Your immune system, a complex network made up of numerous cells and proteins, actively defends your body against invaders: infections, viruses, bacteria and foreign bodies. It is a wide-spread, multi-layered shield awaiting any attack as you wade through a sea of hostile pathogens. Your immune system is the key to combat invaders and, thankfully, it is both adaptive and vengeful, keeping a record of every microbe it has encountered so it can defeat it again when necessary.
Immune health is essential to survival. As seasonal illnesses and epidemics spread, you may be interested in how you can care for your body with herbs, as they can offer long term, positive effects on your health. Below are 4 herbs that are known to support, balance and improve the immune system naturally.
Referred to as Hippocrates’ “medicine chest”, Sambucus nigra L. is known for its immune support, as it remains particularly diaphoretic (induces sweating to lower fevers) and anticatarrhal (dissolves mucus in respiratory passageways). Black elderberries are high in anthocyanin, providing natural antioxidants, quercetin, which offers anti-inflammatory impact, and isorhamnetin, extending powerful anti-viral properties.
60 patients enrolled in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to determine the effects of elderberry syrup against the cold and flu. Reports indicate relief from symptoms were experienced an average of 4 days earlier for those ingesting elderberry rather than the placebo syrup. Observational and clinical studies found elderberry extract provides a significant reduction in cold episodes, along with positive effects on physical and respiratory health.
Elderberries can be used as a syrup, tincture, or an infuser in honey, wine, juice, and jam. Its flavouring makes for the perfect herbal remedy for children as it can be infused in ice pops or poured over dessert. Old-fashioned elderberry pie is a nostalgic classic and can be found at local grocery stores or collected wild, depending on your region.
A combination of shrubs and herbs in the legume family, Astragalus membranaceus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine against threats to the body. It is known considerably for fighting fatigue. This herb contains astragalosides (antioxidants) that scavenge free radicals, unstable and reactive molecules produced by the body during oxidative stress. Considered an adaptogen, a non-toxic plant that helps the body resist and adapt to stressors, Astragalus promotes healthy overall resistance.
Studies have found an increase in leukocytes (white blood cells) and the stimulation of NK cells (natural killer cells) which contribute to host-rejection when experiencing a viral infection. One study examined the immune-modulating effects of Astragalus root and found an increase in interferon production, which has antiviral and immune-enhancing activity. Several others report enhanced immunoglobulin production and the restoration of lost T-cells (lymphocytes in the thymus gland). Though more research is recommended, it is currently used as an adjunct therapy to cancer in China.
It is commonly used as a daily remedy, in dried powdered form or as a strong decoction and brought to a boil. Add it to your tea or cookie batter. It can be found in soups, stews or sauces and make for the ideal seasonal treatment, offering both ease and comfort.
Popularized in the 1800s, Echinacea purpurea or “coneflower”, can be found in many gardens and has naturalized itself throughout Canada. It is a member of the daisy family and Native American tribes were known to use this plant topically to treat bites, coughs and typhoid fevers. Similar to Astragalus, Echinacea is found to promote immune-activity through lymphocytes and NK cells.
The major constituents of Echinacea are the following:
The synergy of these constituents results in immune stimulation.
Clinical trials provided by the University of Connecticut in 2007 concluded the use of Echinacea can cut the chance of catching a cold in half, and shorten its duration by 1.4 days. Unfortunately, a large number of studies do not indicate the section of the plant used while others are criticized for using the incorrect portion (eg. flower vs root extract). Due to this, there has been confusion as to the benefits of this plant, and despite several positive human clinical trials, anecdotal evidence is required to further understand the effectiveness of Echinacea in its entirety.
Echinacea extract or tablets have become commonplace and can be found in local grocery stores or health food stores. The root is used frequently at the onset, whereas the aerial portion is best taken throughout the season, along with other immune-stimulating herbs. Many enjoy echinacea as an ointment or prepared as a drink, such as tea or with squeezed juice.
Named “King of the Bitters”, Andrographis paniculata is a plant native to India and Sri Lanka, has been introduced across many tropical Asian countries. Used as a boost at the onset, Andrographis’ adaptogenic properties contribute to immune support and it contains andrographolides, offer a wide range of biological activities: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective. Most often used to alleviate the common cold.
A randomized, double-blind found that common cold patients receiving 1,200 mg of Andrographis extract after 2 days experienced a decrease in tiredness, sore throat and nasal secretions. Headache, earache and phlegm had subsided by day 4. Additional research conducted on 7175 patients found improved cough and sore throat when compared to placebo, as well as a shortened duration of cough, sore throat, and sick leave. A separate 12-month double-blind placebo-controlled study evaluated 22 relapsing-remitting MS patients and reduced Fatigue Severity Scores by 44%. Yet another found healthy volunteers who participated in a 3-day study receiving 4.2 g of the supplement daily were found to have increased white blood cells, central to fighting invaders.
The medicinal properties of Andrographis are best harnessed as a health tonic. It can be found in most health food stores, both in capsule and tincture form. Clinical studies have been found to use this in combination with Siberian Ginseng.
Kratom, a tropical evergreen tree known as Mitragyna speciosa of the coffee plant family, Rubiaceae, consists of several alkaloids that combine to improve the resilience of the immune system.
Major constituents include the following:
Studies indicate antinociceptive, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant and muscle relaxant properties.
Since its emergence into the US botanical health care in 2004, Kratom has balked beneath the scrutiny of the federal government. The DEA’s proposition to bad Kratom in 2015 was met with a petition with more than 20,000 signatures, resulting in the current market of hundreds of online shops and storefronts which sell Kratom products in the US and Canada. Regulation, education and further research will provide a clearer picture of this plant and what it offers as a whole.
If you are interested in Kratom, you can visit Reddit or other online platforms for more information.
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