Acupuncture and Immunity

Some of the symptoms of low immune function are frequent colds and flu, diarrhea and allergies of any kind. Other disorders of the immune system include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, juvenile-onset and insulin-dependent diabetes, Grave’s disease, Crohn’s disease and chronic fatigue, among others. Cancer is also an indication of low immunity, as our bodies are supposed to destroy any abnormal cells that develop. Some experts believe that everyone gets cancer three or four times in their lifetime—but it’s never discovered because the immune system is working properly.

Studies show that acupuncture benefits immunity in these ways:


 Elevates levels of white cells, certain hormones, prostaglandins (important mediators in inflammation), gammaglobulins, antibodies and opsonins. Opsonins cause cell membranes of foreign cells to become sticky, so phagocytes more easily destroy them.

 Constricts and dilates blood vessel, promoting release of vasodilators (known as histamines).

Activates secretions of endorphins, specifically enkaphalins. Enkaphalins are produced in the brain and act as opiates, decreasing sensitivity to pain.

Elevates levels of neurotransmitters, specifically seratonin and noradrenaline (i.e., it has an anti-depressant effect.) There is a well-researched connection between negative emotions, especially anger and loneliness, and breast cancer. Acupuncture can have a positive effect on the emotions, further boosting immunity.


The use of moxibustion is a therapy closely associated with acupuncture and is a powerful tool for boosting the immune system. It’s a heat therapy that use a certain herb—mugwort, which has been dried and ground to powder, or soft “wool.” .


A recent study* in Guandong, China looked at the relationship between moxibustion (moxa) and interleukins. Interleukins are proteins created by white blood cells that are responsible for many of the basic functions of the body’s immune response. IL-12 enhances the toxicity of T-cells and Natural Killer cells as they constantly work to destroy pathogens that make us sick. IL-2 has a similar role. NK cells destroy body cells that have become cancerous or infected with a virus or bacteria. In this study researchers introduced cancerous tumors into four groups of mice. One group received no treatment; another received moxa alone and one group received both moxa and chemo.


We know chemo will lead to a drop in white blood cells, so as expected, the group receiving chemo alone had the greatest drop in IL-2 and IL-12. The group that had moxa alone had the greatest increase in these interleukins. The group that received both chemo and moxa had an intermediate result between these two extremes. There was a similar increase in the kill rate of NK cells. Moxa didn’t significantly increase the number of NK cells, but did significantly increase their activity.


In addition to acupuncture and moxa, there are many beneficial Chinese herbs and herbal combinations, in easy-to-swallow tablets, that benefit the immune system. If you do become ill, herbs are available to help you recover more quickly.

To help yourself:


  1. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Five servings a day is a good goal (remember, a serving is only ½ cup).
  2. Most food should be lightly cooked—steamed, baked or stir-fried. The normal temperature of the stomach is 104 degrees F. A lot of cold, raw food stresses the digestive system, making it harder for the stomach to create the approximately 70% of our body’s white cells that it normally produces.
  3. Avoid sugar—1 tsp. can immobilize macrophages for 6 hours, making us more susceptible to injury from viruses, bacteria and cancer cells.
  4. Avoid aspartame—due to the lack of a key enzyme in our digestive systems, part of it degrades into the toxic formaldehyde.
  5. Get enough good quality sleep. If you are having significant trouble sleeping, Chinese Medicine can help with this, too.
  6. Light to moderate exercise improves all body functions. Walking is a great way to start. Water therapy is good for those with disabilities or pain that makes walking impractical.


Effects of moxibustion at shenque (CV 8) on serum IL-12 level and NK cell activities in mice with transplanted tumor.” Qui, Z.; Chen, K.’ Tong, L; Shu, X.; Lu, X.; Wen, H.; Deng, C.