Immunity Part One: How Immunity Works

Winter snow trees
Immunity: Part One 
How Immunity Works
by Dr. Anna Gold

It’s the middle winter and while many parts of the country are inundated with rain and snow, lets take a look a ways to keep the immune system strong. During the cold season, Chinese medicine teaches us that bundling up and keeping warm helps us stay healthy. 

Here are some ways to keep colds and flus at bay, both from a East Asian as well a Western medicine perspective. 

The immune system protects the self from nonself. In both TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and the Western biomedical models, the immune system is a network of different functions that protect the self from foreign bodies that can make a person sick.

The immune system is a vast network of cells and tissues that look out for invaders. For example, there are “first responder” white blood cells, also known as leukocytes, that go through the blood vessels and lymphatic system, looking for unfamiliar pathogens like viruses and bacteria. When they find them, they multiply and call other white blood cells to help. These other white blood cells, B and T lymphocytes, help the body remember previous invaders. When they recognize them, they replicate and attack the invader cells. 

From a Chinese medicine, or TCM, perspective, immunity is also a compilation of different systems coming together to defend the body against invaders.  

There are different types of Qi or life force that build health and act as resistance to disease. In TCM, Qi flows through meridians, a complex network of vessels that nourish the tissues and interconnect the organs and the upper, middle and lower parts of the body. 

Different types of Qi include:

Wei Qi guards the outermost layer which protects the surface of the body, including skin and the opening and closing of pores. It regulates body temperature and warms the organs and is likened to autonomic nervous systems.

Yuan Qi is the vitality from nutrients coursing through the body and ensures the normal function of the organs and their functions. 

Zheng Qi, also called “righteous Qi,” regulates the physiological function of organs, meridian channels and tissues. It represents the adaptability of the body to the environment and the resistance of the body to diseases and likened to the nerve, endocrine systems.

 Lung Qi,  which controls respiration and connects with the hair in the skin, and regulates water passages. 

And finally, Gu Qi, the Qi of the digestion,  which transforms food into energy. 

The biomedical and TCM perspectives of immune systems are both complex. The point of view of how these systems work are different but not entirely dissimilar. Traditionally, the western, biomedical viewpoint of the body is that there are exogenous pathogens, viruses, toxins, bacteria that can invade the body. And the immune system has to fight against those invaders. The East Asian medicine point of view of immunity is similar in that the body has a protective Qi, or Wei Qi on the outermost layer of the body to defend against invaders like “wind” or exogenous pathogens. However, Chinese medicine has long recognized that the body has an innate immunity that is built from the strength of Life force we accumulate from healthy food and lifestyle habits. The TCM perspective is such that we are microcosms of the world, that we are made of the same composition: heat, cold, dryness, dampness, light and dark for example, and that those components need to be in balance in order to have a healthy immune system in order to support the body's ability to fight off invasion.

In recent years, biomedicine, too, has started to understand the role of the body's gut microbiota in the health of a person’s immune system. We now know through research that if the gut microbiota is imbalanced, immune response is dysregulated. When the gut is in dysbiosis, chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases develop. 

Inside the gut are about 100 trillion live microorganisms that promote normal GI function, protect the body from infection, and regulate metabolism and the mucosal immune system. In fact, they comprise more than 75% of the immune system. Also important is their role in maintaining and protecting the GI barrier. An intact GI barrier maintains gut health, while a problem with its microbiota composition will affect the body’s defense systems and can create a condition known as leaky gut syndrome, which can compromise gut health and lead to diseases such as inflammatory breast cancer, obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression.

Biomedicine, like traditional Chinese has for years, is finally recognizing the importance of one’s internal health in regulating immune responses.

The Spleen, a TCM term that encompasses all digestive function, is crucial to the health of one’s health. Recent research found that spleen deficiency is mainly a result of the dysfunction of the digestive system and it involves the nerve-endocrine-immune network. In experiments using animal subjects, it was found that with spleen deficiency, the ability to produce antibodies is low, humoral immunity is deficient, Th-cell (helper T-lymphocytes) count is low, Ts (suppressor T-cells) is high and cell-mediated immunity is deficient. There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies — for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses.

Biomedicine, like traditional Chinese has for millennia, is finally recognizing the importance of one’s internal health in regulating immune responses. In my next blog post, I’ll share some important diet and lifestyle habits to boost immunity naturally.

Read about the ingredients in DR. ANNA GOLD DEFEND Herbal Tincture and how it works to support your immunity.