Qi Gong for Immune Deficiency
Medical professionals use the term immune deficiency or immunodeficiency to refer to cases in which a patient’s immune system does not function effectively. Immune deficiency often occurs due to an inborn condition or from the immune system being damaged by disease, such as HIV/AIDS, or physical trauma. Patients suffering from immune deficiency are vulnerable to a variety of secondary ailments as their bodies are unable to effectively mount a defense against infection.
While Western medicine uses a variety of medical and surgical techniques to help patients with immune deficiency, many treatment options are invasive and some immune disorders are currently incurable. Some patients have therefore turned to alternative treatment options, including acupuncture and herbal medicine, in an effort to supplement or replace traditional treatment options. The practice of Qi Gong, developed in China, has been gaining popularity as a way to enhance immune function while simultaneously relieving other physical ailments. Though the effect of Qi Gong on the immune system is currently under debate among physicians, firsthand accounts from practitioners indicate that, in some cases, Qi Gong can increase immune function and enhance the quality of life.
How Does Qi Gong Affect Immune Function?
Anecdotal evidence offered by Chinese patients has long suggested that Qi Gong practice aids in restoring and enhancing immune function. Studies from universities in Japan, Korea, China, and the United States have all suggested that practicing Qi Gong increases the concentration of certain types of beneficial cells and proteins needed for immune function.
A 2003 study from Wonkwang University in the Republic of Korea indicated that Qi Gong is positively correlated with higher concentrations of neurohormones, which are chemicals produced in the brain that are active in immune function throughout the body. Another study from Wonkwang University, conducted in 2004, indicated that individuals practicing Qi Gong have higher concentrations of neutrophils in their blood, a type of white blood cell that plays an active role in immune function.
Studies indicating that Qi Gong enhances immune function are promising, but further research is needed to understand the chemical changes associated with Qi Gong. A 2004 study from the University of Málaga in Spain found that after a month of practicing Ba Duan Jin Qi Gong, participants had lower concentrations of immune cells. The Málaga study is the only study so far to suggest that, in some cases, Qi Gong practice may suppress immune function. Another study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) focused on comparing the effects of Tai Chi, a style of Qi Gong, on the elderly by measuring their immunity to the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) that causes shingles. After 12 weeks of Tai Chi practice, the participants had raised their immunity to the virus to the same level as the vaccine-receiving group. Unfortunately, without an understanding of the underlying mechanisms of Qi Gong, it is difficult to determine whether treatment will be beneficial.
Does Qi Gong Cure Immune Deficiency?
At present, there is no evidence to suggest that Qi Gong practice can cure immune deficiency, nor is there sufficient evidence to conclude that all persons with immune deficiency syndromes will benefit from Qi Gong practice. Some evidence suggests that Qi Gong is associated with better overall health and that, in some cases, practitioners have displayed increased immune system activity.
Immune deficiency can be a serious and life-threatening condition and it is important to seek out the assistance of licensed medical practitioners. Experts in alternative and Chinese medicine are often trained in or familiar with various types of Qi Gong and will likely know what types of Qi Gong are effective for each condition. It is important to remember that not all types of Qi Gong may be appropriate for persons suffering from immune deficiencies and that Qi Gong is only one part of a strategy for managing and enhancing the immune system.
What is Qi Gong?
Qi Gong is a form of meditative exercise that has been used in China for more than 2,000 years to increase health. The term Qi Gong combines the word Qi, meaning “breath” or “vital energy,” with the word Gong, meaning acquired work or skill. Qi Gong is therefore the skill of cultivating and using bodily energy. In Chinese medicine and philosophy Qi Gong is believed to absorb energy from the environment and circulate this energy throughout the body.
There are many different types of Qi Gong practiced in China, from relatively low-impact forms involving little physical movement to vigorous routines that require significant exertion and serve as a form of exercise. The family of martial arts known as “Tai Chi Chuan” is a form of Qi Gong that combines martial movements with breathing and energy-circulating exercises, and has become a popular alternative fitness activity in the West. There are now hundreds of Qi Gong styles, some of which are purported to serve very specific purposes, like helping to cure asthma or relieving joint pain.
Research into the health benefits of Qi Gong began in the 1970s and now involves researchers around the globe. Studies have shown that persons suffering from a variety of diseases, movement disorders, and other physical ailments show improvement after engaging in Qi Gong. Researchers have found that, while Qi Gong is superficially similar to other forms of low-impact aerobic exercises, the health and healing benefits of Qi Gong are often superior.
What is an Immune Deficiency?
The immune system is a complex set of interconnected processes that serve to prevent illness and repair damage to the body. Cells in the blood and lymph fluid are especially important to immune function, as are organs like the spleen and the brain, which produce hormones and proteins that regulate immune function and produce cells used to combat infection. When a component of the immune system malfunctions or becomes damaged, the individual can develop what physicians call an immune deficiency.
Immune deficiency can be either “primary,” meaning that the patient was born with a disorder that affects immune function, or “acquired,” meaning that the patient’s immune system was compromised by some outside factor, as is the case with certain kinds of cancer and diseases like AIDS and tuberculosis. In either case, individuals with immune deficiencies are more likely to contract diseases and infections and may have reduced organ function.
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