HERBS THAT BOOST IMMUNE FUNCTION*
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the immune system as: “The organs and processes of the body that provide resistance to infection and toxins. Organs include the thymus, bone marrow and lymph nodes. It is the system in your body that produces substances to help fight against infection and disease.”
There are at least 30 definitions of the immune system on the Web. The following are a sample of these:
- A complex system that is responsible for distinguishing us from everything foreign to us, and for protecting us against infections and foreign substances. The immune system works to seek and kill invaders.
- A biological defense system, which has evolved in vertebrates, to protect them against the introduction of foreign material (such as pollen or invading micro-organisms) and to prevent the body from developing cancer.
- The body system, made up of many organs and cells, which defends against infection, disease and foreign substances.
- The integrated body system of organs, tissues, cells and cell products that differentiates self from non-self and neutralises potentially pathogenic organisms or substances.
- An intricate complex of inter-related cellular, molecular and genetic components that defend the body against foreign organisms or substances and diseased native cells.
- The network of white blood cells, and the chemical products they produce, to protect the body from foreign ‘invaders’. One major division is between the ‘cellular’ portion, which involves T-cells, and the ‘humoral’ portion, which involves B-cells that makes antibodies. The two parts work hand-in-hand.
The immune system is, to say the least, very complex. Briefly:
- The immune system protects the body from infection by creating and maintaining barriers that prevent bacteria and viruses from entering the body.
- If the pathogen breaches these barriers and gets into the body, the innate immune system is equipped with specialised cells that detect, and often eliminate, the invader before it reproduces and potentially causes serious injury to the host.
- A pathogen that successfully evades the innate immune cells faces a second adaptive or specific immune system. It is through the adaptive response that the immune system gains the ability to recognise a (specific) pathogen and mount stronger attacks each time the pathogen is encountered.
- The response is non-specific
- Exposure leads to immediate maximal response
- Cell-mediated and humoral components
- Cells are called leukocytes
- There is NO immunological memory.
Specific or Adaptive Immunity
- Pathogen and antigen specific response
- Lag time between exposure and maximal response
- Cell mediated and humoral components
- Cells are called lymphocytes
- Exposure leads to immunological memory.
For a detailed explanation of the immune system, see my June 2007 newsletter The Immune System and Immunity, which sets out recommendations to maintain a healthy immune system and boost its function naturally. These recommendations include:
- General Measures
- Stress management
- Weight control
- Mental health and positive thinking
- Reduction in exposure to pathogens
- Correct balanced nutrition
- Adequate fluid intake.
- There are two types of immune system support via supplements:
- Acute or short-term supplementation, taken during an existing acute infection, such as a cold or ‘flu, to help the support immune system activity.
- Long term nutritional support and supplementation, taken to help maintain the immune system’s health.
- Vitamins: C, A, E, and multi B (B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6).
- Other supplements include zinc, selenium, probiotics, garlic, echinacea, olive leaf extract, glyconutrients, and green barley.
HERBS THAT BOOST THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
This newsletter is the first in a series looking at the herbs that can boost the immune system. Some of these were briefly addressed my October 2014 newsletter How to Boost the Immune System and Protect against Ebola and Other Infections.
These natural substances:
- Stimulate and strengthen the immune system
- Fight infection
- Strengthen tissue against assault by invading micro-organisms
- Stimulate macrophage capability
- Increase T-Cell production and protect T-helper cells
- Complement the action of Interferon and Interleukin
- Assist the Cell Mediated Immune Response.
The herbs that will be looked at in this series are:
- Pau d'Arco
- Medicinal mushrooms
- Aloe Vera.
This newsletter, the first in the series, discusses Echinacea.
Echinacea is one of the more popular herbs in Australia.
It is a perennial plant, 30-60 centimetres tall when mature. It is slightly spiky, with large purple to pink flowers. The centre of the flower has a seed head (cone), which is also spiky and dark brown to red in colour. The spikes are said to resemble the spines of an angry hedgehog (spiny anteater, porcupine), hence the name: echinus is Greek for hedgehog.
Archaeologists have found evidence that Native Americans have used echinacea for more than 400 years to treat infections and wounds, and as a general ‘cure-all’. It was popular during the 18th and 19th centuries, but its popularity declined after the introduction of antibiotics. It had a resurgence of popularity on Germany in the early 20th century, and most of the scientific research on echinacea has been conducted in Germany.
The Active Ingredients of Echinacea
Echinacea contains several chemicals that play a role in its therapeutic effects. These include
- Polysaccharides. The above-ground parts of the plant tend to have more polysaccharides (known to trigger the activity of the immune system).
- Phenols. The phenols are active substances in the plant which control the activity of a range of enzymes and cell receptors, and protect the plant from infection. Phenols have high antioxidant properties.
- Glycoproteins. These are proteins that contain oligosaccharide chains covalently attached to poly-peptide side chains. They are important in cell-cell interactions and in cell-cell communications. They are immuno-stimulatory.
- Alkamides. These are the major lipophilic constituents of echinacea. They stimulate phagocytosis (the ingestion of a smaller cell or cell fragment). Alkamides are immuno-modulatory in action.
- Flavonoids. These have antioxidant properties. The dominant flavonoids are nicotiflorin and rutin.
- Volatile oils. The roots have high concentrations of volatile oils. Volatile oils have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Echinacoside. This is a natural antibiotic that can kill a wide range of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.
It is thought that the above-ground portion of the plant is the most effective.
Species of Echinacea
There are many species of echinacea, but only three are used as herbal remedies:
- Echinacea angustifolia
- Echinacea pallida
- Echinacea purpurea.
Many echinacea preparations contain one, two, or even all three of these species. Different products use different parts of the echinacea plant, which is why the effectiveness of echinacea may differ from one product to another. Echinacea is available in extracts, tinctures, tablets, capsules, and ointments. It is important to purchase this product from a reputable company. Select products with guaranteed potency or standardised extracts.
Therapeutic Applications of Echinacea
Echinacea is used today to shorten the duration of the common cold and flu, and reduce symptoms, such as sore throat, cough, and fever.
It is recommended to help boost the immune system and help the body fight infections.
Several laboratory and animal studies suggest that the active chemicals in echinacea boost the immune system and immune function, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and have hormonal, antiviral, and antioxidant effects. Hence the spectrum of disease processes that herbalists recommend echinacea to treat is quite wide.
The most common indication is the common cold. There is some controversy as to the efficacy of echinacea in treating the common cold ... this may be due to the species used and the part of the plant that is used. A study performed by the independent company that tests the purity of health products, , found that of 11 brands purchased for testing, only 4 contained what was stated on their labels. About 10% has no echinacea at all; half were mislabelled as to the species of echinacea in the product; and more than half of the standardised preparations did not contain the labelled amount of active ingredient!
The therapeutic dose will depend on the form of echinacea purchased. Follow the instructions on the label for the dosage.
For general immune system stimulation, during colds, flu, upper respiratory infections, or bladder infections, take the dose recommended three times a day until symptoms have improved, but for no more than 7-10 days.
The use of herbs, such as echinacea, is a time-honoured approach to strengthening the body, boosting the immune system and treating disease. However, herbs contain active substances that may trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. Thus, supervision by a health professional should be considered. ‘Natural’ is not necessarily harmless.
Echinacea rarely causes allergic reactions. Minor side effects can include upset stomach, nausea and dizziness.
*Copyright 2015: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.Back to the list Print friendly version