Immunity, Health, and Chinese Medicine
(April 14, 2020)
I've started to feel like more is expected of me these days than simply chatting about general health topics. Some People have gently suggested that I might want to talk about what chinese medicine has to say about covid19, being as I'm supposed to know something about it. So ok, I will, and as usual, more besides.
Covid19 is being treated in China the way they treat everything -- with both western medicine and traditional chinese medicine. For example, in addition to doing everything the way it is being done here, Chinese medical workers who are still healthy are taking a simple herbal combination that is meant to strengthen the energy of the lungs and chest. Those herbs and their usage are part of standard traditional chinese medical practice, and there is nothing Secret or Magical about them. They are also using stronger herbs from their traditional formulary with people who are already ill, often to (reportedly) very good effect. I see on the internet that Some People here in the west are fooling around with some of those same herbs with absolutely no clue how to properly use them. If you are unfortunate enough to have one of these people in your orbit, wash your hands more frequently than usual.
Here is the thing. Chinese medicine teaches that whether you are sick or (still) healthy, the most important thing you can do to protect yourself against disease is to normalize your body functions. (Also known as "health".) Your body knows more than anyone or anything about how to handle disease. That is why your basic chinese doctor will direct their efforts FIRST toward enabling normal sleep, normal eating and drinking, and normal bowel movements, and the patient is expected to do everything in their power along the same lines. (Attaining normal bowel movements in all their glory is a big deal in chinese medicine, by the way. Just sayin'.)
The thinking (and it is very good thinking) is that people become ill because they were not in especially good health in the first place. And although you can use herbs and acupuncture to directly address particular problems that have arisen because of ill health, what you are always primarily doing is restoring the body to normal functioning.
Which brings us to a point that both chinese and western medicine agree on. If you are already healthy, you can't further strengthen your immune system because your body has already optimized it. If you are living the way you should be -- sleeping enough, exercising properly, eating well, keeping stress to a minimum, and taking measures to protect yourself against all those germy people out there -- there's nothing you can do or take to magically "boost" your immune system. NOTHING.
Granted, those are a lot of "ifs". And if you're not living your healthiest life -- if you are eating nothing but takeout barbecue, for example, and I don't care if it's from Martin's -- your immune system (as well as your general health) is not all it could be. So you COULD boost your immune system -- by changing your behavior in such a way that your overall health is improved. What I am saying is that there are no immune boosters beyond keeping yourself healthy, and no magic treatments that will get you around that immovable fact.
More specifically, you cannot protect yourself from covid19 by drinking ionic water, eating a food that's the mainstay of some Amazonian tribe that never gets cancer, swallowing some nutrient that no one but some hairy guy on YouTube knows about, burn sage to a particular saint or tribal god, get muscle tested using an index card that has the frequency of the SARS-CoV-2 virus written on it, wear quartz jewelry infused with healing energy, or do or take any other weird superstitious thing that some idiot on Facebook has alerted you to that will make your immune system into some kind of super performer. It just doesn't work that way.
Many chinese families have a family secret herbal formula that supposedly cures cancer, or has some other powerful medicinal effect, that they've passed down over the generations. As a lecturer I saw recently said, if you take one of these you may never know how or why you died. People -- not just Some People, but all people -- like to believe in miracles, especially in secret miracles that will save the day, sort of like a costumed superhero. But there is no Spiderman Shortcut to health, and no defense to coming down with covid19 except taking the best care of yourself that you can and staying the heck away from it.
I don't hate conventional medicine. There are a lot of things I hate about it, but like most other areas of knowledge it has useful tools that can do jobs that nothing else can. And sometimes conventional medicine will have the honesty to tell you (not always, but sometimes) that it has no magic solutions. Like right now. When that happens, people often panic. When our best information doesn't do a job that satisfies us, we rapidly invoke our lizard brain (which is always waiting patiently for a shot at running our lives) and go to some very strange places in the hopes of safety.
Many people simply do not deal well psychologically with uncertainty. They want to KNOW what protects them against getting covid19, or what will cure them, or exactly what happens after they die, or how to get something else that they dearly, dearly want, and they are more than happy to throw reason and reality out of the window if that means that they can feel safe and satisfied again.
Western doctors may come up with a good treatment for covid19. They have managed this for other diseases, so it is entirely possible. But if and when they do, it is not going to be something that you can do at home, and it may have some very nasty other effects besides. The best and only thing that YOU can do is try not to get the darned thing in the first place. And the way you stay healthy is to live in a healthy way.
Change your habits to healthier ones. That will boost your immune system. Nothing else will.
Lastly, I wrote something about immunity in 2014. And although it wasn't written as artfully as I would like, it wasn't half bad. Just for giggles, if you haven't had enough of me yet today, it's here:
Stay safe, all ya'll.
--dr. diane holmes
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