Integrative Cancer Care with Traditional Chinese MedicineOptimizing the Immune System with Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Soeon Park, L.Ac., Certified TCM Nutritionist

The immune system defends the body against infection. Although it works effectively most of the time, sometimes our immune system fails and we become sick.

To optimize or boost the immune system means allowing the immune system cells to readily do their job. If the body is healthy and functioning well, this will be much easier. If the body is taxed by stress, illness or poor nutrition, it will be harder. In Chinese Medicine, the focus is not always on strengthening the immune system specifically, but rather on strengthening the whole body to allow the immune system to function optimally. Ideally there will be a balance and proper circulation of Chi (energy), blood and body fluid (including lymph) without any blockages. Even though the immune system is complex, the foundation of a strong immune system starts with a healthy digestive system. Eating a healthful, balanced diet plays a vital role, of course. To strengthen Immunity one needs to eat foods rich in vitamins A, C, D and E; omega fatty acids; and minerals. Good foods for immunity include green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, collards, broccoli, cabbage, parsley), avocado, sea vegetables, mushrooms (shiitake, reishi, chaga, oyster, etc.), raw honey, goji berries, fermented foods (kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, pickles, plain yogurt), fish, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, garlic, ginger and green tea.

It's also essential to be mindful of lifestyle factors that can play a role in immune system health, such as getting enough sleep, minimizing stress, exercising, not smoking, practicing good hygiene, and staying protected from excess cold, wind, heat and rain.

If it's a challenge to minimize stress in daily life, practicing a 10-minute meditation with deep abdominal breathing is a great way to calm the mind and the nervous system. Make sure that your abdomen is inflated while breathing in through the nose for five seconds and then deflated while breathing out through the mouth for seven seconds. When the nervous system is overstimulated, it creates metabolic stress within the body, weakening the immune system. Meditation can help reverse this problem.

Acupuncture helps, too, by regulating the nerves, blood, lymph, muscles and tissues of the body to correct imbalances. TCM practitioners focus on optimizing their patients' immune systems in addition to the various conditions they may be treating.

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