The Value of Herbs for Immune System Enhancement
Since the beginning of human history, people have turned to herbal medicine to heal and fortify their immune systems. This was the case well before we even understood anything about our body’s natural defense system. Prior to the advent of modern scientific methods, these herbs were some of the only resources that humans had to combat illness and restore us back to health.
A wide variety of herbs have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine, Indian Ayurvedic practice, and by the ancient Greeks and Romans as well as in contemporary cultures' health care worldwide to support immune function and overall wellness. Western medicine has seemed for the most part to discard many of these natural cures for more expensive, synthetic solutions. The argument has long been that these “herbal remedies” often relied on anecdotal evidence for their effectiveness and did not necessarily hold up against rigorous scientific testing, despite clear anti-inflammatory properties, antibacterial properties, and traits of antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-fungal effects.
Recently, there has been a push to apply the same scrupulous standards of testing and medical efficacy towards these natural immune-boosting herb treatments, especially when it comes to direct effects they may have on immune cells and immune support. There's even a compound being pulled from shiitake mushrooms that has been clinically proven to enhance and promote T cells, natural killer cells, and other components of immune defense.
While there are many herbs and natural remedies that have healing properties and are nourishing to overall health, here are four that have provided scientists with convincing evidence of their effectiveness. Those four herbs are Echinacea, Quercetin, Turmeric and Elderberry. The findings for these specific naturally occurring herbs provide validation for the many that have claimed their healing properties for years.
Echinacea is a flowering plant found in the US and Canada. The leaves, stems, flower, and roots are used to make supplements, liquid extracts, and teas. Research shows it increases the number of white blood cells, which aid in fighting infections. A study from Hall et al (2007) reported a significant reduction of the duration of symptoms in subjects who completed an exercise protocol known to affect mucosal immunity before and after 4 weeks of treatment with placebo (C) or Echinacea (C: 8.6 days vs. E: 3.4 days). In other words, it increases the body’s immune response and shortens the duration of sickness.
Quercetin is a naturally occurring polyphenol flavonoid, found in some fruits and vegetables, including onions, capers, apples, berries, tea, tomatoes, grapes, Brassica vegetables, and shallots, as well as many nuts, seeds, barks, flowers, and leaves. In a subgroup of subjects age 40 or older, who self-rated themselves as physically fit, 1000 mg/day quercetin resulted in a statistically significant reduction in total sick days and symptom severity associated with URTI(Upper Respiratory Tract Infections).
A relative of ginger, this vivid yellow-orange spice is common in Indian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern cooking. This golden spice supports immune health, helps relieve pain, and can aid in digestion, among other things. The Arthritis Foundation cites several studies that indicate that turmeric can help ease the aggravation of joint pain that arthritis sufferers deal with day to day.
Elderberries have been used traditionally, and in some observational and clinical studies, as supportive agents against the common cold and influenza. These data suggest a significant reduction of cold duration and severity in air travelers. More research is warranted to confirm this effect and to evaluate elderberry's physical and mental health benefits.
These four wonder herbs are not meant to be a cure all for any kind of ailments but have clearly stood up to scientific skeptics when it comes to their ability to assist our immune system in a variety of ways. While getting these from food is preferable, it’s unlikely that our diets would contain the correct dose or combination to deliver the maximum benefit. That’s why we believe that taking a supplement that combines these three herbs in the correct dosage can do wonders for our immune system. While it’s best to get these herbs from the foods in our diet, it’s unlikely that we would regularly get the appropriate dosage to really make a difference for our immune system health. We need not look much past turmeric to showcase this point. While turmeric is used as a spice in food at times, it’s unlikely that we would be consuming enough since it is usually utilized as a light seasoning due to its strong flavor profile. For this reason, we recommend supplementing your diet with these herbal supplements to fortify your immune system.
Alagawany, M.; Ashour, E.A.; Reda, F.M. Effect of dietary supplementation of garlic (Allium Sativum) and turmeric (Curcuma Longa) on growth performance, carcass traits, blood profile and oxidative status in growing rabbits. Ann. Anim. Sci. 2016, 16, 489–505.