How Hongkongers can boost their immune systems to beat winter's ills

Tianjiu is a traditional Chinese medicine moxibustion therapy that involves applying mixed herbal paste on selected acupuncture points on designated summer days

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 5:10am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 5:10am

People in Hong Kong were on full health alert this summer. First up was the Mers outbreak in South Korea. That was followed by the worrying lead scare in public and private housing estates.

Now, as winter approaches, health care professionals are turning their attention to the dangers posed by the onset of the cooler weather. The debate centres on how best to maintain, or boost, our immune systems.

Every winter Hongkongers are routinely floored by common urban ailments such as flu, asthma and seasonal allergies, to name a few. Some of these problems can be put down to a weak immune system caused, in part, by stress, dietary imbalance and a lack of exercise, all contributing factors of living in the modern world.

When it comes to enhancing the immune system, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe adopting good lifestyle practices is the first step. They say plenty of rest and exercise and avoiding spicy, oily, deep-fried and cold food and drinks will help to nourish and protect our kidneys and spleen. It all sounds like common sense.

But there is an interesting, lesser-known treatment that also helps sustain our body and immune system to help us better prepare for winter.

Tianjiu is a unique traditional Chinese medicine moxibustion therapy that involves applying mixed herbal paste on selected acupuncture points on designated summer days. It offers a simple, convenient and low-cost approach for people who want to achieve wellness and enhance immunity.

The treatment is safe and has been shown to have a positive effect on common urban diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Nowadays, point application therapy is broadly used for tianjiu treatment, which means the application of herbal medicine on specific points of the dermal surface, based on an understanding of the role of the meridian "shu points", to achieve targeted results.

Tianjiu theory is based on the principles of harmony between mankind and nature, and treating winter diseases in summer. Every year the optimal three days of the summer solstice tianjiu cycle fall on different days on the Western calendar, but they are usually between July and August. This year the dates were: first session, July 13; second session, July 23; and third session, August 12.

The theory of tianjiu is to maximise the hottest three days of the year to force out the bad elements that cause weakness and coldness inside the body. The immune system is boosted and the body gets stronger once these bad elements are expelled.

Tianjiu is said to especially benefit women whose systems are weakened by menstrual bleeding, disorder and pain, but it is generally beneficial to both sexes.

The treatment is conducted by plastering thumbnail-sized herbal pellets on to specific acupressure points of the body. Each acupressure point treats a different ailment or condition. The herbal medicinal pellets are made of ground herbs, including cinnamon and moschus with added ginger juice.

Once applied the pellets stay plastered for between one hour and three hours to allow the herbs to take effect. This treatment is an effective method of treating people who are prone to repeated bouts of flu.

Those afflicted by asthma, diarrhoea sufferers and people who are deemed as weak internally or people with chronic illnesses who need to boost their overall immune system will also benefit from the treatment.

Tianjiu is suitable for all ages, except children under the age of two years, but while it is simple and safe there are a few things to watch out for when receiving this treatment.

Drink plenty of water throughout as the treatment raises body temperature. It's also a good idea to avoid outdoor sports and outdoor activities to prevent the risk of dehydration. The heat may cause itchiness, so people undergoing treatment should avoid scratching the skin.

Elderly people with chronic illnesses and pregnant women, as well as those with skin allergies, should avoid this type of treatment.

Raymond Lam is a Hong Kong-based registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioner