Sunday, November 27, 2011

TCM Tips for Autumn Health

The season Autumn is associated with the Lung, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. This means that Autumn is a great time to bolster your own lungs, and your immune system, for the coming winter. It's also a good time for getting at the root of chronic lung conditions like asthma or allergies.

Below are some self-help acupressure and herbal medicine tips you can incorporate to support your lungs and and immune system in autumn:

Self-Treatment Tip:
Acupressure Point for Lung Health

Zu San Li, or "Leg Three Miles."

This point is found about three cm below the knee cap, in the fleshy area just lateral to the fibula (the prominent bone on the front of the shin). An oral tradition has it that in ancient times, when the primary means of travel was on foot, stimulation of zu san li was sufficient to relieve fatigue and allow a person to journey another three miles. The point is reputed to have been used by the Chinese military to revive war-weary soldiers to continue in battle.

The point is on the Stomach meridian. Because the Stomach/Spleen (digestive) system is essential to Lung health, the point is frequently used to address problems of the lungs: colds/flu, asthma, cough, excess phlegm in lungs, shortness of breath. It is key point for tonifying the body's qi, blood and immune system.

Clinical research studies have linked the stimulation of zu san liwith acupuncture needles to increases in leukocytes and immunoglobulins in humans and animals. Click on this link:
Zu San Li

You can boost your own immune health using acupressure: Use your thumbs to press your Zu San Li point. Then, using strong force and slow speed, rub in tiny circles for two minutes. Do this several times a day.

Your acupuncturist might send you home with a moxibustion stick (rolled mugwort herb) which you can use daily to warm the point, a wonderful way of tonifying your immune system.

Astragalus: the immune herb

Astragalus, called "huang qi"[pronounced hwang-chee] in Chinese, is a wonderful herb for strengthening the Lung and the immune system.
In the traditional Chinese herbal pharmacopoiea, it falls under the category of digestive tonic. (Remember that digestion and respiration are closely intertwined according to traditional Chinese physiology.)
Western herbalists have categorized this herb as a powerful adaptogen (a restorative tonic increasing the body's resistance to trauma, stress, anxiety and fatigue). In Chinese medicine, we say thathuang qi builds the body's qi and blood, i.e. improves the physiological function of the body, particularly in terms of digestive and respiratory health.

Huang qi strengthens the Lung and treats frequent colds, asthma, allergies and other problems related to ineffecient or suboptimal Lung function.

In an elegantly complex way,huang qi regulates underactivity or overactivity of the immune system, making it useful in preventing colds, flus and allergies. It regulates the skin pores, so that the body's exterior is less vulnerable to outside pathogens, while simultaneouly releasing pathogens through an appropriate amount of sweating. (In Chinese medicine, the first way of treating a new cold virus is to open the pores to produce a mild sweat.)

Other powers of huang qi:
  • It has a raising quality, and is used to treat prolapse and excessive uterine bleeding.
  • It is used in cases of severe trauma or in postpartum to counteract severe blood loss and quickly rebuild energy.
  • It has a mild diuretic effect and reduces edema.
  • It can help chronic sores and ulcers heal and regenerate healthy flesh.

Some cautionary notes:
Do NOT use huang qi when you already have a cold. Its tonic nature will strengthen that power of the cold, making you feel worse. Rather, you should treat colds with pathogen-releasing, circulating and antimicrobial herbal formulas. I'll discuss some of these in my next newsletter issue. Consult your herbalist for the right combination of herbs for your condition.

Because this herb is strongly tonifying and elevating, we use it cautiously in conditions like hypertension, headaches, stroke risk, etc.

In TCM, single herbs are rarely used alone in treating patients. Rather they are incorporated into formulas where they balance and work synergistically with other herbs. Your Chinese herbalist might likely incorporatehuang qi in your herbal formula this autumn. See the next column for a description of one famous herbal fomula incorporatinghuang qi.

Here are some additional references to the immune-enhancing affect of huang qi:

Astragalus alone is effective in preventing depletion ofwhite blood cells during chemotherapy. A clinical study involving 115 patients receiving various forms ofchemotherapyfound that 83 percent had higher whitebloodcell counts when given astragalus. Common cold - Chinese studies have shown that using astragalus during cold season reduces the number ofcoldscaught and shortens the duration of those that are caught. If you tend to get colds and flu often, astragalus can help you build up a natural resistance.
-Prescription for Herbal Healing: An Easy-to-Use A-Z Reference to Hundreds of Common Disorders and Their Herbal Remediesby Phyllis A. Balch, CNC

In a study of 28 people, astragalus given orally over a 2-month period significantly increased the production and secretion of interferon compared with controls. Remarkably, the levels of interferon remained high for 2 months after astragalus treatment ended. These results have been duplicated in laboratory studies. Astragalus also increases levels of natural killer (NK) cells, which roam the body via blood and lymph fluid, destroying a wide variety of invaders, includingcancer cellsand virus-infected body cells.
-The Encyclopedia of Popular Herbsby Robert S. McCaleb, Evelyn Leigh, and Krista Morien

Yu Ping Feng San: an herbal formula to strengthen immunity

This elegant formula contains three herbs which work synergistically to increase the body's resistance to colds, flus and allergies.

It's an old formula. First documented by a famous Chinese physician in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), it was likely used well before that time.

Yu Ping Feng San translates from Chinese as "jade screen wind formula."
The term "jade" poetically suggests 1. the preciousness of the formula, and 2. its reinforcing quality.
Jade was traditionally used to reinforce coffins in order to preserve the contents. As jade might reinforce a protective windscreen, this formula strengthens our bodies' exterior to keep out pathogenic influences, like cold or flu viruses. (Keep in mind that traditional Chinese medicine treats colds primarily by regulating/venting the body's skin surface. We regulate the body's inherent physiology prior to or in addition to eliminating infectious pathogens.)

Three herbs are combined for a synergistic effect:
1. Astragalus (huang qi) tonifies the Lung and Spleen, improves physiological function at a deep level, while regulating the surface of the body.
2. Atractylodes alba (bai zhu) also tonifies Lung and Spleen and improves physiological function to improve immunity.
3. Siler (fang feng) is pungent and opens the body's pores, promoting a gentle sweat, to vent any cold or flu pathogens that may have entered, without compromising the body's surface too much.

Don't take this formula when you have a cold, because the tonifying herbs will make your cold symptoms worse. Rather, use this formula when you are well during the winter months to keep your immunity up. Keep in mind that it acts gradually, and is most effective if taken in small amounts over the course of one or more months. Consult your Chinese herbalist. He or she might incorporate this formula along with other herbs to more specifically address your condition.

This article cites a relevant clinical trial:

Yu Ping Feng San for Allergic Rhinitis