Herbs Boost the Immune System & Sharpen its Defense Readiness
Herbs Boost the Immune System & Sharpen its Defense Readiness
Your immune system is one big “organ.” The healthier it is, the less likely you will catch an infection and the less severe the course of the disease. Herbs can help us from being infected by many external pathogens.
By Mark Zuleger-Thyss
Plants cannot run, but they really know how to do chemistry
You need to be a creeping vine like the Clematis plant which can move around, or else you are going nowhere.
Plants are firmly rooted in the earth and must stay put – they cannot escape diseases that plague them. Instead, they learned millions of years ago how to stop all kinds of pathogens from killing them.
The chemistry of a plant is highly complex — they contain metabolites, small chemical compounds that help them grow and interact with other plants, animals, and microorganisms around them.
Humans and other animals have learned to use chemicals produced by plants for their own benefit. But, owing to their chemical complexity, plants have long been, and still are humanity's primary medicines. And herbs, especially, are highly effective against bacterial and viral infections.
Instead of a silver bullet in the form of a single chemical, plants often contain hundreds to thousands of compounds. They developed sophisticated responses to bacterial invasion eons ago.
Since ancient times, people have used plant metabolites as medicines, natural dyes, and ingredients in food.
Our gastrointestinal (GI) system has its own nervous system, the enteric nervous system (ENS), and it, like your overall immune system, is highly complex. The food we eat alters the enteric nervous system's response, which can hugely affect the entire body.
Germs and other microscopic critters are immune stimulants that confront our readiness. Not to be confused with germs, gut microbes also play a critical role in protecting us from disease.
The Gut-Immune Connection
Your ENS – this nervous system that controls the functions of the gut has half a billion neurons. This is five times the amount found in your spinal cord. Therefore, the stomach is often called "the second brain." 90% of your "feel good" hormone, serotonin, and 50% dopamine are also in the gut.
Substances you consume and the invaders that dare to enter your body all end up meeting in a hidden world inside you – the microbiome – made up of trillions of organisms and microbes.
These critters occupy the body from the crown of your head to your little toe and everywhere between the two. Overall, one hundred trillion microbes inhabit your body – on both the inner and outer surfaces.
In a healthy immune system, the body's overall defense system runs in the background on various fronts and does so largely unnoticed. Every day our immune system is exposed to numerous attacks by viruses, bacteria, fungi, toxins (chemicals made by microbes), and other foreign substances.
Living a full life brings you in contact with myriad outside invaders while traveling, shaking someone's hand, working, playing soccer, meeting friends, or eating with family at home.
The body's defenses work night and day to protect you from harmful germs and bacteria. This system has incalculable mechanisms to protect itself from pathogens, and it is made up of different organs, cells, and proteins that work together.
Germs are Immune Stimulants
Your adaptive immune system develops over time as it becomes more and more exposed to different invaders throughout your life. It may seem counterintuitive, but your adaptive immune system grows more robust the more harmful things it encounters.
Scientists know the microbiome plays a crucial role in immune function and that the gut is an essential site of immune activity and the production of antimicrobial proteins.
The diet plays a prominent role in determining what kinds of microbes live in our intestines. For example, a high-fiber diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes supports the growth and maintenance of beneficial microbes.
Knowing what foods support all your immune system's parts is an easy mouse click away on the internet. Is there more you can do to keep your immune system's defenses strong?
Beyond a Balanced Diet
Getting enough exercise, drinking plenty of water, washing your hands, and establishing a consistent sleep schedule that provides deep, restful sleep - these most Americans already know. Abstaining from smoking and drinking is also recommended.
Adding herbal supplements to your routine can also boost and sharpen immune function.
The Power of Plant Medicines – The Herb Astragalus
Huang qi, Astragalus mongholicus, Astragalus membranaceous, bei qi, hwanggi, milk vetch
Astragalus is held in high esteem in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where it is considered a master immune herb.
The plant is now a preferred herb in western herbal medicine due to its supportive effect on human immunity, preventing colds and upper respiratory infections, lowering blood pressure, and protecting the liver.
There are 3,000 species of the genus Astragalus, and they can be found all over the world. But the primary species used medicinally is Astragalus mongholicus.
Astragalus is a perennial native to China, Mongolia, and North Korea with a rich history of use. Astragalus root was used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Qi tonic and was often found in classical herbal formulas.
In Chinese, Astragalus is called huang qi, which means "yellow life energy."
Researchers have identified a host of medicinal actions in many of the main species. The Astragalus plant has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and immunomodulatory properties. People sometimes use it on the skin for wound care.
Astragalus root contains astragaloside, flavonoids, and saponins, which are thought to be involved in various hypothesized mechanisms of action.
The dried root of Astragalus can be tinctured, decocted as Astragalus tea, and simmered into soups, stews, and broths. The root is made into many supplements, including liquid extracts, capsules, and powders. Astragalus is sometimes also given as an injection or IV in a hospital setting.
Astragalus contains beneficial plant compounds that enhance the body's immune system.
Huang Qi is an ascending herb; it tends to move upward and outward and is used to activate vitality.
A body of evidence shows that Astragalus may increase your body's production of white blood cells. The primary role of your immune system is to protect your body against harmful invaders that can cause illness. White blood cells are an essential immune system component responsible for preventing disease.
No Known Precautions
Consult a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, mainly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Contraindicated for full heat conditions or Yin deficiency with fire – it heats too much.
Summing Up Immune Support with Herbs
The body's defenses work night and day to protect us from threatening germs and foreign substances everywhere in and on the body.
Only proper foods, good rest, exercise, and quality nutritional support will ensure your immune system hums in the background without notice.
Herbs contain antioxidants, immunomodulators, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agents, and are helpful for good digestion. And one essential function of herbs is they help cleanse toxins, and in turn, help boost our immunity.
In TCM, Astragalus is a master herb believed to warm and tone Wei Qi which is the body's protective shield controlled by the lungs. It is the protective layer of energy below the skin regulating the opening and closing of the pores.
Wei Qi keeps us from being infected by external pathogens.
Astragalus is often found in immune formulas, typically paired with other nourishing herbs such as elderberry, echinacea, maitake, shiitake, and reishi mushrooms.
A Few Words on Immunity
Our health is a balancing act, responding to the constant flux of the immune system. And the body’s ability to fight disease is continuously changing. Its power waxes and wanes, affected by stress, old age, the time of day, and our state of mind.
The activity of our immune system in monitoring and protecting our health operates on many fronts—and at a cellular level. The dance of various kinds of immune cells in the body is a dazzling tour de force. When living in harmony with our higher selves, we are filled with physical and inner strength, courage, kindness, humility, and self-control.
This dance of power helps us overcome symptoms of fatigue, depression, illness, and despair. It can bring body, mind, and soul together as one.
The mind consists of the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. Therefore, we must accept that every thought we think automatically turns into electrical impulses that influence the brain and central nervous system. Thoughts create your reality and body, impacting the immune system.
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