Building Immunity with TCM


Everyone hopes COVID-19 is not here to stay. However, whether it is COVID-19 or a bout of flu or just a simple cold, the best weapon is still our immune system. What does it mean to have a good immune system according to TCM?

In TCM, the earliest record on immunity can be found in the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor (黄帝内经), stating that “when healthy energy is well stored inside the body, no evils can cause interference” (正气内存,邪不可干). The way to contain “healthy energy” is through the balance of yin and yang. The body’s yin and yang are regulated and adjusted continuously through the body’s own mechanism as well as our daily activities such as diet, sleep and rests, physical activities, and mental and emotional activities. When this yin-yang equilibrium is disturbed, it allows diseases to set in.

In Singapore, many people take TCM herbs to maintain their health. How do we know what types of herbs or tonics to take? To know this, we first have to know our own body constitution. Below are some common body constitutions:

1. Balanced
2. Qi-deficiency
3. Yang-deficiency
4. Yin-deficiency
5. Phlegm-dampness
6. Damp-heat

Body TypePhysical Characteristics Sign of Health/Illness
BalancedWell-proportionedFull of vitality, good cold and hot tolerance, sleep well, good appetite, no fatigue
Qi-deficiencyWeak muscular strengthShortness of breath, no desire to speak, fatigue, sneezes or gets bloated easily, sweats easily, slight aversion to cold
Yang-deficiencyHigh fat/muscle ratio or fat accumulation around hipsIntolerance of cold, loose stool, catches cold easily, weak appetite, clear abundant urine and/or night urination
Yin-deficiencySlim/thinDry skin, mouth, throat and eyes, irritable, pebble-like stools, flushed cheeks, night sweat
Phlegm-dampnessObese with more fat accumulation around abdomenFeeling of bodily heaviness, sticky mouth, sticky sweat, excessive phlegm
Damp-heatSlim/normalThirst, hard/soft stools or constipation, bad breath, bitter taste in mouth, acne and/or eczema


Common Herbs for Building Respiratory Health

1. Ginseng (人参)

Ginseng gives energy and alleviates fatigue. It enhances our immunity especially in the areas of Lungs, Heart and Spleen (digestion). There are 3 main types of ginseng commonly available that are suitable for people of different constitutions:

TypePropertyBody Constitution
Asian ginsengA little warmQi-defiency, Yang-deficiency, Phlegm-dampness
Korean ginsengWarmQi-defiency, Yang-deficiency, Phlegm-dampness
American ginsengColdYin-deficiency

2. Cordyceps (冬虫夏草)

Cordyceps is known to be beneficial to Lungs and Kidney health. It is slightly warm in nature and is suitable for people with Yang-deficiency, Balanced or Phlegm-Dampness constitutions.

3. Lingzhi

Lingzhi is an overall performer. It benefits the Lungs, Liver, Heart, Kidney and Spleen (digestion) and is especially beneficial for people who have “3 highs” (high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar). When taken in the morning, it enhances energy and helps the mind to focus better, and when taken at night, it helps in better sleep. Whole Lingzhi is suitable for people of all constitutions whereas its cracked spores, due to it being warm in nature, should be taken with caution by Yin-deficiency people or those with a tendency to feel “heaty”.

4. Bird’s Nest

Bird’s nest is a prized tonic for the Lungs. It is especially good for people who have long periods of cough due to weakness in their respiratory system, insufficient sleep and overworking. It is best suited for those with Yin- or Qi-deficiency and should not be taken by people with Phlegm-Dampness or Damp-Heat constitution and those with abundant phlegm in the recovery phase of cold/flu.

Other Ways to Keep Immunity Level Up

1. Have good work-exercise-rest balance.
2. Have sufficient sleep and sleep before 11pm.
3. Eat nutritious and balanced meals.
4. Avoid junk food and deep-fried food.
5. Drink enough water but avoid cold/iced drinks or desserts.
6. Keep warm in places with air-conditioning.

(by Tan Shiau Tse, TCM Physician, Copyright® HST Medical Pte Ltd)