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Special Report on SARS: How You Can Support Your Immune System

By Maoshing Ni, D.O.M., Ph.D., L.Ac.

SARS & Chinese MedicineMedia coverage of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has incited fear among the American public, emptied Chinatowns all over North America and stopped much of the travel between the U.S., Toronto, Canada, China, Taiwan and southeast Asia. While SARS is an urgent concern for the World Health Organization, a larger worry on the horizon for the world health agency is the flu—the long awaited influenza pandemic.

The flu pandemic has historically occurred at 25-30 year intervals and its destruction has been cataclysmic. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, for example, killed more than 40 million people worldwide (670,000 Americans alone). The most recent flu pandemic struck 35 years ago and killed more than 4 million people. SARS, by comparison, has caused less than one thousand deaths and is much less infectious. Dr. Klaus Stohr, the head of the influenza program at the World Health Organization who is also leading the agency’s fight against SARS said in a Wall Street Journal interview, “We are not prepared for the devastation of a flu pandemic… SARS will be something to smile about,” he said.

Regarding the likelihood of a major flu pandemic striking in the near future, Albert Osterhaus, a Dutch scientist involved in pandemic preparedness in Europe said in the same Wall Street article, “It’s not a matter of if, but when, this will happen. I am far more scared of a flu pandemic than I am of SARS.” The flu, SARS and other communicable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis are the twenty-first century’s major heath challenges.

Overcrowding and global travel have increased the risk of diseases spreading unchecked. However, the real threat lies in a virus’s ability to undergo small changes or mutations that evade people’s natural immunities or commercial vaccinations. Similarly, the widespread use of antibiotics in poultry and meat producing industries has enabled bacteria to become stronger and more resistant. According to some critics, even our current medical practices of over-prescribing antibiotics may contribute to the rise of “super-bugs”!

When these “new” microbes strike, they move quickly and wipe out victims, leaving a wide path of destruction. The West Nile and Ebola viruses, for example, both have at least a 90% mortality rate.

Don’t panic. You can prevent or minimize your chance of contracting infectious diseases both at home or while traveling. Some of my recommendations are common sense:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Eat well-cooked foods
  • Maintain a distance from someone who is sick
  • Avoid crowded and poor ventilated places

Sometimes you cannot help but travel on airplanes, meet with someone who may appear to be sick, eat out at a restaurant or be in a crowded place. Therefore you must make sure that your immune system is functioning at a peak level. This involves avoiding activities that would weaken or deplete your immune system and engage in immune strengthening and supporting actions. Below I have outlined a checklist of things to avoid:

  • Stress and negative emotions
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Overwork and over-exhaustion
  • Diet high in sugar, caffeine and refined products
  • Under or over-exercise
  • Frequent use of antibiotics, steroids or immuno-suppresant drugs

Many people who were exposed to SARS, Ebola, the West Nile virus or the flu virus never came down with the infection. The reason is simple: Their immune systems are much stronger and better equipped to fend off the viruses than those who came down with the illnesses. I have outlined below actions to strengthen your immune system:

  • Reduce stress and maintain equanimity
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Pace yourself at work and in your life
  • Eat a healthy diet consisting of high fiber, low fat and at least nine servings of vegetables and fruits each day
  • Moderate daily exercise including cardiovascular and light weight training
  • Avoid drugs and chemicals whenever possible
  • Take herbs and vitamins that have been shown to optimizing the immune system

Extensive studies of ways to strengthen the human defenses have been carried out for centuries in China, producing a wealth of knowledge on Chinese herbal medicine and its effect on the immune system. While there is currently no cure for SARS, the Chinese Government Health Authority recently released its recommendations for preventing SARS. These recommendations consist of Chinese herbal medicine formulations as prophylactic agents against SARS. They are herbs that have been found to contain anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and have immune boosting qualities. Some are effective in increasing the white blood cell production in your body (they are your defense troops), while others increase lymphocyte activities such as killing foreign invaders, etc. Fundamental principles of Chinese medicine are, of course, “Treating disease before its occurrence”, and “Strengthen the defenses to prevent sickness.”

The recommendations are listed below:

  1. Lu Gen (reed root), Jin Yin Hua (honeysuckle flower), Lian Qiao (forsythia fruit), Chan Yi (cicada shell), Jiang Chan (silkworm), Bo He (peppermint), Gan Cao (licorice)
  2. Cang Zhu (Chinese atractylodes rhizome), Bai Zhu (white atractylodes rhizome), Huang Qi (astragalus root), Fang Feng (siler root), Huo Xiang (patchouli), Sha Sheng (silver beech root), Jin Yin Hua (honeysuckle flower), Guan Zhong (dryopteris root)
  3. Guan Zhong (dryopteris root), Jin Yin Hua (honeysuckle flower), Lian Qiao (forsythia fruit), Da Qing Ye (Isatis leaf), Zi Su (perilla leaf), Ge gen (Kudzu root), Huo Xiang (patchouli), Cang Zhu (Chinese atractylodes rhizome), Pei Lan (ornamental orchid), Tai Zi Sheng (pseudostellaria root)

Persons whose jobs (health workers) or relations may bring them into contact with someone with potential SARS are advised to take the following formula:

  1. Da Huang (Chinese rhubarb root), Jin Yin Hua (honeysuckle flower), Chai Hu (bupleuri root), Huang Qing (skullcap root), Ban Lan Gen (Isatis root), Guan Zhong (dryopteris root), Cang Shu, Yi Yi Ren (Job’s tears), Huo Xiang (patchouli), Fang Feng (siler root), Gan Cao (licorice)

You can choose one from the above formulas and try to assemble them yourself. Here, for reader’s convenience, I have recommended several products from Traditions of Tao that contain herbs from the above list. These were designed as immune support for every day use.

Perpetual Shield
This formula contains Ligustri fruit that, along with Astragalus root, has been studied extensively for its immune boosting actions. Cherokee rosehip has large amounts of vitamin C and has been shown to be anti-bacterial. Honeysuckle and mulberry are protectors of the immune system. Fo Ti (Shou Wu root), eucommia bark and dodder seed are major tonics for the immune system that also have anti-aging properties.

Perpetual Shield should be used daily as a core program for immune enhancement and can be combined with the above mentioned formulas to build a strong fortress against invading pathogens in one’s daily encounters.

Cold/Flu Elixir
This formula contains forsythia fruit and isatis root—major herbs that have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Schizonepeta leaf and peppermint open and clear passageways and relieve sinus symptoms. Kudzu root and notopterygium rhizome help support muscle functions and relieve body ache. Apricot kernel and white mulberry bark clear the lungs and relieve cough. Siler root and Chinese angelica root relieve headaches. Fermented soybean supports normal digestive function and modulates body temperature, and figwort root reduces swelling and relieves pressure. Finally licorice root supports proper adrenal function and harmonizes the body.

Cold/Flu Eixir should be taken daily during cold and flu season, while traveling and immediately after exposure as a preventive measure.

Internal Cleanse
This formula contains Chrysanthemum flower and Mulberry leaf, which are major herbs in a famous respiratory remedy popular in China for over a thousand years. Dandelion and peppermint possess anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. The above four herbs also support the liver’s ability to detoxify. Cassia seed and Shan Zha fruit (hawthorn berry) cleanse the blood and detoxify. Cocklebur fruit keeps the sinuses clear and effective against invading pathogens. Finally licorice root, while also an anti-bacterial, supports normal adrenal functions and harmonizes the body.

Internal cleanse is appropriate for daily use alone or in conjunction with Cold/Flu Elixir for additional immune fighting/support and assists in liver detoxification. Can also be part of a whole body detoxification program

Exquisite Skin
This formula contains astragalas root and Fo Ti (Shou Wu root), which are considered major herbal tonics for the immune system and help to slow down the aging process. Angelica, Shu Di and peony roots are blood tonics that also help to increase immunity in the structure of the skin—strengthening one’s first line of defense. Siler and Jing Jie herb (Schizonepeta) act as diaphoretics, ensuring the normal detoxification function of the skin pores. Finally rhubarb cleanses the intestines and is a wide spectrum anti-microbial.

Exquisite Skin can be used daily both as a protector and rejuvenator of the skin since it increases the underlying immune function while nourishing the skin.

We cannot rely on the government or a world health body to protect us from communicable diseases, nor should we. In a world grown ever more connected and fast-paced, the risks of disease transmission are greater with each passing day. However, individuals have the ability to protect themselves and loved ones by being proactive in ensuring optimal health and immune function. As frightening as the prospects of SARS and the flu pandemic are, we are far from being helpless. With the steps that I outlined above you can take minimize weakening your immune system and increase your immune functions. You do not have to be a sitting duck waiting for the inevitable to happen.

Dr. Maoshing Ni, a Licensed Acupuncturist and a Diplomat of Chinese Herbology, is currently in general practice at the Tao of Wellness Clinic in Santa Monica, California. The Tao of Wellness Clinic is one of the oldest in Los Angeles, established in 1976. (310) 917-2200


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