Natural Treatments for Low Immune Function

By Dr. Mao Shing Ni


THE HUMAN BODY HAS EVOLVED an amazing mechanism for protecting you against external pathogens and self-inflicted harm. Under normal conditions, the immune system is called upon to combat an invader only when it’s needed. It’s like the National Guard coming to the rescue during times of grave danger - whether it’s a threat from the outside or a disaster on the inside. Unfortunately, as a result of the increasing stress, inadequate nutrition, environmental toxins, and lack of exercise that characterize our modern lifestyle, the immune system is always on high alert. And just like the guardsmen, after constant and prolonged battle, the immune system gets fatigued and burned out. At this point, two troubling scenarios can occur. In some people, the immune system becomes overwhelmed and loses its ability to distinguish between the body and a foreign organism. It begins attacking organs, tissues, and cells, giving rise to such autoimmune conditions as lupus, arthritis, or asthma. In the second scenario, the immune system capitulates and become too weak to respond in sufficient force to an invading substance or organism, leaving you vulnerable to infections and disease.


In Chinese medicine, immunity relies on several key factors. The kidney essence or vitality serves as the source of all energy in the body and supplies the necessary fuel for all metabolic functions. The spleen-pancreas-stomach network or the digestive system is responsible for absorption and distribution of vital nutrients in the body. The lungs govern the defensive energy and are responsible for protecting you from external pathogens. The liver manages neurological responses and promotes flow of energy. These organs must work in unison for the body’s immunity to function properly. An unhealthy lifestyle can damage the kidney essence, and a poor diet combined with stress and emotional turmoil can injure the digestive and absorption system. Chronic infections and inflammation injure the energy reserves of the body, as in the HIV virus. These factors combine to create the complex condition of low immune function.


The most common immune-deficiency condition I see involves chronic fatigue syndrome, which is typically the result of chronic viral infections that leave the patient with weakened immunity. I’ve worked with immunologists to pinpoint the specific cause of the low immune function, and the majority of our immune-deficiency patients have returned to their normal activities after undergoing acupuncture and herbal therapies, immune-boosting dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and mind-body exercises. Prolonged immune deficiency can lead to cancer and other degenerative diseases. In some cases, intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy may be needed to maintain basic immune function. Always consult your physician and ask to be monitored if you learn that you have low immune function.


Related Conditions: chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, low energy, arthritis





  1. Immune-boosting foods include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage; mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, wood ear, and reishi; root vegetables such as carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, and radishes; grains such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, and amaranth; and fruits such as blueberries, cranberries, and raspberries.
  2. Certain herbs and spices, such as oregano, cilantro, rosemary, sage, peppermint, ginger, garlic, chives, onions, and turmeric, can perk up the immune system.
  3. Avoid sugar, as it is damaging to the immune system. This includes sodas and sweetened juices. Most dairy products should be avoided, as they tend to produce mucus. Excess mucus indicates an allergic response, which distracts the immune system and lowers its effectiveness in combating infections. Alcohol, coffee, deep-fried and fatty foods, and cold or raw foods should also be avoided or greatly reduced.





  1. Sunbathing for 20 to 30 minutes a day before 10 A.M. and after 3 P.M. can be helpful for your immune system. The UV rays can stimulate skin immunity and inhibit bacterial activity.
  2. Dry brushing your body daily can activate lymph circulation, which helps to clear out toxic debris and stimulate immunity.
  3. Cook up an immune broth consisting of 10 shiitake mushrooms (soaked first if using dried), 1/2 cup seaweed (any kind), 1 chopped head cabbage, 2 diced squash (any type), 2 diced carrots, 10 slices ginger, 3 sprigs oregano, and 1 chopped onion in 6 cups chicken stock. Boil for 30 minutes. Eat at least 1 large bowl every day.
  4. Make an immunity-boosting trail mix with dried blueberries, goji berries, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts for a treat rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, and selenium, which are critical for healthy immune function.





  1. Supplementing with probiotics such as acidophilus (3 to 5 billion organisms) can help restore intestinal immunity.
  2. Deficiencies of vitamins A (200 IU), C (1,000 milligrams), E (800 IU), B6 (30 milligrams), B12 (100 micrograms), and folic acid (400 micrograms) may result in significantly impaired immune function. Minerals that support immune function include zinc, iron, and selenium.
  3. Bovine colostrum (10 grams) contains immunoglobulin and other immune-stimulating factors.
  4. Thymus extract (200 milligrams) can help support healthy immune function.
  5. Royal jelly (1,000 milligrams) and bee propolis can stimulate immune function.





Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to

  1. Traditional Chinese herbs used to boost immunity include ginseng, astragalus, atractylodis, ligustrum, schizandra, white peony, bupleurum, rehmannia, Chinese cucumber, andrographis, and licorice.
  2. Cat’s claw, paud’arco, tea tree oil, echinacea, goldenseal, and St.-John’s-wort are also used to support healthy immune function.





Exercise is essential for maintaining immune function, not to mention its contributions to general wellness, mental clarity, and stress reduction. I recommend a daily 30-minute cardiovascular exercise combined with stretching and flexibility training. I’ve also advised many of my patients to learn immune-balancing meditation, tai chi, and qi gong exercises.


The Self-Healing Qi Gong exercise is simple and helps strengthen the body, support the vital organs, support healthy immunity, and balance the hormonal functions. It consists of five practices, one for each organ network. Below are directions for the Hungry Tiger Lung Network Qi Gong, which targets the lungs and supports immune function.

Practice this exercise daily.

  1. Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulderwidth apart. Bend down at the waist and touch the floor with your palms stretched shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly. This should create an upside-down V - your buttocks should be pointing up while your feet and palms are firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Inhale gently and deeply while focusing your attention on your perineum, the area between the genitals and the anus.
  3. Imagine the inhalation is drawing air in through the perineum.
  4. As you exhale, start to bend your knees as you begin to transfer your weight backward onto your legs. In a sweeping downward and forward motion, bring your chest close to the floor, ending in a modified push-up posture. Your legs should be straight and slightly above the floor, your back arched up starting from the waist, your hands pushing against the floor directly below your shoulders, your arms straight, and your eyes looking forward (not down or up).
  5. As you exhale, focus your attention on the center of your palms, imagining the exhalation going out through the palms into the ground.
  6. As you inhale again, focus on the perineum and return to the starting upside-down V position.
  7. Repeat the exhale-inhale steps above 5 times, and work your way up to 10 times or more.





  1. Find the acupoint Arm
    Three Miles (LI-10), on the
    outer part of the left forearm,
    three finger-widths below the
    elbow crease on a line between
    the outer corner of the elbow
    crease and the tip of the index
    finger when the arm is bent at
    the elbow. Apply steady pressure
    with your right thumb until you
    feel soreness. Hold for 1 minute.
    Repeat on the right arm.
  2. Find the acupoint Foot Three Miles
    (ST-36), four fingerwidths below the
    kneecap on the right leg. Apply
    moderate pressure with your right
    thumb until you feel soreness.
    Hold for 5 minutes.
    Repeat on the left leg.

Regular stimulation of these points helps strengthen the body’s resistance to stress, enhances immunity, and strengthens the vital organs.

The Chinese therapeutic massage Tui Na is makes an excellent addition to a treatment protocol. Ask your acupuncturist for a recommendation.





  1. Alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs, which are notorious for depleting the vital energy and weakening immunity. Excessive sexual activity and physical and mental overwork should also be avoided, as they drain the vital essence of the kidneys, leaving the body depleted.
  2. Stress, emotional upset, and other negative emotions are damaging to the vital qi and can lower immunity.



©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni

Read Secrets of Self-Healing: Harness Nature's Power to Heal Common Ailments ... By Maoshing Ni

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