Immunity Assist

Andrographis is an ancient infection-fighting remedy backed by modern research.

September 2015

by Lisa James


As the song says, “Everything old is new again.” In no field is this more true than in natural medicine, where remedies esteemed by traditional healers find new life after their usage is reinforced by scientific inquiry.

Take Andrographis paniculata, for example. An herb that grows freely throughout the tropical regions of Asia and the South Pacific, andrographis has been used for centuries by healers in India’s Ayurvedic medicine as a digestive aid; they call it Kalmegh, or King of Bitters. Its bitter nature led the Chinese to classify andrographis as a “cold” healing agent, used to treat “hot” conditions—including the sweating and fever that often accompany upper respiratory infections.

Today, researchers have found compounds in andrographis that justify its ancient usage, landing this south Asian herb on the shelves of US health food stores as an immune booster.

Aerial Attack

The common cold is caused by one of nearly 100 rhinoviruses (the name comes from the Greek word for “nose”). These microbes invade the cells lining the mouth and nasal cavity, where they replicate. The affected cells release chemical signals to the immune system, which goes into an inflammatory defense mode. This produces the symptoms we associate with a cold: runny and/or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, sneezing, fatigue and muscle aches.

Symptoms caused by the influenza virus are similar but tend to be more prolonged and more severe, often accompanied by fever and chills. The flu can cause such complications as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening especially to the very young, the very old and those whose immune defenses are weakened by chronic disease.

Andrographis to the Rescue

One tragic exception to the rule regarding influenza’s deadly consequences was the epidemic of 1918-1919, fostered in part by mass troop movements after World War I. It resulted in up to 40 million deaths worldwide, often killing healthy young people within hours. In India, andrographis was credited with helping to slow the epidemic’s progress.

The compounds responsible for andrographis’ healing effects have been found to activate substances within the body that help regulate immunity and inflammation. In studies, andrographis has been able to reduce cold symptoms; in one Russian study, it not only hastened recovery from influenza but also reduced the risk of post-flu complications.

Researchers have confirmed other traditional andrographis usages. Bitter herbs have long been used to support the liver; in one Malaysian study, andrographis was found to help protect this vital organ (Phytotherapy Research 10/14). Other investigations have found andrographis to help reduce blood sugar levels, improve cardiovascular health and fight cancer.

Andrographis works best when taken with other natural therapies. Traditional healers also used olive leaf to reduce fevers; researchers credit this action to oleuropein, a compound that helps dispatch fever-inducing microbes. And a type of fiber called arabinogalactan not only boosts immune activity but also supports growth of healthy probiotic bacteria within the intestines.

Tired of the same old coughing, sniffling misery this winter? Andrographis can help provide a new perspective on healing.

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