5 Top Herbal Immune Support Supplements
One of the best ways to achieve a healthy immune system is to find balance —what scientists call the process of immunomodulation.
Immune decline is a classic manifestation of the aging process. But it isn’t always about reduced immune function. Sometimes, problems result from an over-active immune system. A system that turns against itself.
Herbal and botanical nutrients comprise some of the best immunity boosters. They can help stimulate the immune system when necessary, and suppress over-active immune response before it leads to chronic inflammatory imbalance and health concerns. This is what is meant by modulating immune function.
Here are 5 of the best herbs to boost immune system health:
Astragalus — The Body Defender With Many Benefits for Immunity
The Astragalus herb has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years, primarily as a lung and digestive tonic. Astragalus is referred to as an adaptogen. This means it helps defend the body from various stresses — physical, mental, and emotional.
Importantly, Astragalus provides support for healthy immune function. It promotes immune cell development and antibody production.
Research shows that the Astragalus herb contains complex sugars called polysaccharides that help regulate the composition of the microbiome, or community of bacteria in the gut. Herbs such as Astragalus help promote the growth of beneficial or friendly gut bacteria, while inhibiting the growth of harmful gut bacteria. Yet another example of balance.
This is crucially important, since scientists now realize that about 70% of your immune system is actually located in the gut.
Astragalus also acts as an antioxidant, so it helps protect cells against damage. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition, studies have found that Astragalus has antiviral properties, and may help prevent respiratory issues such as the common cold. Animal studies have suggested that Astragalus can rejuvenate depressed immune function.
Andrographis — The Bitter Tonic That Supports Immune Health and So Much More
The herb Andrographis paniculata is a popular plant in Traditional Chinese Medicine and used to treat a wide array of ailments. In the Ayurvedic tradition, Andrographis is called the “King of Bitters” due to its use as a bitter digestive tonic that aids appetite and regularity.
Many bioactive compounds with therapeutic benefits have been isolated from this plant through scientific research, including flavonoid and polyphenol antioxidants and a bitter-tasting compound called andrographolide. Some of the most notable activity attributed to Andrographis includes:
- Immune stimulating activity, including an increase in lymphocyte immune cell production
- Anti-microbial effects against bacteria and fungus
- Reducing inflammation by inhibiting pro-inflammatory chemicals
- Antioxidant activity that helps scavenge cell-damaging free radicals
- Anti-infective activity, with positive results in treating symptoms of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection
- Destruction of abnormal and mutated cells
- And many others
Echinacea — The Immune-Boosting “Hedgehog” Herb
The herb Echinacea has been used for centuries as a Native American medicinal plant. It is named for the prickly scales in the purple coneflower, which resemble the spines of a hedgehog (echinos is Greek for hedgehog).
People have historically used this herb to treat a diverse array of maladies, ranging from malaria to diphtheria to syphilis. In Germany, therapeutic use of Echinacea is quite popular. This is actually where most of the scientific research on Echinacea has been conducted.
Even back in 2002, about 20% of the adult U.S. population used nutraceuticals such as herbal nutrients and supplements. Echinacea was the most commonly used, taken by over 40% of these people.
Laboratory and animal studies have found that Echinacea contains various chemical compounds including flavonoid antioxidants and polysaccharides. These compounds trigger immune system activity and increase the number of white blood cells to fight infections. The bioactive components differ between the root and the above-ground parts of the plant.
Echinacea has been shown to:
- Boost immune system function
- Decrease inflammation
- Relieve pain
- Act as an antioxidant
- Act as an antiviral agent
A meta-analysis of 14 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases found that Echinacea not only lowered the risk of developing a cold by 58%, but also reduced cold duration significantly.
In Germany, certain parts of the plant have received regulatory approval to treat colds, respiratory tract ailments, slow-healing wounds, and flu-like infections.
Medical experts note that it is crucial to choose a high-quality Echinacea supplement with standardized extracts since preparations of Echinacea can differ widely. For therapeutic benefit, it’s best to use the herb as early as possible in the course of a cold.
Olive Leaf Extract — Immune Boosting Properties From the “Tree of Life”
The olive tree has been revered throughout history dating back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, who considered it a symbol of longevity.
In the Bible, the olive tree is known as the “tree of life.” And of course, the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet promotes the healthful benefits of olives and olive oil.
While most attention has been given to the benefits of olives and olive oil, the leaf of the olive tree is only now starting to receive the focus it deserves.
Research has found that Olive Leaf Extract contains higher amounts of polyphenol antioxidants than those observed in extra virgin olive oil and olive fruits. The antioxidant benefits give Olive Leaf Extract the ability to remove damaged and mutated cells.
Scientists have found that a phenolic antioxidant compound called oleuropein is the main source of the olive tree’s own disease-resistant properties. In lab tests, oleuropein has demonstrated anti-inflammatory benefits and antibacterial activity.
Another clinical study published in 2018 found that Olive Leaf Extract increased the number of immune NK (natural killer) cells to support immune response.
Chinese Skullcap — A Traditional Chinese Medicine Powerhouse
Scutellaria baicalensis is a plant commonly known as Chinese Skullcap. This herb, a member of the mint family, has a long history of use, and is one of the most widely used herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
To date, over 40 bioactive compounds have been isolated and identified from the Scutellaria plant. Three flavonoids antioxidants have been identified as the major active components of Chinese Skullcap: baicalin, baicalein, and wogonin.
The compounds in Chinese Skullcap demonstrate:
- Antibacterial and antiviral activity
- Anti-allergic activity
- Antioxidant properties to scavenge free radicals and protect against cell damage
- Regulation of the innate immune system
- Reduction in the production of inflammatory chemicals
As you’ve seen in this article, herbal and plant-based nutrients direct from Mother Nature can help modulate and balance immune function to deliver the healthiest response to threats. Scientific studies continue to validate the use of these herbal immunity boosters, many of which have been used world-wide for centuries to provide natural immune support as well as treatment for health issues.
Note: In general, herbal nutrients show few side effects. However, since they may interact with some other herbs and prescription medications, check with your healthcare practitioner before using. Information in this article is not meant to be used as medical advice.
Sources for This Article Include:
Mount Sinai Health Library.
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Zhao, Tang, et al. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. Volume 71 Issue 9; June 2019. Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi. (Lamiaceae): a review of its traditional uses, botany, phytochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology