HIV WellnessGuardians of Harmony
The Immune System in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, the body’s battle against disease is fought on two levels—superficially, at skin level, through the vigilance of Protective Qi and inside the body through the harmonious functioning of the Organ Systems and the Essential Substances. These two aspects of the “immune system” work both separately and together to form a protective network that responds to external and internal assaults on the mind/body/spirit.
This highly responsive defense system is called upon to combat three types of disease triggers:
- The External Pernicious Influences — identified as climatic factors of heat, cold, wind, dampness, dryness and summer heat;
- The Epidemic Factors — non-climatic External Pernicious Influences that are often infectious and attack deep within the body, bypassing the Protective Qi and causing disruption in Organ Systems almost immediately;
- The Internal Disharmonies that are associated with Organ System imbalances and with disharmony of the Seven Emotions—joy, anger, fear and fright, joy, sadness and grief—which can precipitate diseases from within the body.
The Battle Against External Pernicious Influences
Sometimes, a Pernicious Influence breeches the perimeter patrolled by Wei (protective) Qi and enters the body. This can happen if it is simply so powerful that it overwhelms the Wei Qi, or because your mind/body/spirit is already weakened (by chronic exhaustion, poor diet, stress or sadness, for example) and you don’t have enough inherent constitutional strength to fight off the invader. Once an external Pernicious Influence gets around the defenses of Wei Qi, you develop a disharmony.
Invasion of Pernicious Influences
- External Cold illnesses are generally acute, with chills, fever and achy joints. When they strike, symptoms include a fear of cold and headaches. With external cold, putting on warm clothes or blankets will not warm you up because the cold is trapped at the surface of the body in the skin. The only way to remove the chill is to stimulate the Wei Qi so it expels the cold from the surface through the use of herbs and acupuncture. If the external cold goes internal, you may experience lethargy, grogginess, craving for heat, loose stools, clear draining sinuses, and develop a pale tongue.
- External Heat disorders often cause a red face, hyperactivity and talkativeness, fever, and a rapid pulse. You may also experience sweating and severe sore throat. The tongue’s coating is yellow. When the heat penetrates deeper into the body you may become thirsty, constipated or develop rashes. If the heat attacks the Shen (spirit) you may become delirious and your speech may become confused or slurred.
Related to the external Pernicious Influence Heat, Toxic Heat is a particularly virulent infectious condition that is identified as an Epidemic Factor. The Chinese medicine text, Discussion of Warm Epidemics, written in 1642, recognizes the existence of Pestilences—called li Qi or yi Qi. These are diseases that are not caused by the climatic factors of heat, cold, wind, dampness, summer heat dryness, but by external infectious agents. And they often trigger symptoms that are similar to the External Pernicious Influence Heat, but are severely toxic because they strike directly at the interior of the body. In fact, they seem to scoot around Protective Qi altogether. HIV, which is transmitted only through exchange of fluids, is an example of this type of attack on the body’s inner harmony.
- External Dampness can invade the body and the channels and block the smooth flow of Qi. This may cause stiff joints and heavy limbs. When dampness penetrates more deeply, a person can develop nausea, loss of appetite, bloating and/or diarrhea. This type of interior dampness is associated with bodily secretions and can lead to tumors, coughing, and if it invades the Shen (spirit), to erratic behavior and insanity. Once dampness has settled in, it is hard to displace.
- External Dryness is often coupled with heat, but unlike heat alone, dryness and heat don’t produce redness and warmth; they create evaporation and cracking. When dryness invades the body you may develop respiratory problems such as asthma, dry skin or a dry, hacking cough.
- Summer Heat is always associated with exposure to extreme heat and it wracks the whole body, causing a sudden high fever and complete exhaustion, reminiscent of heat stroke. It is often accompanied by dampness.
- External Wind — often joined with an invasion of cold or heat—is associated with tics, twitches, fear of drafts, headaches and a stuffed-up nose.
Once a Pernicious Influence penetrates the defensive layer maintained by Wei (Protective) Qi and begins to make you sick, you want to act quickly to help the body re-establish harmony. This is done through the use of herbs, acupuncture, dietary therapy and Qi Gong exercise and meditation; they regulate Qi and other Essential Substances and reharmonize the working of the individual Organ Systems.
However, if balance and optimal functioning cannot be restored, the Pernicious Influence may penetrate deeper into the body. This makes the disharmony more severe and the symptoms more difficult to treat. For more detailed information on the four stages of disharmony associated with Heat and the six stages associated with Cold, see the appendix in The HIV Wellness Sourcebook.