One of the most notable differences between Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine is that Western medicine often separates health from disease, where Eastern medicine assesses overall health and wellbeing through the lens of the physical body as well as our emotions and lifestyle. Practitioners of Chinese medicine are dedicated to more than treating diseases when they occur: they are also responsible for promoting health from within, and do so by treating patients with incremental “tune-ups” that work to keep the body and mind high functioning and in harmony.
Though part of care is aimed at restoring balance, an equal amount of emphasis is placed on strengthening the body’s resilience. By strengthening the foundation, we remain more flexible to stress and events beyond our control, and have more stamina for when stressful events arise.
The Importance of Preventative Medicine in Chinese Medicine
The earliest known Chinese medical tract, which dates back to 249 BC, compares administering medicine for diseases that have already developed to digging a well after becoming very thirsty, or making weapons after already having engaged in battle. Though able to react to illness, Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of maintaining and promoting health by keeping body, mind and the lifestyle in balance, and does so through its management of the various levels of Qi in the body and the circulation, quantity and quality of blood. These two systems represent all of the circulation within the body that nourishes and defends against illness. Practitioners of Chinese medicine use acupuncture, moxibustion, gua sha, cupping and Chinese herbal medicine to stimulate changes that keep our bodies in balance. This approach works to achieve a higher level of functioning of the body rather than solely attacking the disease process. Modern science has proven acupuncture and Chinese medicine to be extremely effective in maintaining health.
The Physical Effects of Acupuncture on the Immune System
Where acupuncture and Chinese medicine’s impact has long been viewed anecdotally, innovations in medical technology have provided a window into its mechanisms and impact on the body, thus leading to wide acceptance, and even encouragement and referral by Western medical professionals in its use as a complementary therapy. Research has shown that acupuncture’s ability to effect normal bodily function is linked to its direct stimulation of the neuro-endocrine-immune (NEI) network, which modern science views as the body’s inherent regulatory system. Environmental inputs on the NEI network can have either positive or negative effects on multiple body systems, leading to the production of hormones, signaling molecules and neurotransmitters that can either lead to inflammation or healing.
Studies have revealed that when an acupuncture needle is introduced into an acupoint, it causes a physical effect that activates the NEI network, stimulating electrical activities and the release of neurochemicals. Some of the activity generated by acupuncture transmits messages from the spinal cord to the brain and then to target organs, while others transmit directly to the organs. Whichever route is taken, advanced imaging studies have shown that acupuncture can generate and enhance the production of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and other neurotransmitters. In doing so it can reduce chronic stress, regulate hormones, and activate the immune system. This leads to a variety of results, including the production of histamine and improving the number and function of white blood cells and cytokines, which regulate inflammation and immunity.
Supporting Your Own Immune System
Whether a weak immune system makes you prone to colds and flu in the winter or an overzealous immune response in the case of seasonal allergies in the spring or fall, studies have demonstrated that Chinese medicine counters weakness and imbalances that leave you vulnerable to pathogens in the environment. It strengthens your immune system so that negative exposures to viruses, bacteria and allergens are rebuffed. One recent study even showed that acupuncture proved to be an effective treatment for sepsis, an inflammatory infection that kills roughly 250,000 hospital patients each year. The treatment reduced the inflammation and increased the body’s production of dopamine, which can activate and mobilize the immune system.
Acupuncture can also contribute to your overall wellness by countering the effects of stress, which itself contributes to immune function impairment. Acupuncture and other Chinese medicine treatments can help you to get a better night’s sleep, increase your red and white blood cell counts, and generally provide you with a sense of improved wellbeing and resiliency.
Preventative Care and Improved Immune Function at Empirical Point Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine has proven to be remarkably effective in boosting immune function and strengthening the body’s ability to adapt and thrive in a seemingly stressful and fast-paced world. Sharon Sherman has been licensed to practice acupuncture and Oriental Medicine since 2001, and holds the highest credential available from both the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Her knowledge and understanding of its use assure patients of the highest level of care and professionalism