When we are at the peak of our health, our body is able to manage and orchestrate everything on its own. But age takes its relentless toll, and thanks to our stressful lifestyles and imbalanced diets, we are all aging faster than we should.
Our immune system ages too. It can do with some daily support.
Your immune system is your body’s department of defense. It prevents and deals with foreign invasion (read disease-causing microbes or pathogens) and quashes guerrilla forces (read free radicals) inside.
For the first, it utilizes an army of specialized immune cells and for the second, it relies on a special unit of chemicals known as antioxidants.
So, to keep your immunity up, you need to make sure you keep the number of the immune cells consistently high, and add to your antioxidant stores.
Here are 9 super-herbs that are highy recommended in Ayurvedic practice for their immunity-boosting and anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Indian Tinospora (Guduchi)
- Holy Basil
- Andrographis (Bhunimba)
- Indian Kudzu (Vidari)
- Boerhavia (Punarnava)
And guess what, with the tools that modern science is equipped with, we are now discovering the details of how exactly the herbs work their little magic inside our bodies.
Indian Tinospora (Guduchi)
Indian tinospora (Tinospora cordifolia) is a powerful immunity booster. Polysachharides in it activate immune agents like macrophages and help release signaling molecules like cytokines. The herb could also tone down allergic reactions by putting a lid on the production of histamine.
Like an at-war army on the lookout for new recruits, your immune system would never say no to help from Indian tinospora. Its polysaccharides weave themselves into your body’s defense tactics, heading straight to the front line to fight off disease-causing invaders (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and anything foreign).
- G1-4A, one such polysaccharide, binds itself to front-line immunity troopers called macrophages, activating them. The macrophages are then better able to “eat” invaders, cleaning up your system more efficiently.
Activated macrophages then send chemical signals (IL-1) to other immune cells called dendritic cells and further amplify the immune response.
- Also stepping in, (1,4)-α-D-glucan, another polysaccharide, activates white blood cells, encouraging them to release chemical messengers called cytokines. Cytokines create SOS signals to call in immune cells from other parts of the body.
The polysaccharides may even help shuttle Indian tinospora’s alkaloids and glycosides to different parts of the body so that they can do even more good.
It doesn’t matter how healthy you are; when you’re exposed to something that is not in tune with your body’s own sensibilities, like an allergen, an allergic reaction is set off by immune cells called mast cells. Mast cells secrete a chemical called histamine that then triggers allergic symptoms.
- Indian tinospora can help put a lid on histamine production by stabilizing mast cells. This is a blessing if you’re particularly susceptible to allergies and develop coughs, fits of sneezing, or a runny nose a little too often.
Basically, your body’s got all it needs to mount up a strong defense. Herbs like Indian tinospora simply help tighten the links between them.
Stress dampens immunity, but holy basil flavonoids counter by increasing the number of immune agents like natural killer cells, neutrophils, and T helper cells.
The immune system can always use a hand to fight off invaders (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and the like). The helping hand could be extended by flavonoid-rich foods – usually, the colorful fruits and veggies – and herbs. Holy basil is one such. It’s especially good for fighting viral infections.
- Levels up fighter cells: The flavonoids fortify the immune system’s first line of defense by increasing the number of fighter cells called natural killer cells and neutrophils. They also increase the T helper cell population, evoking a more specialized attack.
- Increases immune system conversation: Once the T helper cells are triggered by the flavonoids, they send SOS signals via the chemicals IFN-γ and IL-4 to call in other immune cells.
Phytochemicals in licorice suppress or inhibit pro-inflammatory chemicals, de-sensitize pain receptors, and capture free radicals.
Licorice suppresses or inhibits the production of the following key players of inflammation:
- TNF-α: TNF-α is a chemical involved in systemic inflammation, which is inflammation all over the body like a fever.
- MMPs: MMPs are molecules involved in tissue destruction, leading to swelling.
- PGE2: PGE2 helps sensitize pain receptors and induces a fever.
- Free radicals: Free radicals are “shot” at disease-causing agents to get rid of them but may begin to cause harm to the body’s own cells if not controlled.
Kantakari (Solanum Virginianum)
Kantakari has specific benefits for your body’s immune system dealing with respiratory function. It activates virus-neutralizing immune cells, and simultaneously suppresses key inflammatory signaling molecules in your respiratory tract and lungs.
Kantakari helps your airways relax, which allows you to breathe with greater ease, especially when you have a cold or flu. The herb’s approach is threefold:
- Fewer inflammatory signals: Kantakari targets certain immune cells to suppress the production of key inflammatory signaling molecules – the same molecules that cause swelling and discomfort. The antibody IgE produced by plasma cells takes a hit along with TNF-α produced by macrophages and monocytes.
- Contained inflammatory signals: Another target is histamine in lung tissue. Histamine is necessary for inflammatory molecules to access the bloodstream. Its inhibition means less inflammation.
- No viruses: Kantakari also takes care of viruses that may be interfering with your breathing. It does this by activating certain immune cells – those that can “eat” viruses (macrophages and neutrophils) and those that can cause virus-infected cells to kill themselves (natural killer cells). The chemical behind the scenes here is IFN-γ, produced by T cells. In the presence of kantakari, there’s more IFN-γ to go around.
The “king of the bitters,” andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) contains diterpenoid lactones and flavonoids that assist your immune system in fighting invading microbes. The herb helps produce more white blood cells and antibodies. It also activates more macrophages which literally gobble up the invaders. At the same time, it checks the immune system from going overboard and triggering inflammation.
Not only does andrographis encourage your body’s front-line troopers to perform better but also weaves itself into more specialized defense tactics. Here’s what it orchestrates:
- Stimulates the production of antibodies: Antibodies are custom-made traps for invaders like bacteria and viruses.
- Increases macrophage activity: Macrophages are immune system frontline troopers that “eat” invaders.
- Multiplies WBCs: White blood cells (WBCs) are nothing but the universe of immune cells running the whole show.
- Increases immune system crosstalk: Chemical messengers like IL-2 send SOS signals to call in other immune cells. Andrographis increases the production of IL-2.
It also helps keep inflammation in check by modulating the immune system. Here’s what it does.
- Stops immune cells in their tracks: Immune cells stick and unstick to the insides of blood vessels to crawl their way around the body. Molecules called ICAM-1 on blood vessels and Mac-1 on immune cells stick to each other to bring about this effect. Andrographis reduces these molecular glues.
- Suppresses pro-inflammatory mediators: A host of different molecules are involved in causing inflammation. Andrographis targets and inhibits a few of these key players – including i-NOS, COX-2, and NF-κB.
Turmeric strengthens your immunity by attacking bacteria and increasing the production of an immune molecule called CAMP. But at the same time, it also controls the resulting inflammation by inhibiting the function of certain enzymes and signaling molecules.
Curcuminoids destabilize bacterial membranes.
Curcuminoids don’t mix well with water. Neither do the external membranes of certain bacteria. Being similar in nature, curcuminoids form connections with the bacterial membrane. These are strong enough to undo original connections in the bacterial membranes. It’s like destroying the enemy’s boundary wall, exposing the enemy to be killed.
Curcuminoids inactivate bacterial enzymes.
Curcuminoids also inactivate key enzymes that bacteria use to spread their infection – practically destroying the enemy’s weapons.
Turmeric also helps your immune cells work better. Curcumin increases the production of CAMP.
Cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP) is a host defense molecule shot at microbes by your skin and your innate immune cells. This “bullet” destabilizes the membranes of microbes, while also calling other immune cells to fight at the site of infection.
Besides curcuminoids, other compounds in turmeric like polysaccharides are also capable of helping charge up your immunity. They make sure that front-line troopers called macrophages are alert and chemical alarms are raised when something doesn’t feel right.
Amla modulates your immune response, on the one hand, activating immune cells and reducing immune cell death, and on the other, reining in inflammation.
- Amla activates different types of immune cells: those that work at a more superficial level (like macrophages and NK cells) as well as those that are more targeted in their approach (like B cells and T cells).
- It also reduces immune cell death that tends to become commonplace in the presence of disease-causing agents like bacteria and viruses.
- The fruit decreases the production of pro-inflammatory signaling chemicals called chemokines and cytokines.
- It prevents the infiltration of immune cells to the site of infection or injury.
- It also promotes the generation of immunoprotective cytokines to accelerate the body’s repair process.
Indian Kudzu (Vidari)
Indian Kudzu enhances the efficiency of immune agents like macrophages, T cells, natural killer cells, and specific antibodies but without allowing the resulting inflammation to become rampant.
Immunity is a complex dance between different cells of the immune system – the front-liners (macrophages), the cavalry (T cells), and the archers (B cells).
It so happens that Indian kudzu’s flavonoids make contact with all three wings, increasing your resistance to illness in the long run. In scientific parlance, we can say that Indian kudzu:
- Improves macrophage phagocytic activity, which means it makes macrophages more proactive in “eating” disease-causing agents (like bacteria)
- Increases the activities of cytotoxic T cells and NK cells, which are particularly useful in controlling viral infections
- Increases IgG and IgA antibodies, which are like customized bullets created by B cells and directed at disease-causing agents
Even though Indian kudzu strengthens your immunity, it understands when to apply the brakes and keep inflammation in check. Its flavonoids suppress various players in the inflammatory circuit. These include NF-kB, TNFα, IL-1b, IL-6, and COX-2.
Immunity is a tricky business, but Boerhavia diffusa can run it right. In the face of a threat, it boosts several types of immune cells like macrophages and antibodies and lowers cortisol which can dampen the immune response. But at other times, when a high-strung immunity does more harm than good, it puts a lid on the production of certain immune cells and blocks pro-inflammatory signals.
The creeping herb bolsters different divisions of the immune system’s army: the front-liners (macrophages, especially those in the kidney, lymph nodes, bone marrow, and spleen), artillery (antibody-producing B cells), cavalry (cytotoxic T cells), and infantry (cytokines). The result? A stronger immunity.
It also steps in when you are stressed. More stress means more of the stress hormone cortisol and by consequence, a weaker immune system. Rings a bell? You have often been told not to stress too much or you’ll fall ill.
- Boerhavia somehow puts a lid on how much cortisol is produced and in doing so, helps your immunity do its thing freely.
Syringaresinol mono-β-D-glucoside (root), punarnavine (root), and quercetin are the chemicals of the hour here.
Remember when we said that the immune system needs to pull back at times? It doesn’t always need to be on high alert. In fact, it shouldn’t because it can turn against your body’s own cells. Boerhavia understands the need to balance this behavior.
- When required, it hits the brakes on the activation and multiplication of the immune system’s T cells and natural killer cells. The compound eupalitin-3-O-β-D-galactopyranoside takes care of this, while boeravinone K inhibits the COX enzymes. COX enzymes are all about heightening the immune response through inflammation. Liriodendrin, quercetin, and kaempferol from the roots and leaves are other anti-inflammatory compounds.
This opposition to inflammation possibly explains the herb’s traditional use in reducing pain and swelling.
Where to get these herbs?
Holy basil and turmeric might already be in your kitchen. If not, it’s fairly easy to get them, fresh and whole, from your local supermarket. Crush some holy basil leaves into your salads, and add a pinch of powdered turmeric to your food while cooking.
The other herbs are a bit more specialized – and not palate-friendly enough for you to add them to your food. It would be easiest to get them in supplement form.
Remember, curcumin does not turmeric make. Always choose supplements that use the entire herb, not just an isolated “active” element of the herb.
All our 1Balance supplements have some of the above herbs in them. Of course, which ones will be in your supplement – will depend on your unique health and metabolic profile.
To figure out which of these herbs (and which other herbs) are part of your personalized supplement, take this free quiz.