In every pandemic of history, from the Plague, to SARS, and now COVID-19, humans have braved past these dreadful events armed with a healthy immune system and an element of luck (or blessing).
As the saying goes, “the fittest survive”. The onset of disease, using flu as an example, is often not by accident, but by a series of events. The body’s natural immune system must have been sufficiently weakened by sustained fatigue such as poor sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress, before a virus, such as the flu coronavirus, or the SARS-CoV-2, can surmount the already weakened immune system and overcome the person.
Therefore, keeping our natural immune system intact and tip-top is paramount.
From the allopathic standpoint, having good nutrients regularly, keeping a clean diet, having consistent hydration, good aerobic and anaerobic exercises regularly, sleep adequately, and managing stress well, are all part of sustaining the immune system.
From the naturopathic perspective of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are 2 philosophical facets to manage.
“A good balance of Yin and Yang, paired with healthy and good ‘Qi’, are the two primary factors the human body needs to keep its immune system running smoothly,” explained Tan Shiau Tse, TCM Physician, Heritage TCM Clinic.
In popular fiction, Yin and Yang may have been popularized by the likes of the movie series “Kungfu Panda” and later sequels. However, the philosophy behind Yin-Yang, describing a balance of “light” and “dark” energies represented by the blending of two revolving halves of black and white in a circle known as the “Taiji”, has existed in Chinese history over 3,500 years. The harmony of Yin-Yang should result in a moving equilibrium.
While Yin-Yang has esoteric meanings in the philosophical Taoism by ancient Chinese sage Laozi, we can simply use Newton’s Third Law to describe this paradigm, that “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.
“In TCM, we believe that what we do as well as what we consume, can impact how much Yin and how much Yang energies we have. We need to first understand our body type and what our bodies need. If we have a ‘heaty’ body for example, we may experience chapped lips, mouth ulcers, sore throats, and phlegm more often than others. This would imply we have a ‘Yang-heavy’ body, which means we need to balance with more ‘Yin’, such as drinking more water, sleeping and resting more, and avoiding spicy and fried foods,” says Tan Shiau Tse. “Conversely, if we feel weak and tend to be afraid of the cold and aircon, we may have a ‘Yin-heavy’ body. Then we may need to exercise more regularly, consume more red meat, ginger and garlic, and get more sunlight. A fair warning is not to over-exert or over-exercise, as exercises must be done in moderation just like any other good activity.”
Keep our Qi flowing
Qi, loosely translated as “vital life force or energy” in TCM, is believed to directly impact our respiratory, circulatory and immune systems.
“Just as our bodies need oxygen to aerate our lungs and thereafter our blood, and drive our bodies and sustain life, we can keep our Qi going through a healthy diet, sufficient rest, and aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming or cycling, in moderation. Qi is about breathing, so simple rhythmic breathing exercises can help too. We can also supplement our body with medicinal herbs that invigorate Qi such as Astragalus (Huang Qi), Codonopsis (Dang Shen) or by consuming products such as Korean Red Ginseng and American Ginseng.”
Protecting our immune systems
The COVID-19 situation has revealed the fragility of the human body, especially when the immune system is already compromised or weakened. Keeping a strong and healthy body is so much more critical now. We can sustain our immune system through a disciplined approach of diet, sleep, exercise, and stress management.