There are a lot of herbs touted as having immune boosting properties. Walk into a health food store and there are entire aisles dedicated to immune support. Yes, there are a lot of herbs that potentially can help support an immune system but they vary in strength and ability.
When I look for an herb which supports immune function, I seek out herbs that can be taken in large quantities safely, that work in an adaptagenic capacity (help the body respond to stress), that optimize all parts of the immune system and its functions, and that have some antiviral properties to boot.
Quick disclaimer – I am not a licensed medical professional nor do I play one on this site. Please do not take anything here as medical advice. My intention is to give you a base from which to do further research in consult with a trusted medical provider.
So what are the immune optimizing herbs that I keep well stocked? Astragalus, Eleuthero, and Rhodiola.
Oh I LOVE this herb. I’m not sure how I ever got by without it. It is highly acclaimed as probably the most important of all deep immune tonics. I could say so much about why Astragalus is an immune optimizing herb but let’s just get right down to the basics, list style.
Astragalus is known to and may:
- Support T-cell function and overall immune strength at a very deep level (bone marrow reserves).
- Be rich in polysaccharides which are basically the main nutrient that feeds our bodies.
- Help in the elimination of toxins thus promoting a healthy gut and immune system.
- Combat fatigue by nourishing exhausted adrenals.
- Increase the flow of bile and digestive fluids. Healthy digestion is imperative in keeping the immune system working well.
- Have the unique ability to stimulate the immune system's natural killer cells without stimulating B cells. It also increases the production of interferon which may help improve resistance to viral infections. These qualities may make it useful in treating autoimmune diseases that can be worsened with other immune stimulating herbs.
- Increase urine flow, thereby reducing the potential of infection predominantly in the bladder.
- Provide more resistance to secondary infections in individuals undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
Something important to keep in mind – the overall support that this herb can bring makes it a good overall tonic and immune support. It is less effective once you get sick than it is as a preventive measure. Also, when combined with other immune stimulating herbs, Astragalus may activate immune cells quickly. This is helpful in those with weak immune systems and those fighting infections.
Now – the scary stuff. If the government had its way, all herbs would come with a warning not to use them. BUT Astragalus legitimately has a few that should be further researched. People who have had transplant surgery should not use Astragalus. The safety of Astragalus in pregnant or nursing women or children isn't fully known. Astragalus may interfere with the effectiveness of corticosteroid medications. Astragalus may decrease the effectiveness of drugs that suppress the immune system.
This herb is known to be especially powerful in aiding a chronically depressed immune system. It is an immune stimulant and in potent dosages, can work very quickly.
In traditional Chinese Medicine, every part of the Eleuthero plant has a function and use. With regards to immune system strengthening, most Western herbalist use the root although the bark is actually higher in the plant’s most active constituent.
Eleuthero can be taken in various forms and amounts depending on whether you are using it for long term support (general immune maintenance), short-term immune building, or immediate immune boosting. It can be made into a tonic or tincture, it can be encapsulated, or it can be powered and used in any number of ways. It has a history of being very safe with very few side effects being reported.
As I was trying to source this herb, I found a spot-on quote* about Eleuthero: “Eleuthero is the motivational speaker of plant spirits. It may not be the most popular or even on the second tier of popularity but it has the knack of coming in and blowing you away.” This pretty much sums it up!
This lessor known herb has many positive effects on the immune system. Rhodiola both stimulates and protects the immune system by reinstating homeostasis (metabolic balance) in the body.
You see, certain types of immune cells in the body destroy toxic and infectious cells that can cause disease. These are called natural killer cells and are located in the stomach and spleen. You obviously want these working properly. Well, this is where Rhodiola comes in. It acts defensively by stimulating these specific immune cells. This action is thought to be due to its ability to normalize hormones by modulating the release of glucocorticoid into the body. So in this capacity, Rhodiola stimulates the immune system.
Rhodiola also works on our stress receptors thus helping our immunity to disease indirectly. This is how it protects the immune system. Stress suppresses the immune system, so getting rid of stress or decreasing stress is imperative to good health and well-being. Rhodiola aids our bodies by reducing the effects of stress which in turn will improve immune function and our body’s natural ability to fight diseases.
One final and important function of Rhodiola as it relates to the immune system is that it increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of our red blood cells. I don’t know about you but getting enough oxygen seems like it would be pretty important when it comes to our overall health. Without the proper balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen, a person will have trouble functioning. The body is then placed under stress which, you guessed it, lowers our immunity. So keeping that balance and maintaining our vitality will only aid in supporting a healthy immune system.
Where can you find these three immune boosting herbs?
Would you like to learn more about these herbs and more? Check out these books!
*Quote from Tom of http://www.earthenergyhealings.com/.