What is Qi?
Chinese see qi the fundamental substance of the world. Everything in the universe comes from the motion and change of qi. Qi, in
constant movement in the body, is the fundamental substance on which all life activities depend. Therefore, it is also seen as the
energy of the life.
TCM holds that qi is the material basis for all vital activities of organs and meridians, which is also the reason why changes of qi are
often be used to explain changes of the body.
Qi at different locations has different functions and origins, therefore, there are different forms of qi, such as genuine qi (zhen qi),
nutrient qi (ying qi), defensive qi (wei qi), pectorial qi (zong qi), primordial qi (yuan qi), meridian qi (jing lou zhi qi), qi of zang-fu organs
(zang fu zhi qi) etc.
The Formation of Qi
The qi of human body derives from three sources: congenital qi inherited from parents; nutrient qi from nutritive substances of food
and water; qing qi from fresh qi inhaled. So apart from inheritance and inner harmony, a sound lifestyle also plays an important part in
one's health, especially a balanced diet. Only through a balanced diet, can we get the nutrient essence needed to generate qi.
The Movement of qi
Qi is in constant movement, travelling throughout the body and reaching every organ and tissue. It has four basic patterns of
movement: ascending, descending, exiting and entering. The meridians and collaterals are pathways in which qi and blood circulate,
while the triple jiao is the pathway for qi and water. All those are pivotal in TCM when it comes to immune activities.
Balanced movement of qi contributes to the harmony between yin and yang, which is pivotal in maintaining the functions of tissues,
organs, meridians and collaterals. Disturbances in qi movement affect the functions of zang-fu organs and offset the balance,
consequently problems occur. Apart from Chinese herbs, qigong, taiji and massage also can be used to maintain qi movement and yin-
Immunity is the body's ability to resist a disease, and immunology is a study of how the body identifies foreign elements, reacts to them
and defends itself. The word "immunology" derives from "immunis", Latin for "exempt", which was originally a law concept and later on
was applied to the field of medicine. At the beginning, immunology concentrated on anti-infection aspect only. It was not until after
1960's that immunology has broadened its horizons to the areas like auto-immune, allergy and immunodeficiency.
The immune system is designed to be able to distinguish between self and non-self. It is also designed to make tailored responses
against the non-self (the pathogen), which kill the non-self pathogens and leave the self untouched. Therefore, homeostasis remains
when the immune system functions properly. Otherwise, disorders, such as hypersensitivities and autoimmune diseases, occur. In
another word, the immune system has three basic functions: defense, surveillance and homeostasis.
Zheng Qi represents immune system in TCM
Likewise, there is an inside force protecting us from the outside invasion in TCM, known as Zheng qi. The concept of immunology plays
an important part in Chinese medicine theory, which can be traced back to Su Wen (Plain Questions) Chapter 72, written 2000 years
ago, "If Zheng qi remains strong, Xie qi (pathogen) cannot invade the body." So Zheng qi is a body's ability to defense itself, just like
the immune system.
Zheng qi has three functions
Zheng qi protects body against various exogenous pathogens such as microbes, vaccines, toxins, super-antigens etc. It recognizes,
attacks and eliminates these pathogens. However, when zheng qi is deficient, our body becomes vulnerable. Therefore, the treatment
depends not only on eliminating those unfavourable pathogens, but also on strengthening inner defense system. This is why we say
that Zheng qi is very important when it comes to healing and curing.
Surveillance involves the recognition of microorganisms bearing foreign antigens, including some cancel cells. Weakened zheng qi
cannot recognize and destroy tumor cells effectively either. When zheng qi is deficient, qi and yin are deficient, qi and blood become
stagnant, and phlegm is accumulated. Combined phlegm, qi and blood-stasis could result in tumors.
In TCM, "reinforcing zheng qi and eliminating xie qi" is a therapeutic principle often used to treat cancers to activate body's immune
functions. Scientific research shows that tonifying herbs, like Dang Shen, Ling Zhi and Fu Ling inducing IFN-α, Huang Qi and Ren Shen
inducing IFN-β, promote antibodies production, while Sheng Di, Ba Ji Tian and Han Lian Cao induce IFN-γ. Furthermore, herbs like Jin
Yin Hua and Pu Gong Ying etc. that eliminate toxin and heat can also enhance immune function. The fact that herbs that fall into the
category of eliminating xie qi can improve immune function corresponds with the classical wisdom "To reinforce zheng qi is to
eliminate xie qi, and vice versa."
Maintaining immunologic homeostasis encompasses keeping a balance between immune protective and immune destructive responses
and the removal of senescent or dead immune cells from the body. That is exactly what zheng qi does. Zheng qi keeps body from
outer attack, fight with foreign intruders when attacked, and maintain yin-yang balance within. Apart from Chinese herbal medicine,
diet therapy, acupuncture, massage, qigong as well as meditation also help to maintain homeostasis.
Herbs & Acupuncture
Qi and Immunity
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