Be Well: The Alternative Poke: How to Feel Your Best in the Worst of Times
From record poor air quality allergens to seasonal offenders like ragweed—and even long-haul COVID—acupuncture can be your first (and final) line of defense for your immunity.
An ancient healing practice, acupuncture is surprisingly prone to current-day trends. Practitioners often notice surges in common ailments and illnesses among their patients. This year, people are flocking to acupuncture because of unrelenting allergies, says Marley Schaberg, acupuncturist and herbal pharmacy manager at Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU). “With the recent drought, city pollution, and thick smoke that’s sweeping in from the Canadian and Western fires, our air quality is particularly bad this year,” said Schaberg. “We are seeing that patients who usually breathe easy between the spring and fall allergy seasons are now suffering all year long.”
A full course of acupuncture treatments and herbal medicine can prepare your immune system to fend off such allergens. When your immune function is strong, you can withstand the constant assault of irritants in the air. If you’re lucky enough to find reprieve from your allergy symptoms this season, you can turn to acupuncture as a preventative measure. “Before the fall harvest season releases pollen and ragweed into the air, giving your immune system a boost can help you avoid itchy eyes and a runny nose,” said Schaberg.
What’s the Point?
For thousands of years, acupuncturists have inserted tiny needles into specific acupoints to boost immunity and reduce inflammation. In recent years, Western medicine caught on, recognizing acupuncture’s ability to bolster the body’s T-cells and immunoglobulin A (IgA), both of which help ward off illness. A 2015 National Institutes of Health review of studies confirmed that “acupuncture can strengthen the human body to resist diseases by puncturing needles at certain points.”
Acupuncturists access the body’s twelve meridians—or energy pathways—through hundreds of acupoints on the body. Tapping into each meridian helps release blocked energy (“Qi”) and promote balance in specific organ systems. While treatments vary based on the constitutional make-up of each patient, several points work exceptionally well in improving immunity and managing discomfort of allergies and fall illnesses.
- STOMACH (ST) 36 is one of the most powerful points in the body. Found on the leg’s lateral side just below the knee, ST36 helps promote wellness by balancing the energy of the stomach meridian.
- LARGE INTESTINES (LI) 11 fights immune deficiencies. Located on the arm across from the elbow, LI-11 also helps prevent allergies, relieve sore throats, and soothe itchy eyes.
- KIDNEY (KI) 27 is found just below the collarbone. This point works with the kidney meridian to open the lungs, reduce cough, and relieve breathing difficulties.
- LARGE INTESTINES (LI) 4 can be found in the fleshy pad between the index finger and thumb. Tapping into the large intestine (LI) meridian, this acupoint is a natural decongestant that also reduces headaches.
- LUNG (LU) 7, located above the wrist, decreases cold and flu symptoms and can prevent them from starting in the first place.
DYK? As the days get shorter and nights grow longer, your body expends more energy just to stay awake. Without good sleep hygiene, you risk depleting your immune system and compromising your health. Rather than prescribing a medication to induce sleep, TCM calls for a personalized, holistic approach. Acupuncturists work to uncover and treat the root causes of sleep problems, ranging from stress and anxiety to pain and discomfort. By resolving these underlying issues, practitioners can help increase the chances that a good night’s sleep lies ahead.
When Eating is Back in Season
Patient education is a crucial part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), especially when it comes to lifestyle choices. As part of their overall treatment, acupuncturists encourage patients to harness the power of seasonal nutrition. “Nature knows what we need and when we need it,” said Schaberg. “Eating in season helps prepare us for the months ahead. A fall harvest is full of substantive fruits and vegetables that ready our bodies for winter when we need more energy to function.”
Acupuncturists incorporate food therapy into treatments to help patients build strong and healthy bodies. Come late August, they encourage patients to replace the cooling food of summer with the warming fare of fall. Each food contains energetic properties that are well-suited for the season. Here are a few examples:
- Dietary Decongestants: Foods like apples and pears soothe our sore throats and break up phlegm caused by allergies or illnesses. The fruit’s pectin alleviates inflamed nose tissue and can decrease a cough. Warming these fruits in the winter months and adding a bit of honey can add an extra layer of comfort to help fight a cold or virus.
- Mother Nature’s Moisturizer: As the temperature drops, our bodies can become dry both inside and out. Foods like pumpkin, nuts, and seeds act as natural lubricants in many parts of the body. Roast them to bring out their earthy and rich flavor.
- Grounding Gourmet: Roots provide stability and nourishment to its plant—the same as it does for humans. Root vegetables like rutabaga, carrots, and beets contain the warming and grounding energy we need as we hunker down in the cold. Throw these nutritious veggies into a hearty stew or soup with some bone or vegetable broth, and you’ll be set for the winter months.
The benefits of acupuncture speak for themselves. That’s one reason why an increasing number of patients are seeking out the holistic treatment. “Some patients turn to Chinese medicine and acupuncture to complement their overall care,” says Schaberg. “Others turn to it because Western medicine has failed them in some way.” Whatever the reason, it’s clear that you can benefit from the wisdom of acupuncture and keep yourself healthy, no matter the season.
Treating Long-haul COVID
Schaberg says there’s been a rise in the use of integrated therapies for the treatment of long-haul COVID. While long-haul COVID is still a new phenomenon, Chinese herbs and acupuncture can go a long way to alleviate symptoms. “We are seeing that people with long-haul COVID are stuck in the middle, somewhere between deathly ill and feeling off,” said Schaberg. Traditional Chinese Medicine addresses lingering symptoms like shortness of breath, brain fog, dizziness, and fatigue by using the immune system to flush out the body’s negative Qi.