Flu season is notorious for keeping us in bed when we would rather be actively enjoying the early months of the New Year.
Body Ecology met up with Master Herbalist George Lamoureux to discuss the relationship of digestion to immunity and find out the best Chinese herbs to combat the flu bug.
If you have been on the Body Ecology Diet for any length of time, then you know how important the health of the gut is to health of the immune system.
In fact, a large mass of lymphoid tissue sits just beneath the intestinal mucosal barrier. The digestive system and the immune system have a clear and strong relationship to one another.
As it turns out, the same holds true in Chinese Medicine. George points out that actually, "the emphasis on the digestive system - because the post-natal qi is being created from the food that we eat and the air that we breathe. Having a really good digestive system is part of your immune system. In fact, it's a major part of the immune system because it is what allows the immune system to be strengthened. It coincides with what the Spleen and Stomach are, the Earth being the center, that neutral point where everything goes out from it."
The Concept of Wei Qi:
Wei qi is the Chinese Medicine understanding of an energetic force that circulates on the exterior surface of the body. It is the body's protective measure against external pathogenic attack, namely the bugs that make us sick. The western equivalent to wei qi is the immune system.
"If you adhere to Chinese thought, you want to keep your wei qi strong all of the time. Not only during the flu season should you address this, but if you're addressing it during the rest of the year, and you build wei qi up, you are going to have that cumulative effect. Whether it is flu season or not, you are not going to have to worry about your body being susceptible to pathogens."
In Chapter 43 of the Su Wen, an ancient Chinese text, it tells us that, "wei qi is the fierce qi from grain and water."
Grain and water, as well as air, are the food elements that nourish our post-natal qi, giving us our day-to-day energy. In other words, it is what we choose to eat and drink. This is also known as the Earth Element in Five Element Theory, which describes the phases that all things move through, including the qi in our bodies and the cycle of seasons throughout the year.
The Earth Element includes the Chinese Medicine understanding of the Spleen and Stomach, or our digestive force. According to Five Element theory, it is central, and all phases return to and depart from the Earth element.
Not only is the Earth element central to Five Element theory, it is also the mother of Metal, which is dominated by the Lung organ system. This means that Earth supports Metal, as a mother nourishes her son, and that their relationship is very interconnected. This is why breath and digestion are so central to wei qi.
How do we build up wei qi?
One herb: Astragalus. George tells us that it is "probably one of the most important herbs that there is because of the two organ systems that it enters. It enters the Spleen and Lung, the two organ systems that are in charge of creating the post-natal qi. It directly feeds and strengthens the wei qi. It is the number one herb for strengthening the immune system during anytime of the year, during the summer time or during the winter time."
He also explains that, "Traditionally we are taught that if you have an active illness going on, you do not tonify because it feeds the pathogen. But if you have an immune system that has failed, the wei qi has failed to be strong enough to prevent that pathogen from entering the body... you can still tonify the wei qi so the deficiency is corrected."
Pharmacologically, Astragalus stimulates the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells and multinuclear leukocytes. Not only does Astragalus boost the defenses, it also boosts the offensive line of protection in the body: studies have shown that Astragalus is a powerful antibiotic, inhibiting the activity of common pathogenic microbes such as Bacillus dysenteriae, B. anthracis, beta-hemolytic streptococcus,Corynebacterium diptheriae, Diplococcus pneumonia, and Staphylococcus aureus (common skin bug that sometimes causes major problems when it colonizes where we don't want it to).
Another herb that enters both the Lung and Spleen organ systems is a root called Codonopsis.
- Has been found to be adaptogenic, meaning that it both stimulates and inhibits the immune system as necessary during times of stress.
- Stimulates the immune system by increasing the number of macrophages.
Do immune mushrooms feed fungus?
No. As George explains, "The active ingredients in the medicinal mushrooms are the polysaccharides, those long-chained sugars. The most commonly known are the beta-glucans.
People who are told they should not consume fungus automatically think, 'okay, I can't have any of the medicinal mushrooms.' But there is a very big discrepancy between the button mushrooms that you eat and medicinal mushrooms. These are not the kind of mushrooms that feed disease conditions; these are actually the kind of mushrooms that fight against those kinds of conditions.
Try this multiple mushroom formula to stimulate a healthy immune system and even inhibit the growth of cancer cells in your body!
We do a multiple mushroom formula. Well, why do we do that? Each mushroom is going to create a unique beta-glucans structure. The different mushrooms trigger different receptor sites of the various immune cells. You may have some polysaccharides that are going to increase natural killer (NK) cell activity, and others that increase the production of T-cells from the thymus.
Other than for cold and flu season, we know that medicinal mushrooms are very powerful in their ability to inhibit the protein synthesis of cancer cells or to change the physiological condition of cancer cells to inhibit the growth and the transference of cancerous cells.
One of the superstars is Reishi. The great thing about Reishi is the double-directional activity that it has. It has the ability to distinguish between an immune system that is deficient and an immune system that is overreacting to pathogens that it should not be reacting to. So it has the ability to suppress or bring down the immune response. Reishi is a great herb to take because it will regulate the immune system, rather than just stimulating the immune system."
Another important medicinal mushroom full of health-promoting polysaccharides is Cordyceps. Not only shown to inhibit cancer cell activity, it has been shown to boost the phagocytic activity of macrophages. Additionally, Cordyceps:
- Dilates and relaxes the bronchial muscles of the lungs.
- Has an antibiotic effect against Staphylococcal spp., Sreptococcal spp., and Bacillus anthracis.
- Supports the adrenal glands.
George tells us, "One of the reasons why I love this formula so much is that it tonifies the Lung and Spleen organ systems, the post-natal qi. Every herb in this formula does that. This formula alone is excellent for someone who has a weak immune system or gets frequent colds."
WHAT TO REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
Strengthening the immune system, or wei qi, with Chinese herbs is a perfect complement to the Body Ecology Diet. Many herbs that boost immune function also play a role in digestive health. Incorporating key tonic herbs with Body Ecology principles will fortify your defenses during the chilly winter season, as well as bring balance to your digestive system.
- Three Brothers
- Chen, John K. and Tina T. Chen. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry: Art of Medicine Press, 2004.
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