The qi of immunity


  • Health
  • Sunday, 25 May 2003

By Dr Amir Farid Isahak

The SARS threat has almost everybody interested in increasing their immunity for protection.

BEFORE I can move on to qigong exercises and heart disease as promised, my own Master requested that I devote today’s article on the subject of qigong and immunity as this is the current interest – what with the threat of SARS still not over and everyone concerned with increasing their immunity for protection. 

First I would like to commend our Health Ministry for the prompt and effective response to SARS. Numerous announcements, travel advisories, advertisements, pamphlets, posters and briefings made sure that the public is adequately educated about the issue. The declining infection rate is testimony to the aptness of these measures.Let us all pray that it will be the same in the other affected countries. 

However, SARS serves as another reminder to us all how vulnerable we are to viral infections, especially to the virulent and often lethal new strains which have emerged at regular intervals lately.  

There are very few anti-viral drugs compared to antibiotics. Vaccines, which have saved humanity from the scourge of many other viral (and bacterial) infections, take time to be developed. For viruses that mutate constantly, vaccination becomes less efficient. We do not even have an effective vaccine for the common cold after all these years. And everyone is still waiting for the much-promised HIV vaccine. 

So apart from avoiding exposure to the virus, in most cases, our only defence is a strong immune system. A healthy diet and lifestyle are necessary for the immune system to function optimally. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables would provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and phytonutrients that are required by the complex array of armaments that constitute our immune system. There are also essential amino-acids, essential fatty-acids and important saccharides that must be made available. If your diet is not perfect, you will need supplements to guarantee the adequacy of these nutrients.  

The importance of adequate clean water and adequate rest/sleep must not be underestimated. Drink at least eight glasses of clean water a day. Water is the elixir of life. We are 70 trillion cells made of 70% water in the healthy state. As we age and our functions decline, our water content goes down to below 50%. 

Sleep is the time when the body recharges itself (we all know how fresh we feel after a good sleep), and the immune cells (and others) are also recharged to perform their duties at peak efficiency. This applies to recharging the life force, qi, too. Rest is always the first advice given for recovery from any illness (with tender loving care, it is better!) 

Smoking and excess alcohol intake will of course jeopardise your health, including your immune function. 

Exercise improves immunity in the long term, but exhaustion weakens the immune function. Thus it is important to have enough rest after exercise. In Guolin Qigong, we are very particular about not compromising the immune functions while doing the exercises to increase the qi. We insist on resting between each exercise. Those who are weak must stop and rest the moment they feel tired.  

While the qi-enhancing exercises will gradually improve their immune functions, in the beginning, the effect may not be sufficient to counter the physical exhaustion brought about by the exercise. This is especially crucial for cancer patients whose immune function is paramount to determining their recovery. Later, as they improve and become stronger, they can exercise for longer durations and take shorter rests in between. 

Immunity and healing 

The recent emergence of the science of psychoneuroimmunology, which studies the interactions between the mind, the body, and the immune system in health and disease, have made it possible for qigong and other arts and phenomena previously regarded as esoteric, paranormal or metaphysical to be studied and understood in scientifically-accepted explanations. Although not everything about qigong is fully explained by science, we now know much more than before. 

Acupuncture is now widely accepted by mainstream medicine ever since it was shown that substances called endorphins, which modulate pain and healing, are released when the acupuncture points are stimulated. Endorphins are opiate-like substances that are also released during meditation and laughter, both of which also enhance the immune system. 

Qigong has also been shown to release endorphins. Scientists are now researching whether other neuropeptides are also involved to explain the varied immune-enhancing and healing effects of qigong. 

In earlier articles, I had explained that some properties of qi could be scientifically detected as part of the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) spectrum. These include infra-red, and infra-sound. Both of these EMR are used for healing. Infra-red lamps are widely used to heal all sorts of sores and wounds. Lately, machines that combine corona-discharge and EMR, including infra-sound, have been shown to be effective in treating a whole gamut of health problems, from the common cold to diabetic sores to stroke.  

I am inclined to call them “qi machines” because the healing energy is similar to qi. 

Qigong masters have demonstrated in laboratory experiments that qi is able to kill cancer cells. Although no experiment has been done directly on viruses, we know that these masters can also cure the common cold by channelling their qi on the noses of patients. 

Our immune system depends a lot on white blood cells (leucocytes). The various types of leucocytes confront different types of invaders. Again, lab studies in China have shown that qi is able to improve the functioning of these cells. Unfortunately, most of these studies are only reported in Chinese, and are not available to the English-speaking world. 

Apart from the immune-enhancing effects of qi, qigong exercises also increases the utilisation of oxygen by cells. This is the principal explanation for the remarkable results in cancer patients. Likewise, all other cells charged with oxygen will become healthier and more resistant to damage by infections or chemicals. 

The subject of free radical damage is a bit complicated. While oxygen is essential for cell metabolism, aerobic cellular respiration or combustion (burning of nutritional fuel using oxygen) produces harmful free radicals as by-products, just as how your car engine gets all blackened by by-products after running for some time. 

Although these free radicals (reactive oxygen species or unstable oxygen atoms/molecules) are also used by our immune cells to kill bacteria and viruses, the problem with most of us is inefficient cellular respiration which results in the production of excessive free radicals, just as in the case of a car engine that is not maintained.  

The problem is worsened by the influx of external free radicals (from polluted air, water, foods, drugs and even most of the body-care items we apply to our bodies). 

But the most damage comes from the free radicals produced by our continued exposure to the harmful radiations from the sun. Worldwide, skin cancers (directly attributed to sun damage) are actually the most prevalent cancers, but since they are not usually fatal, we do not hear much about them.  

However, the free radicals produced by sun damage cause harm beyond the skin, as free radicals always start a chain of destructive reactions until they are stopped by antioxidants or free radical scavengers – hence the need for lots of antioxidants. 

Using high-octane fuel will increase the efficiency of any engine. This is how qigong improves cellular respiration. By enabling the cells to utilise more of the available oxygen, it is optimised and free radical production is reduced. 

The immune and health-enhancing benefits of qigong have been amply proven in the thousands who have recovered from various diseases, but scientific explanations are helpful for our understanding. 

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic medicine and has been teaching qi gong for more than 10 years. He is the president of the Guolin Qi Gong Association, Malaysia. You can e-mail him at starhealth@thestar.com.my . 

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