Enhanced Resilience and Immunity with Adaptogens
What is an adaptogen? It is an herb that facilitates an increase in our ability to repel pathogenic influences, resist disharmony and disease, replenish energy after over-exertion, and stimulate recovery from injury. In the context of Chinese herbal medicine, our immunity is not something that is only generated at the surface, but an energy and physical force that is absolutely tied to the strength of our fundamental constitution. In other words, if the core or root is over taxed and weak, the surface defenses become weak too.
In a good Chinese herbal pharmacy, there are many herbs that have the capacity to assist and stimulate our immune system, fortifying and stabilizing our defenses while also improving our overall wellbeing. In the Chinese medical model, immunity is observed and treated as a diverse multi-layer eco-system, and for simplicity we can look at it as occurring at three levels.
The first line of defense is composed of the Defensive Wei and Qi levels, protecting the exterior from invasion and securing the visceral cavity and the internal organs from penetration. At this level pathogens are fought off and expelled before they penetrate into the interior and cause more significant health challenges.
The next deepest layer is the Ying/nutritive and Xue/blood levels. This is a layer that protects the interior of the body, the internal organs, and a level of functioning that produces vital nutritive energy and moves it around in the all important substance that is the carrier of life itself, blood. Serious conditions occur at this level and any pathogen causing disharmony at this level has indeed penetrated the interior of the body.
Finally, the deepest level is that of the Jing, or Essence. This is the fundamental integrity and constitution of the human being. Extremely serious and critical conditions occur at this level. If this core level is weak, the capacity of the other levels becomes compromised.
Many herbs, and many herbal formulas can be categorized as adaptogens that fortify, supplement, and assist in the repair of the above mentioned levels of immune functioning. However, there is one brilliant formula that comes to mind while considering the immunity dynamic. Although Chinese herbal pharmacology is thousands of years old, this particular formula is designed by modern practitioners for modern people. It’s called Resilience and it’s manufactured and sold to practitioners by Kan Herb Company of Scotts Valley, California.
Indeed, Resilience as a metaphor is more than a great herbal formula we can all take, but also a quality and quantity of immunity, a functional capacity of the human being. To be Resilient is to endure the challenges of life, and adapt to the rigors of the environment. Virtually all the patients I see with a compromised immune system are on this formula at one time or another, often with powerful results. It works beautifully when prescribed for recovery from long standing flus, viruses, over use of antibiotics, hepatitis, lupus, diabetes, chronic fatigue, HIV, radiation, chemotherapy, depression, environmental sensitivities, and more.
I also prescribe this formula for just plain high performance. I work with many people who are looking to optimize their performance through getting acupuncture and herbal pharmacology for harmonization and supplementation, basically preventative medicine. They’re relatively strong with high output and want to stay that way, and they know that things work better when they’re harmonized. These people are working hard, playing hard, taking good care of themselves, yet looking to stay energetic and maintain their level of well being. Whether it’s for diminished immunity or to supplement performance, the rationale behind Resilience is simple – and brilliant.
The formula contains five herbs, four mushrooms and the well known astragalus root. Astragalus root is huang qi in Chinese, and the mushrooms are ganoderma fungus(ling zhi cao), grifola frondosa fungus(maitake), polyporus fungus(zhu ling), and tremella fungus(bai mu erh).
Pharmacological evaluation has shown that both astragalus and these particular mushrooms contain high percentages of immune-regulating compounds called polysaccharides. These long chain sugar molecules exert an activating, corrective influence upon the cellular (macrophages and T-cells) and humoral (complements and antibodies) arms of the immune system. Known as biological response modifiers, they confer non-specific resistance to viruses, bacteria, neoplastic cells, parasites, and pollens. In addition to their anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-parasitic virtues, they protect the liver and heart, increases the production of red and white blood cells, lower lipids, regulate weight, modulate the central nervous system, blood pressure, and sugar metabolism, accelerate recovery from illness, and improve performance. 1
This formula benefits the Zang-Fu, the five major organ networks in Chinese medicine, Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung, and Kidneys. Considering that this formula has such a widespread and profound effect on the physical aspect of the five viscera, it’s important to remember that the psyche and the body are co-occuring aspects of the same phenomena in Chinese medical theory. One cannot separate them. Therefore, if the formula fortifies the defenses and adaptability of one’s body, it also fortifies the defenses and adaptability of one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual being – essentially the immune function of the psyche. This could be an extremely valuable resource and energy to cultivate, especially in these current times where just being on the planet is a challenge, and the speed at which we live can dissipate our energies before we know it.
Taking a brief look at the western psyche, energy, and immunity, can be quite revealing. I’m often prescribing Resilience when patients come in for smoking and caffeine cessation treatments. Acupuncture and herbology together provide a much more graceful withdrawl and detoxification period, and can reduce or eliminate cravings. It’s important to remember that there is a quantity and quality of adaptation to the environment, and many westerners use nicotine and caffeine as stimulants to falsely supplement their depleted energies. These chemicals are artificial energy, not real energy, and actually allow the lack of energy, fatigue, and depression to drive deeper into the body if abused for long periods of time, therefore weakening the overall immune response. In addition to Resilience I’m also using a diverse line of organic coffee and tea supplements with ganoderma (ling zhi)and ginseng (ren shen) in them. Not only are the patients getting off the draining artificial energy tonics, but also benefiting from the qualities of the healthy herbs while still continuing to drink a coffee or tea product.
To be in this world and survive, succeed, and thrive, we must often do what is required of us, even if this requirement is beyond the level or threshold of our functional capacity for production. It is one of the great challenges of our modern culture, how to balance the quantity of output with the appropriate quantity of rest, relaxation, and recovery, so that the required daily output can continue. For many of us, Resilience is more than a description of our behavior and immune capacity, it’s more than an herbal formula……it’s a necessary way of life.
1 Korngold and Beinfield, Chinese Modular Solutions, pg. 163.
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