help to process and rid of various toxins, as well as provide anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin, derived from turmeric, is another powerful anti-inflammatory herb that prevents cold and respiratory diseases as well as arthritis. And turmeric is a great spice for cooking!

Other immunity-boosting foods include:

• Oatmeal, which contains a lot of Zinc

• Salmon for Omega-3s and essential fatty acids

• Berries, including elderberry, are powerful antioxidants

• Lemon and ginger for cell protection, among a host of other benefits

• Pro and prebiotics, to help the microbiome for good gut health

We can go beyond our stomachs to support and strengthen our immune systems. Lymphatic drainage through exercise, lymphatic massage, and detoxification are all immunity-boosting activities by ridding our bodies of harmful toxins. Purchasing a medical grade air purifier (anti-fungal, anti-bacterial) achieves the same effect by ridding our home or office environments of airborne impurities and allergens. And there is some evidence that Colloidal silver can be used as a natural antibacterial agent.

Acupuncture for Immune System Health

Acupuncture, a main component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has been widely adopted to treat respiratory diseases in a clinical setting. Early in my practice overseas we treated pneumonia as well as chronic asthma, allergies and bronchitis with acupuncture. We targeted points along the lung meridian as well as other points to address the patient’s underlying condition.

I continue to do so today, even as we are learning about numerous studies showing how acupuncture points help to boost up the immune system and help prevent COVID. Given the number of respiratory-related symptoms associated with COVID-19, and the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating these as well as nausea, insomnia, anxiety and pain, I am not at all surprised by the mounting scientific evidence.

A Functional Medicine (FM) practitioner’s approach to boosting immunity will start with an assessment of the patient’s current health and wellness status, and looking for ways to support the weak links. These could involve GI tract, cardiovascular, weight, diabetes or any of the other susceptible disorders mentioned above. (In my practice we use a Bioscan to check all the meridians correlated to organs, as well as for sensitivities.) Absorption effectiveness of the GI tract and the condition of a patient’s biome are very important for the delivery of the abovementioned nutrients.

Acupuncture helps to expedite the effects of prescribed nutrients. It helps the organs — Lungs, Heart, Liver, Pancreas, Kidneys, and Intestines — to function better, faster, and more efficiently. For the lung specifically, acupuncture increases their capacity to breathe and clear mucus, and to protect against viral and bacterial infection. Acupuncture also eliminates anxiety, fear and constant stress, and helps with insomnia.

In addition to the remedies mentioned above, a FM practitioner may also employ herbal and homeopathic extracts unique to the patient’s condition; and combine the acupuncture with cupping for enhanced delivery and detoxification. And immunity boosting doesn’t happen without health lifestyle habits to bolster treatments. Exercise, adequate quality sleep, and mood-enhancing activities all support the body’s immune system.

We are all living in a pandemic over which we have no control. What we can control is how we protect our families and ourselves. Boosting our immune systems using approaches rooted in Functional Medicine and in combination with acupuncture and other precautions is a great way to take charge of your health and wellness in these unprecedented times and for the foreseeable future.

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To establish a plan to boost your immunity, or to schedule acupuncture appointments, please contact our office: 301-881-2898 or email doctorhelena@gmail.com.

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

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