Immune Cells

Immune cells surrounding hair follicles. ©2012 NIAID ( under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

There’s something going around—a nasty flu virus; a non-flu virus causing coughs and phlegm; and frequent colds. This season, it seems our immune systems are being bombarded.

To the zealous pathogens: Challenge accepted. For there are steps we can take at home to enhance our immunity. The following addresses prevention of sickness, therapy (should sickness occur), and recovery.



Of course prevention is preferred, for it helps ensure limited down-time. In this respect, nutrition, exercise and rest are essential keys. Though these keys can be a challenge given our responsibilities and ambitions, their necessity stands.

Regarding nutrition, vitamins and minerals are the building blocks of a healthy immune system—specifically, the nutrients below:


C, E, A, D, B6, B12, folate


selenium, copper, zinc, iron

Gather these nutrients in succulent pill-form as you frolic and forage through the pristine landscape of the supplement aisle. OR, exchange the potato chips for carrots and rely on whole foods as medicine.

All these nutrients can be found in nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, and grains (except for Vit B12, which is found in animal sources). Further, note that the minerals above are more abundant in animal sources and—in the case of iron—more bioavailable.

If you eat a variety of whole foods and don’t skip meals (and healthy snack times), then you will likely have enough intake of immunity-enhancing nutrients. But in case you want specifics, here’s a cheat-sheet:

Food collage

© 2015 Balingit Acupuncture (Credit for individual images given under references below.)

Food legend

The foods above are either good or great sources for the nutrients listed, but you can find other foods if you want to diversify your meals further.

Summary of the benefits of exercise and rest (sleep):


In trials, exercise has been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of respiratory infections. In addition to toning muscles, exercise helps tone the immune system by mobilizing components of our innate immunity (e.g. neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, natural killer cells).

Exercise should be regular and moderate. For overtraining—or highly intense exercise—may increase susceptibility to respiratory infection by reducing adaptive immunity (i.e. temporarily lowering T cells and B cells).


Sleep regulates the function (i.e. circadian rhythm) of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which interacts with our immune systems.

The HPA axis is the mechanism involved in our stress response, controlling the release of glucocorticoids (stress hormones) from the adrenals. While glucocorticoids have been implicated in immune suppression, the neuroendocrine-immunity interaction is complex, and glucocorticoids actually have a modulating effect on immune response.

Because sleep reduces stress, it allows the HPA axis to promote a healthy immune response rather than suppress it.


Food Therapy

We do what we can. But sometimes we get sick anyway. In this case, our nutrient intake is hindered as our appetites are weakened by pathogens.

Because our digestive function is low at this time, we should focus on ingesting bland, nutrient-dense and easily-absorbed foods—think: vegetable and bone broths. We should also limit the intake of iron, as it can otherwise nourish bacteria and thus worsen infections.

Below are self-care methods to address specific symptoms:

Daikon radish

© 2009 FooNar ( under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

For Initial Onset of Common Cold

Prepare Ginger Scallion Tea by boiling a few slices of ginger in 1 to 1 ½ cups water for 5-10 min, adding the chopped white part of 1 scallion near the end of boiling. Optional: sweeten with a pinch of brown sugar.

For added anti-microbial oomph, you may add a chopped garlic clove, boiled with the ginger.

For a Cold with Cough

Prepare Ginger Mustard Tea by boiling a few slices of ginger in 1 to 1 ½ cups water for 5-10 min, adding a few mustard greens near the end of boiling. Drink the tea. Eat the greens.

For a Cough with Phlegm Congestion

Eat raw daikon radish, or juice it.

Steam your respiratory tract with an infusion of Hyssop essential oil: Add 5-10 drops of essential oil to a large bowl of boiling water. Hover your face over it and breathe deeply, covering your head with a towel.

For Dry Cough

Juice (or eat) Asian pears. If there is irritation that causes bloody coughs, add lotus root to your diet. You can also juice lotus root, or add it to soups or sauté it.



Huang Qi

© 2013 Hovenweep National Monument ( under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0
















Herbs are a good source for revitalizing our immune systems. The following herbs can be used long-term, i.e. during the prevention phase. However, during prevention, I focused on everyday foods as they seem more readily accessible for most people.

Astragalus Root (flower shown above)

Known as huang qi in Chinese Medicine, astragalus strengthens lung qi and thus tones the immune system. Its effect is evident in cancer treatment, as it prevents immunosuppression caused by chemotherapy. It also tonifies the spleen system (i.e. metabolism) to address poor appetite and fatigue.

Prince Seng

Known as tai zi shen in Chinese Medicine, prince seng strengthens the lungs and spleen system. Though, its spleen action is milder than astragalus. It contains immunostimulating polysaccharides, and has been called the “ginseng of the lungs.”

Astragalus and Prince Seng are categorized as adaptogenic herbs and generally safe for long-term use. However, it is recommended to consult your healthcare practitioner regarding an appropriate dosage for you. A Chinese Medicine practitioner can also help you discern which of the two may be more applicable to your current state.



In addition to self-care, take it to the next level with professional support. For example, acupuncture can be employed at any phase—during prevention, infection or recovery. The treatment approach varies, depending on which phase you’re in.

  • During the prevention phase, acupuncture tones the respiratory and immune systems.
  • During infection, it excites an immune response by mobilizing white blood cells. It also specifically addresses any of the symptoms of infection (e.g. headache, body aches, digestive disturbance, chills/fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue).
  • During recovery, it revitalizes overall health and further addresses lingering fatigue, cough and/or phlegm congestion.

Schedule an appointment with Carl M Balingit, L.Ac. at (619) 994.2119.



Photo Collage. Individual images are credited from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 as follows: Riza Nugraha, Liz West, Color Line, Nick Mote, Ian Ransley, Andria Ariste Santacreu, Matthew Robinson, Tup Wanders, Rob & Dani, Mike McCune, News21-National, Stuart Webster, KT King, 46137, Jeremy Keith, Ezra Wolfe, Kate Ter Haar, Liz Muir, coniferconifer, Paul Joseph, Jules Morgan, Daniella Segura, Jamonation, Valdemar Fishmen, Personal Creations, Pink Sherbet Photography, Ofer Deshe, Cookbookman17

Freidenreich, D., & Volek, J. (2012). Immune Responses to Resistance Exercise. Exercise Immunology Review,(18), 8-41.

Guyon, A., & Et. Al. (2014). Adverse effects of two nights of sleep restriction on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in healthy men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 99(8), 2861-8.

Jefferies, W. (1991). Cortisol and Immunity. Medical Hypotheses, 34(3), 198-208.

Silverman, M., Pearce, B., Biron, C., & Miller, A. (2005). Immune Modulation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis during Viral Infection. Viral Immunology, 18(1), 41-78.

Walsh, N., & Et. al. (2011). Position Statement Part One: Immune Function and Exercise. Exercise Immunology Review,(17), 6-63.

Wintergerst, E., Maggini, S., & Hornig, D. (2007). Contribution of Selected Vitamins and Trace Elements to Immune Function.Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, (51), 301-323.

Yamaguchi, N., Takahashi, T., Sakuma, M., Sugita, T., Uchikawa, K., Sakaihara, S., … Kawakita, K. (2007). Acupuncture Regulates Leukocyte Subpopulations in Human Peripheral Blood. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,4(4), 447-453.


The Spirit Herb

by Carl Balingit on September 17, 2014

in Chinese Medicine, Spirituality

Purple Ganoderma

© 2014 See-ming Lee ( under a Creative Commons attribution license.

People may think of psychedelic plants as a gateway to the nature of mind, as a way to enlightenment. Maybe these mind-altering drugs can help reinforce those on the bodhi path. But they are optional, and secondary to the process that is truly essential for spiritual evolution: meditation (or contemplation).

While laws and social stigmas limit the use of psychedelics, there is an alternative substance you can freely consume that can aid contemplation. And you can do so without landing in jail, or getting excommunicated from your social niche. The herb–or mushroom–is reishi (Chinese name: ling zhi), and it is classified as an adaptogen.

Adaptogens are herbs that help us manage our response to stress. The stress may be mental, emotional or physical. These herbs are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, and/or anti-tumor. They balance hormones, enhance immunity, calm anxiety, and/or uplift depression. They enhance cellular respiration (oxygen uptake) for increased energy production. In scientific-y summary, they regulate the neuroendocrine-immune system.

All adaptogens exhibit at least one of the above attributes, and most exhibit several of them at once. All are also safe for long-term use and supported by a significant volume of research as well as millennia of clinical use, mainly in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine. While the agelong use of these herbs is a testament to their safety and efficacy, new uses for them are continually being found as modern diseases emerge.

Of all the adaptogens, reishi is the sole “soul-searching” herb. By “soul-searching,” I am not alluding to religion but spirituality, or—in a more secular tone—existentialism. In this regard, we are capitalizing on the herb’s ability to promote mental clarity and calm the mind. (In Chinese Medicine, there is no division between spirit and mind.)

Ling zhi can be translated as “spirit plant” or “divine fungus,” and the mushroom has been used through the ages by Taoists, monks, and other spiritual seekers to support a meditative life. In the Chinese Medicine pharmacopeia, it:

  1. Nourishes the heart and calms the spirit
  2. Stops coughing and wheezing
  3. Tonifies qi and nourishes blood

It can be used for insomnia, fatigue, poor appetite, or lung disorders. It is also considered a longevity herb. It was first listed in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Divine Husbandman’s Materia Medicia), which was written sometime shortly after the Han Dynasty (ending 220 CE). There, it is classified as a superior herb, meaning that it nourishes life and is very safe to use.

If existentialism is not your thing, you may jump ahead to Adaptogenic Properties of Ling Zhi for modern herbal applications. However, if you want to nourish your shen (i.e. spirit, but not your Catholic soul), then read on for the Shen-Nong-Ben-Cao-Jing elucidation…

Ling Zhi in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing

The SNBCG lists six types of ling zhi: blue/green, red, yellow, white, black and purple. They all have similar properties for nourishing life, but are individually characterized by distinct mental-emotional effects. These are summarized in David Winston’s book, ‘Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief.’

  • Blue/green reishi calms the spirit and “helps a person become more compassionate.”
  • Red reishi improves cognitive function.
  • Yellow reishi “helps a person become loyal, honest, and relaxed.”
  • White reishi quiets the mind and “gives fortitude and bravery.”
  • Black reishi isn’t attributed specific mental-emotional effects, but strengthens the kidney system which traditionally corresponds to will power.
  • Purple reishi (pictured above) “protects the shen [spirit], and prevents senility.”

Adaptogenic Properties of Ling Zhi

Ling zhi’s adaptogenic properties include:

  • strengthening the immune system
  • enhancing cardiovascular function
  • anti-tumor
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antiviral

In China it is used in fu zheng therapy during cancer treatment. Fu zheng means “to support normal qi.” It is a therapeutic approach that focuses on strengthening the body and building its resistance to disease, rather than attacking disease directly. In integrative cancer treatment, while chemo- or radiation therapy aggressively attacks the cancer, fu zheng treatments protect the body and counter the side-effects of chemo and radiation.

On Meditation and Psychedelics

Regarding enlightenment, it is an infinite path that is open for travel as far as you are willing to go. Meditation is the guide along the path.

Take a few steps in meditative thought and you may feel at peace, and choose to stay there. If you walk further, you will leave the comfort of peace, and explore hatred, envy, fear and/or other negative emotions that characterize the human condition. But your journey will be more complete, for you have chosen not to repress existing emotions. Thus, your path becomes winding, as you weave through peace and conflict.

Way, way down the path you will touch upon the place you started. You will realize you haven’t been moving forward, winding along. For you will have reached the point of infinite oneness, where everything moves together, and there is no relativity.

Psychedelics may do this mind-work for you, as a shortcut to heightened sensory awareness. But it is a shortcut through Wonderland, where you can easily get lost. Ling zhi, in contrast, will help you do the enlightening mental work yourself while retaining logic and opening your mind to intuitive clarity.


Happy Holidays

© 2010 Laszlo Ilyes (, under a Creative Commons attribution license.

This comes to you from the Caribbean. (My office will be closed thru 12/29.)

Happy Holidays. Give gifts. Steal kisses. That is, if you follow the mistletoe tradition.

There are several stories on the origin of kissing below a mistletoe. They may come from mythology, Druidic history, or the musings of horny men of the 19th century.

The 19th century was a time when we were friendlier with our neighbors. It was the age of salons. Not salons–full of aerosol sprays, gum popping, and tribal girl talk I don’t understand. But salons, where both genders gathered for social interaction and intellectual stimulation.

Salon folks, gathering cheerfully during Christmas season, would pass wreaths, trees and mistletoes being sold plentifully along the streets. On these mistletoes were berries. In the salons were women. Most were not family members but rather friends and neighbors. Why not kiss them all (family not included)? The (gentle)men decided the mistletoe berry was the ticket to do so–pick one berry, get one kiss.

I admire the resourcefulness of 19th-century men.

That’s the short story of mistletoe and kissing. Now, for mistletoe and medicine…

Medicinal Use for Mistletoe

mistletoe for high blood pressure

© 2013 coniferconifer (, under a Creative Commons attribution license.

In China, the medicinal use of mistletoe was recorded in a text–Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing–written around the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). It was traditionally used for pain in the lower back and knees, as well as numbness and weakness. This tradition endures to now, where the herb is commonly combined with other herbs.

A modern use of mistletoe is for the treatment of hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Self-Care and Mistletoe Tea

For mild hypertension, several cups daily of mistletoe tea may help regulate your blood pressure. More clinical studies are needed to verify this. However, it is safe to try it this season–with or without kisses. If pregnant, consult a qualified herbalist prior to use.

You can find organic mistletoe at Mountain Rose Herbs (I am not an affiliate).



How To Self-Treat Thanksgiving Bloating

November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving is not only a time to share thanks but to also share food. While some of us are better at moderation than others, overeating could be an issue this festive time of year. If so, an immediate side effect may be bloating and gas.

If you experience this, here’s a quick self-care tip to help your gut process all that stuffing:

Massage acupuncture point, Ren 12 (Zhong Wan)

Read more →

Recipe – Black Sesame Soup

October 31, 2013

Though I wrote about the side effects of sugar in my Halloween newsletter, that does not straightaway mean that we should eliminate the sweet flavor from our diet. Sweetness is one of the five flavors, each of which offers a different health benefit. Sweet foods tend to nourish fluids and relax muscles and tendons.

Read more →

Benefit of Herbs to Invigorate Blood in Cancer Therapy

September 9, 2013

While visiting the hospital at the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2005, it was interesting to witness the heavy use of blood invigorating herbs in cancer therapy along with chemo and/or radiation. It was interesting because 90% of cancer deaths are due to metastasis, in which cancer cells migrate and invade distant tissues via vascular and lymphatic circulation.

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Autumn and Regional Impact on Dietary Advice

September 2, 2013

Climate impacts our health, and food may be used to counteract any adverse effects of environmental conditions. Low relative humidity can lead to dryness of our skin, and mucous membranes along our respiratory pathways, as the air draws moisture from our bodies. In Chinese medicine, the lung system is not only related to respiration but also to the functioning of our skin. Traditionally, autumn is considered arid, thus calling for foods that moisten dryness and benefit the lung system.

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Book Recommendation — ‘Chinese medicine in early communist China, 1945-63: a medicine of revolution’

June 9, 2013

‘Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China’ is a monograph of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The word ‘traditional’ in TCM misleads. For it suggests that the tenets of Chinese medicine (particularly, acupuncture) have remained essentially unchanged throughout the millennia. However, this unchanging nature is an ostensible characteristic. Taylor’s book explains how ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ is—more succinctly—a political term, coined by the Communist party in the years after it seized government control in 1949.

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How Old Is Old? — In the Time of Acupuncture

April 10, 2013

There is some confusion—even among acupuncturists—over just how old acupuncture really is. To understand the origins of acupuncture, we must see the difference between using the nearest sharp object to poke people where it hurts, and practicing acupuncture based on an organized medical system.

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“Old Chinese Doctor” and Quality Healthcare

March 31, 2013

I like Bob Flaw’s interpretation of lao zhong yi, “old Chinese doctor,” in his blog post on the development of modern Chinese acupuncture. To paraphrase, the acquisition of this title is not dependent on age, but rather on the doctor’s practical skills and his insight on Chinese medicine. It is a level of maturity that requires considerable effort in discerning the clinically valid points within volumes of conflicting information.

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