The Effect of Acupuncture on the Immune System

The Effect of Acupuncture on the Immune System

What Exactly Is Our Immune System?

Our immunity consists of an intricate system of biological structures and processes that work together to protect us from disease. It is a network of highly specialized cells, proteins, lymphatic tissues and organs that fight against external pathogens and internal cell malfunctions (such as cancer cells). It is equipped with its own circulating lymphatic system separate from the rest of the blood vessels and is undoubtedly an important component of our health and longevity.

Our immune systems may however become compromised with the infections of various viruses, a history of malnutrition and over-toxicity, a stressful lifestyle and physical overexertion. The resulting immunodeficiency can provide the perfect invitation for disease to manifest.


How Can Acupuncture Benefit The Immune System?

Many people are now turning to alternative medicine to boost immune power and either prevent or treat a host of illnesses. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers an effective way to treat both acute and chronic ailments.  TCM has a longstanding history of enhancing the immune system that is now being supported by modern bio-medical research.

In chinese medicine, “wei qi” is the defensive energy that circulates at the surface of the body.  When it is strong, it acts as a powerful shield against invading foreign microorganisms, known as “evil qi”.  However when wei qi is weak, it’s usual protective barrier is easily penetrated and illness ensues.


What Research Studies Say

A large number of studies on both acupuncture and the use of moxibustion (burning of a specific herb over an acupoint) have been shown to have a positive impact on immune function and aids in treating infections by increasing white blood cell, red blood cell and platelet count. Acupoints typically needled for this include those in the Bladder energy meridian as well as the Spleen and Stomach.  In fact, acupoint Stomach 36 can increase white blood cell numbers up to 60 % within 2-3 hours of an extended treatment, followed by a return to normal within 24 hours.  Furthermore, acupuncture raises antibody formation that is beneficial in treatment of acute infections, especially in the early stages.

Moxibustion has been used for many centuries by the Chinese people to drive out “evil qi” and support the protective “wei qi”.  Modern studies have demonstrated that moxibustion augments NK (natural killer) cell activity and activates cytokine production which bestows a protective response against foreign pathogens. In one particular analysis published in the PubMed Journal, moxibustion defended against the HSV-1 (Herpes Simplex 1) virus, which is known to thrive in an immunodeficient environment.

Another study, conducted from July to November of 2007, observed the effects of acupuncture on the response of natural killer cells (NKCs) to strenuous exercise in endurance athletes.  The result discovered that basal cell activity, a key component in overall immunity, increased significantly in response to acupuncture treatments.  In yet another scientific report, scientists observed the effects of acupuncture on emotionally disturbed and anxious individuals.  Stress and anxiety lead to immune impairment, thus by modulating the stress response, acupuncturists are able to increase immune power.  The study found that women who suffered from chronic stress and anxiety had consistently significant improvement in immune function (including chemotaxis, phagocytosis, lymphoproliferation, and Natural Killer cell activity) after every acupuncture treatment.  In addition, in individuals where some of these levels were far too high, acupuncture significantly diminished them bringing the values closer to those of the healthy range control group.


Acupuncture’s Regulating Effect For Optimal Body Function

In other words, acupuncture has a regulatory effect, meaning that it works by establishing homeostasis or balance, the fundamental premise of its philosophy.  When certain body functions are in excess or overdrive, acupuncture can help calm them down to normal levels.  Likewise, when certain functions are extremely deficient or impaired, acupuncture exerts a stimulating effect to help restore normal activity.



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