Andrographis (Bhunimba)

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. It also improves the digestion of carbs and fats, the latter by nudging the liver into action.

Also known as kalmegha, “the king of bitters”, or bhunimba, andrographis wraps many other beneficial compounds in its roots and leaves. The diterpenoid lactones (extremely bitter to taste) and flavonoids (responsible for color) can help your immune system remain an impenetrable shield. That’s not to say there aren’t other benefits.

Andrographolide is usually seen as the star of the show, though its derivatives make an impact as well. In fact, it’s wiser to rely on the whole herb than isolated compounds. It’s safer and more effective.

Why It’s So Great

1. Helps Strengthen Immunity

Staying healthy is a team effort between you and your immune system. As you give your immune system the help it deserves, with hygienic habits and foods rich in antioxidants, count andrographis in.

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.

2. Helps Limit Inflammation

Inflammation is your immune system’s response to any threat to your body from the outside (infection or injury) or the inside (highly reactive cell-damaging molecules called free radicals). As you grow older, or when you don’t have a healthy lifestyle, your body’s anti-inflammatory agents do not function as well. Which means some degree of inflammation is always present in your body even though it doesn’t manifest as tell-tale or distressing symptoms. With inflammation in the body, your immune system can become overactive and misfire.

Herbs like andrographis can help keep this 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.

3. Helps Improve Digestion

Andrographis helps the body digest carbohydrates better – a boon given the number of carbs we sneak into every meal. It first activates carb-digesting enzymes in the intestines called disaccharidases, then helps in the absorption of the digested carbs.

Further supporting digestive health, it helps fight off bacteria which cause digestive distress.

4. Helps Protect the Liver

The liver is your body’s resident house cleaning, working round the clock. The detox process itself generates free radicals. On top of that, bad food choices, unhealthy habits, and toxic environments challenge the liver all the time. Andrographis can give your liver some back-end support.

  • Stimulates liver enzymes: This helps improve overall liver function, including bile production.
  • Stabilizes liver cell membranes: Thanks to the herb’s positive influence on natural antioxidant enzymes in your body like catalase and superoxide dismutase, liver cells are spared the damage from free radicals.

5. Helps Manage Blood Glucose

Blood glucose management is everyone’s business, not just of diabetics’. After all, glucose is the fuel that keeps you running. A safe helping hand like andrographis is more than welcome. It helps your body respond better to insulin and remove glucose from the blood more efficiently. It also nudges the pancreatic β-cells to produce more insulin.

Making sure your cells are able to take up glucose, the herb prevents damage to glucose transporters sitting on cell surfaces. It does this along with other antioxidants by getting rid of damaging free radicals.

6. Helps Protect the Heart

We don’t think about the heart unless it starts showing symptoms of malfunction. But just like every other organ in your body, it also needs constant care.

  • Blood pressure: In the course of the day, some degree of fluctuation in blood pressure is quite normal. Your body knows how to restore the blood pressure to what is normal for someone your age and body constitution. Andrographis can assist your body in this. It increases the production of nitric oxide, allowing your blood vessels to relax more and your blood pressure to come back down.
  • Heart muscle contractions: It also increases cGMP, a signaling molecule that regulates the way your heart muscles contract and relax.
  • Cholesterol: Seen as a threat to the heart in high concentrations, cholesterol too comes under the herb’s purview. Andrographis helps maintain proper levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL-C.
  • Free radicals: Made mostly of lipids, the heart wall (myocardium) is particularly vulnerable to free radicals. Andrographis, along with the other natural antioxidants in the body, can scavenge the free radicals, protecting the heart wall.
  • Blood clots: By inhibiting the platelet-activating factor (PAF), andrographis also makes sure blood clots do not clog blood vessels.

Lifestyle Tip

Have about 2–6 gm (up to about a teaspoon) of the leaf or root powder per day. If it’s not something you want to consume all year round, make it a habit during seasons you know your immunity could do with a boost.