Cupping and The Immune System

Cupping and the immune system

Cupping therapy is an ancient healing technique with a wide range of medical applications. Used in  traditional Chinese, Korean, Tibetan and Persian medical systems for thousands of years, cupping is still used today as an alternative therapeutic treatment for a variety of conditions. The benefits of cupping therapy have become more widely recognized in the West over recent years and various forms of the treatment are available in clinics throughout North America. 

One of the many applications of cupping therapy is to boost immune function. Both dry and wet cupping treatments have the power to stimulate and strengthen the immune system, helping the protect the body against diseases and infection. Several studies have also found that wet cupping therapy (Hijama) seems to exert therapeutic effects on people with autoimmune conditions. But what are the mechanisms behind these effects, and how exactly does cupping therapy benefit the immune system?

What type of cupping therapy is used to target the immune system?

Cupping therapy can be broadly classified into two main arms of treatment. These are wet cupping (in which some form of bloodletting is performed) and dry cupping (in which the skin is left intact throughout treatment).

When It comes to targeting the immune system, both forms of the treatment are effective. Dry and wet cupping both put physical stress on local tissues which triggers an inflammatory response and stimulates the immune system. This results in a more active immune system, which helps to protect the body from various infections and diseases.

When it comes to treating autoimmune diseases, however, wet cupping therapy (Hijama) is often utilized. During a wet cupping treatment, small incisions are made in the skin before glass cups are used to apply suction and draw out a small amount of blood. This is done to facilitate the release of harmful substances from the tissues, which can have a therapeutic effect on patients.

How does cupping therapy activate the immune system?

According to the Activation of Immune System Theory (AIST), cupping therapy is thought to affect the immune system via three mechanisms. First, the negative pressure applied to the skin by suction puts physical stress on the skin and underlying tissues. This irritates the immune system by causing local inflammation. This inflammation then activates the complement system, the part of the immune system that enhances the ability of other immune components to clear microbes and damaged cells from the body.

Finally, this leads to increased levels of immune products such as interferon and tumor necrotizing factor. Studies suggest that the physical signals created by the stimulation of the skin create a cascade of biological signals within the body which then activate the neuroendocrine immune system. 

Cupping treatment can, therefore, be effective for boosting the immune system and increasing immunity. This can have a protective, therapeutic effect which helps to strengthen the body against various diseases and infection. 

Cupping therapy and autoimmune diseases

Besides strengthening the immune system, cupping may also be effective as a therapeutic treatment for a range of autoimmune diseases.

Wet cupping therapy (traditionally known as Hijama) is the form of treatment most commonly used to treat autoimmunity. During wet cupping, glass cups are first used to draw fluids (blood and lymph) to the surface of the skin. The cups are them removed, incisions are made in the skin and the cups are reapplied to draw out blood at the site of treatment. Alternatively, incisions may be made in the skin prior to the application of cups.

But how does this help to treat autoimmunity?

Causative pathological substances (CPS) are substances that either cause or result from autoimmune diseases. People with autoimmune conditions usually have high levels of CPS (which include autoimmune antibodies, immune complexes, inflammatory mediators and cytokines) in their serum. CPS play a key role in the mechanisms behind autoimmunity. Therefore, facilitating the release of these substances from the blood can have a therapeutic effect that reduces the symptoms of a variety of autoimmune diseases.

Cupping therapy and rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a painful autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling, stiffness, soreness, and decreased range of motion. Several studies have found that wet cupping therapy has potential as a therapeutic treatment for the condition, as it can facilitate the release of CPS from affected tissues. 

Studies have found that cupping therapy can be effective for reducing the symptoms of RA (i.e. pain and swelling around joints), thereby improving mobility and quality of life.

Cupping therapy and other autoimmune diseases

Besides rheumatoid arthritis, cupping therapy may also be an effective therapeutic treatment for a range of other autoimmune conditions. In one study, dry cupping was shown to be comparable to pharmacological treatment in relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis, an autoimmune condition that affects the joints. Patients reported a reduction in pain, stiffness, edema and disability after a series of cupping treatments performed over 15 days.

Wet cupping therapy may also be useful for relieving the symptoms of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and scleroderma, among others. This effect is thought to be due to the dual action of CPS excretion and the stimulation of natural immunity brought about by wet cupping.


Cupping therapy has a wide range of medical applications and can be used to address digestive complaints, skin problems, hypertension, chronic pain conditions and more. 

Among the many benefits of cupping is its role in the stimulation of the immune system, which can help to boost immune function and protect the body from diseases and infection. Protective properties aside, wet cupping therapy has also been proven to be an effective treatment for various autoimmune conditions.

Rheumatoid arthritis,  osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, SLE and scleroderma are all autoimmune conditions that can be improved by wet cupping. By facilitating the release of toxins and other harmful substances from then affected sites, this ancient therapeutic treatment has the potential to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life for patients.

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