Attila Szanto draws on his expertise in Chinese medicine to provide some advice on boosting our immune systems to protect against viruses.

The coronavirus outbreak is now classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Epidemiologists estimate that up to 70 percent of the population will get in contact with the virus over the next 12-24 months.

There is a great deal we can all do to slow down the spreading of the virus (thus enabling the healthcare system to cope with the small percentage of severe cases), from washing hands to not touching our face, not shaking hands and staying away from crowds, just to name a few. You will no doubt be familiar with these recommendations already.

There is no vaccination against the virus; once we catch it, our bodies must fight it, and fight it well. I would therefore like to offer some easy to follow advice on enhancing your immunity, based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine.

There is not much data on the coronavirus to date, but we do know from initial studies conducted in China that children are just as much exposed to it as adults. However, most children don’t show any symptoms at all, or their symptoms are very mild.

Children are abundant in Qi in general, and Wei Qi in particular. Wei Qi is commonly translated as Defensive Qi; its function is to ward off external pathogens that threaten our health and wellbeing, including bacteria, viruses, and injuries.

Wei Qi is the Chinese medicine concept for immunity; its strength depends on two elements: Kidney Yang and Stomach Fluids.

Kidney Yang is the moving and warming energy of the body. In includes what Western biomedicine calls cortisol and adrenaline, although it encompasses much more. Mounting an efficient immune response to fight a virus requires Kidney Yang.

Stomach Fluids refer to the moistness of the Stomach and gut, which is extracted from food and drink. The Stomach is the origin of all fluids in the body, including saliva, tears, mucous and sweat. These fluids play an important role in protecting internal organs and serve as a vehicle to flush out pathogens from the body.

Here is what my colleague Ann Cecil-Sterman says about Kidney Yang and Stomach Fluids in the context of viral infections:

“Viruses are characterized by an invasion of Cold. That’s why we feel miserable and want to stay warm and wrapped up when we have “colds” (common viruses). Warming, moving Qi (Kidney Yang) breaks up that Cold and moves it out. At the same time, the body moves some of the fluids originating in the Stomach (from food and drink) and uses them to create a sweat which “opens the exterior” – like opening a door in the skin – and pushes the pathogen out. This is what happens when we sweat.

“Kidney Yang and Stomach Fluids are two commodities in decline in our current culture because we engage in lifestyles that not only fail to cultivate them, they actively erode them. Kidney Yang is eroded by excess activity and excess stimulation. Stomach Fluids are eroded by dehydration and consumed by overdrawing from the body’s deep resources. Adequate rest is important for the restoration of these reserves, but our culture is chronically sleep-deprived.

Cultivate Kidney Yang by resting, keeping warm and eating nourishing foods:

  • Go to bed early; deep sleep between 11pm and 3am is very restorative. Install blackout blinds and do not look at screens after 9pm.
  • Eat warm and nourishing foods (preferably organic), including whole grains and vegetables. If you eat meat, ensure it is well cooked and easy to digest.
  • Keep warm by wearing warm clothes, eating warm foods, drinking herbal teas or plain warm water, taking hot baths and avoiding exposure to cold and drafts.
  • Avoid cold or raw foods, gluten, sugar, milk and cheese; these deplete Kidney Yang by requiring more warming Qi to digest them.
  • Cultivate calm by meditating or spending time in nature so that Kidney Yang is not active when it doesn’t need to be.
  • Coffee, chocolate, hot spices, garlic, onion, sugar and alcohol deplete Kidney Yang by activating it when it’s not needed.

Cultivate Stomach Fluids by hydrating well

  • Deep hydration comes from wet-cooked foods, not water.
  • Eat warm wet breakfasts, like porridges or congees (rice porridge).
  • Eat soups, stews, broths, dahls and mild curries.
  • Have a glass of plain warm water first thing in the morning and drink herbal teas during the day.
  • Include healthy oils and fat in your diet, including cold pressed oils and saturated fats (butter, ghee, coconut oil).
  • Coffee, black tea, alcohol and fizzy drinks are dehydrating and should be avoided.

​Support your Lungs

  • Cultivating Kidney Yang and Stomach Fluids will directly support the Lungs, which are the first organ to be exposed to viruses.
  • Thyme or ginger tea with honey gently nourish and strengthen Lung function. Honey, fruits and small amounts of organic full fat yoghurt provide moisture to the Lungs and support its mucous membrane.
  • A perfect breakfast to support your Lungs would be warm oat porridge cooked with almond milk and a piece of fruit, sprinkled with honey and cinnamon, and accompanied by thyme or ginger tea. Add a spoon of ghee (purified butter) or coconut oil and a pinch of salt to your porridge to support Kidney Yang.
  • If you prefer a savoury breakfast, try rice porridge (congee). Once served, add grated ginger, spring onions, soy sauce and an oil of your choice (e.g. sesame oil). You will notice that your body will produce a sweat, an indication that your Lungs and immune system have been activated.

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