EYS TCM Clinic

Boosting Your Child’s Immunity with TCM

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Boosting Your Child’s Immunity with TCM

Parents often despair – with good reason – that their school-going children not only catch whatever’s going around, but pass it on quite indiscriminately to siblings and playmates.

As was the case with Ms Winifred Ling, whose two-year-old daughter, Olivia, got sick “almost every month” for a year after she started going to nursery.

“She mostly had colds,” Ms Ling, a psychologist practicing in Singapore, recalls. “She would have a runny nose, lots of phlegm, and would be coughing quite a lot. Sometimes, when she had a hacking cough, she would end up vomiting.” “We would take her to see a paediatrician and she would be alright for a while after taking the prescribed medication, but then she would catch the next virus going around.”

Eventually, Ms Ling took her daughter to see a Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner who focused as much on resolving Olivia’s symptoms as on boosting her immune system. Olivia was managed with herbs and paediatric tui na, a form of massage therapy that promotes the smooth flow of qi (a person’s vital force) in the body. Together, the treatments not only eliminated the pathogens that caused Olivia’s illness but also strengthened her overall constitution.

“She is five now, and we have continued our regular TCM visits and treatments as they help keep her healthy,” Ms Ling says.

Smoothing out the energy flow

Olivia’s case is not uncommon among children, whose immune systems are still developing and are susceptible to environmental allergens and diseases.

TCM practitioners believe that children have relatively weaker lung, kidney and spleen systems, which can compromise their overall immunity.

“A weak lung system increases the likelihood of respiratory illnesses, while a weak spleen system makes one prone to digestive illnesses,” says Eu Yan Sang physician Quek Yiyan. “That’s why children often catch colds and have stomach upsets.”

In TCM, healthy qi defends against external pathogens. When the flow of qi in organs is not optimal, their delicate yin-yang balance is disturbed. In managing children, TCM practitioners therefore focus on strengthening or restoring the flow of qi, particularly around these vulnerable systems. The objective is to keep the body in a balanced yin-yang state, says Physician Quek.

Like running water in a stream, Qi cannot afford to be stagnant, “If an organ is colonised by bacteria, such an invasion can be imagined as a brackish pond,” she says. “The organ then has to be ‘cleansed’ and the proper flow of qi re-established.”

Re-establishing the flow of Qi can be done using different therapies, including herbal medication, paediatric tui na, or by making adjustments to diet or lifestyle.

A natural way

Herbs are an important cornerstone of TCM treatment and have a variety of effects, such as warming, cooling and strengthening (increasing qi). Although the types of herbs prescribed to children are similar to those prescribed to adults, the dosage and specific formulas depend on the child’s condition, age and weight. This is why a trained and licensed TCM practitioner should always be consulted, Physician Quek says.

Paediatric tui na is also an effective treatment for young children. A trained paediatric physician uses specialized massage techniques to stimulate acupoints that are specific to children, enhancing the flow of qi throughout their body.

Other TCM treatments like acupuncture and cupping are generally not recommended before adolescence. However, a physician may decide on them on a case-by-case basis.

TCM treatments offer a safe and reliable alternative with few side effects, an important consideration for parents keen to ensure the health of their children. Should a child fall sick, TCM also focuses on solving the root cause of the illness, not just the symptoms.

Better habits for stronger immunity

TCM practitioners generally advocate a holistic – and sustainable – approach to building a strong immune system. Besides prescribing herbal medication, tui na, and acupuncture for older children, physicians are likely to also advise on an appropriate diet and lifestyle.

Cold drinks and too much fried, sweet or spicy food should be avoided as they create “dampness” in the body, Physician Quek says. “Excessive amounts of these foods weaken the digestive function of the spleen and stomach, which in turn allows dampness to accumulate,” she explains. Accumulated dampness can, over time, cause blockages and illness. Regular mealtimes should also be observed, as this helps with proper digestion.

Herbs that help increase Qi can be added to soups or stir-fries. These include Poria (Fuling, 茯苓), White Atractylodes (Baizhu, 白术), Euryale seeds (Qianshi, 芡实), Coix barley (Yiyiren, 薏苡仁), Astragalus root (Huangqi, 黄芪) and Chinese yam (Huaishan, 淮山). Chinese yam, in particular, can be consumed daily as a food supplement as it helps improve digestion, Physician Quek says.

Herbs with strengthening properties should not be given to a child who is already ill as “these herbs could strengthen the invading pathogen instead, and make expelling it more difficult”, she cautions.

Qi Strengthening Soup

Ingredients:

  • Astragalus root (Huangqi, 黄芪) 10g

  • White Atractylodes (Baizhu, 白术) 10g

  • Licorice root (Gancao, 甘草) 5g

  • Pork ribs 500g

  • Water 1L

Quantities can be varied to individual liking


Preparation:

  1. Rinse the herbs and blanch the pork ribs.

  2. Place all ingredients into 1L of boiling water.

  3. Simmer over low heat for three to four hours.

  4. Serve.

Good lifestyle habits should also be practiced. These include getting adequate sleep, having moderate exposure to cold weather to “build up the child’s resistance to external pathogens”, and catching some sun to “help boost yang qi, which is important for a child’s development”.

This holistic approach to strengthening immunity is something Ms Ling appreciates – although it took some effort on her part as well.

“When we first started TCM, my daughter had trouble taking the herbs, but now it’s no longer an issue,” she says. “And happily, she doesn’t fall sick so frequently anymore.”


Related Articles

Teen Acne

Nineteen-year-old polytechnic student Megan Koh first developed acne five years ago. “It was itchy and painful at times,” she recalls. When antibiotics from her dermatologist failed to clear her skin, her sister encouraged her to try TCM.

When she first visited the TCM clinic, the acne on her cheeks and chin were red, swollen and pus-filled. The physician explained that she had developed them due to hormonal changes during puberty. He recommended acupuncture, which would strengthen her body, improve her energy and manage the issue from the inside out.

In addition to acupuncture treatments, he prescribed oral medication in the form of pills, powder and a liquid mixture for both day and night, as well as creams to apply on the affected areas two to three times a day. He also recommended that she avoided fried and spicy food, cold drinks and ice cream.

A month after beginning treatment, “my breakouts were not as frequent, the acne spots were smaller and some were not filled with pus,” she says.

Getting to the root causes

Acne affects up to 50 million Americans each year. Research shows that 85 per cent of those between the ages of 12 and 24 will experience some amount of acne during their teen years1.

Acne occurs when the skin over-produces sebum, causing pores to get clogged. The build-up also causes surrounding hair follicles to swell, allowing the bacteria that live on the skin surface to enter the pores and infect the sebum.

The condition appears in various forms, ranging from mild to severe. Whiteheads and blackheads appear as small blemishes on the skin. Papules are red and inflamed, while pustules are painful, pus-filled lesions. In severe cases, skin may develop large and inflamed nodules or cysts, which may leave permanent scarring2.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terms, there are three underlying causes of acne. Firstly, consuming too much spicy, sweet or oily food can lead to heat and dampness accumulating in the stomach and spleen. This disrupts the normal flow of ‘qi’, a person’s life force. “The damp-heat moves upward and outward instead. It gets trapped at the skin surface and manifests as acne,” says Eu Yan Sang physician Anita Pee.

Managing teen acne

Once the cause of the teen’s acne has been determined, TCM physicians will usually draw up an individualized treatment plan, taking into consideration the underlying cause of the acne as well as the teen’s physical constitution and any lifestyle or dietary factors that may be exacerbating the problem, says Ms Pee.

Chinese herbs have significant anti-acne properties, as a 2003 study by Korean researchers from the Skin Research Institute shows.

The study compared Oriental herb extracts with erythromycin, an antibiotic, and retinoic acid, both of which are commonly used to manage acne. It found that an herb called Angelica dahurica and erythromycin had comparable effects, while another herb, rhizoma coptidis, was more effective than retinoic acid3.

Other Chinese herbs that can help curb acne include:

  • 连翘 (forsythia) and 蒲公英(dandelion): Manages acne caused by excess heat within the body by clearing heat and toxins, reducing swelling and dissipating nodules. Forsythia reduces oily secretions, while dandelion has anti-bacterial properties and contains vitamins that promote skin healing.

  • 薏苡仁(coix seed): Manages acne caused by damp heat and more severe forms such as nodules and cysts. It strengthens the spleen, clears heat and drains pus.

  • 赤芍(red peony root): Manages acne caused by damp heat such as cystic acne. It clears heat, cools blood and dispels blood stasis.

Other practical steps to manage acne include adopting a good skincare routine, consuming less fried, oily and sweet food, drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, having adequate sleep, managing stress well and exercising regularly.

In most cases, patience is key: “It will usually take about 3 months to manage normal acne. Serious cases will take about 6 months,” says Ms Pee.

How TCM diagnoses acne

In TCM, the areas on the face or body covered with acne serves as an indicator of the state of the person’s organs and meridian points4.

Lung heat manifests as acne on the forehead and nose. The person will show an aversion to heat and also experience chills because of his or her sensitivity to the wind. The tongue will appear red with a thin yellow coat.

If acne appears on the chest, shoulders, back and around the mouth, the person has stomach heat, which indicates stomach or constipation problems. He or she is likely to be thirsty all the time and have foul breath, and may have a big appetite. The tongue appears red with a thick yellowish coat.

Those with oily complexions and acne that is inflamed and pus-filled, meanwhile, may have damp heat. He or she experiences constant thirst with no desire to drink, and may be averse to heat. The tongue is red with a thick, yellow coating.

Blood heat may be the cause of mild to moderate acne, usually on the nose, around the mouth, and between the brows. Besides experiencing symptoms such as a flushed red face, extreme sensitivity to heat, dry stools and darker-coloured urine, the tongue is usually red with spots.

Toxic heat has similar symptoms to blood heat, but the acne in this case is more serious and pus-filled, and the skin around the inflamed lesions is usually red and painful. The tongue is red with a sticky yellow coating, and the teen may feel lethargic.

Excessive heat and wind in the lungs can also lead to a breakout. In TCM, wind is believed to have a pathogenic, or disease-causing, ability. “When pathogenic wind attacks, the uppermost part of the body, mainly the lungs, is affected first,” she explains. “Combined with excess heat, the wind-heat trapped in the lungs manifests as acne on the skin surface, and is often itchy.”

Finally, acne also develops when there is too much dampness in the body. A weak spleen impairs the body’s ability to process nutrients from food and water. This, in turn, disrupts the flow of qi, blood production and circulation. “Dampness and blood stagnation obstructs skin pores and causes the formation of deep-rooted and large acne,” she says.

References
1 Author unknown. (2017). Acne. Retrieved from American Academy of Dermatology website:
https://www.aad.org/media/stats/conditions
2 Author unknown. (2017). How to recognise all the different signs of acne. Retrieved from Acne.com website:
https://www.acne.com/types-of-acne/acne-signs/
3 Nam, C. Kim, S. Sim, Y. Chang, I. (2003). Anti-acne effects of Oriental herb extracts: A novel screening method to select anti-acne agents. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine website:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12637783
4 Author unknown. (2016). Skin health: Mirror to our internal health. Retrieved from Eu Yan Sang website:
http://www.euyansang.com.sg/skin-health%3A-mirror-to-our-internal-health/eysbeauty1.html

Covid-19 in TCM’s Point of View

Over the past thousands of years of Chinese history, TCM has battled against hundreds of plagues that led to the accumulation of effective treatments and prevention methods to alleviate the symptoms experienced. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as we experience today, is also classified as a “plague”.

Unlike a common flu that is caused by common pathogenic factors (e.g. wind, cold, heat, humidity, dryness and fire), plague is often associated with dampness and toxin pathogens. Currently, the clinical observations in China have shown that COVID-19 is commonly caused by the interactions of dampness, toxin, heat, and stasis, of which dampness being the most dominate pathogenic factor.

For mild to moderate stages of COVID-19, the common symptoms observed are low fever, tiredness, dry cough, muscle ache, nausea or diarrhea. The common syndrome is “lung with dampness toxin retention” and hence the TCM treatment principle is to eliminate exterior pathogens, heat and dampness, detoxify and invigorate the spleen.

Why do some people have it worst then? This is because COVID-19 is a disease that presents itself in different stages. For the critical stages, the toxin further attacks the lung and heart, at worst blocking the vital organ’s function and resulting in the collapse of yang qi in the body. This results in high fever, shortness of breath, unconsciousness, multiple functional failure and shock. The treatment principle at this critical stage aims to ventilate lung qi, remove heat to restore consciousness and to recuperate the yang qi.

Here are some tips to help with your recovery from Covid-19.
Do:
consume smaller meal portions at the beginning and slowly increase portion as your appetite returns.
Start off with food that are easy to digest, for example diluted porridge.

Incorporate other nutritious food as you regain appetite, such as thicker porridge, fish meat and chicken soup.

Tips: To remove excess dampness and strengthen your spleen, you can boil lotus leaves in water first and use this water to later cook your porridge. You can also add Chinese barley (薏苡仁), Chinese yam (山药), lotus seed (莲子), tangerine peel (陈皮) and Qian Shi (芡实) into your diet too.

Don’t:
over-consume cold and raw food such as fruits and salads, spicy and oily food as it will trap dampness and further burden your spleen and stomach.

Sources: https://cmjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13020-020-00375-1

Fight The Flu With TCM

In TCM, flu is perceived as an invasion of a body by external pathogenic factors (邪气), brought about by seasonal changes. The battle between pathogenic factors and the body’s immunity, also known as Vital Qi (正气) results in the exhibition of symptoms like runny nose, cough, dry throat and fever.

The six external pathogenic factors are the wind, cold, summer heat, damp, dryness and fire heat. They arise from abnormal changes in the weather or climate, and can occur in combinations. The two most common ones are the wind-cold flu (风寒感冒) and the wind-heat flu (风热感冒).

Wind-cold flu
  • Occurs more frequently during cold weathers or environments.

  • Running nose with clear mucus, severe aversion to cold, chills, fever, little or no sweating, cough with clear phlegm etc.

 

Treatments are aimed at expelling out the heat and cooling the body. Examples of herbs which are used include Fructus Forsythiae (lian qiao, 连翘) and Flos Lonicera (honeysuckle flower, 金银花).

Self-help home remedies

Note: As discussed above, treatments vary a lot when dealing with different types of flu patterns in TCM, so it is important to have a correct diagnosis of your own condition before proceeding with any remedies.

1) Ginger Tea

  • For patients suffering from the wind-cold flu pattern

  • Ingredients:10g Ginger, 10 to 15g Brown Sugar

  • Preparation: Slice the ginger and simmer in boiling water with the lid closed for 5 to 10 minutes. Add in brown sugar after. Drink while it is hot.

2) Chrysanthemum Flowers Tea

  • For patients suffering from wind-heat flu pattern

  • Ingredients: 6g Chrysanthemum flowers, 6g Mulberry leaves, 3g Wolfberry fruit

  • Preparation: Simmer the flowers and leaves in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. Add in the wolfberry fruits. Drink when cooled.

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. With a stronger body resistance, one will be less susceptible to falling sick. It is vital to strengthen one’s body immune system, especially during the season of haze or influenza. Here are some tips!

  1. Always stay hydrated. A minimum of 8 cups or 1.9 litres of water is recommended.

  2. Exercise regularly. Simple jogging or swimming 3 to 4 times a week can help to ensure good blood circulation and a smooth flow of Qi in your body.

  3. Have adequate sleep. Have at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night to recharge our body.

  4. Have a balanced diet. Avoid spicy, fried and oily foods to prevent one from getting heaty. Avoid cold drinks. According to TCM, cold drinks and food can hurt our digestive system.

  5. Ensure adequate intake of fibre foods high in fibre and constantly replenish fluids to ensure smooth bowel movement.

  6. Herbs like wild American ginseng and cordyceps are known to help boost the body’s vital Qi and improve the respiratory (lung) functions. Having a luohan fruit tea regularly can also help to clear the lung heat and replenish the body’s yin.

NOTE: In TCM, there is rarely a one-size-fit-all solution, even for people with the same condition their prescriptions are likely to be different due to different root cause and body constitution. For a more detailed diagnosis and treatment, one should consult a registered TCM physician. It is also advisable to consult a TCM physician for any herbal consumption or acupressure massage if one is pregnant.

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