Immunity Boosting Herbs and Foods

Boost your immune system with botanicals known to support our body’s ability to fight infection.

When our immune system is running below its optimal level we are more susceptible to infections such as colds, flu and tummy bugs – as well as more serious conditions. So for good health we need to be pro-active in looking after our immune system in order to be ‘fighting fit’.

Indigo Herbs has a range of cost-effective botanicals to help us achieve this. Scientific studies have shown that certain herbs and foods can support and enhance immune function, some by providing the nutrition needed to build the immune system and some by actually increasing the number of white blood cells which destroy bacteria, viruses and other pathogens (micro-organisms that can cause disease).

As always, prevention is better than cure, and this is where healthy lifestyle choices come in. A balanced wholefood diet, supplemented with nutrient-dense superfoods such as seeds, berries, algae, grasses and seaweeds, will provide a solid foundation for feeding and maintaining the immune system. Add our high-quality, cost-effective herbs and essential oils to the equation, and you have a veritable army of helpful allies.

One of the most interesting recent branches in medical science is psycho-neuro-immunology, which basically means that what we think and feel can affect our immunity. So by taking charge of your health you are already creating positivity in your body! Browse the list of natural health ingredients below and see what catches your eye.

 

Aloe Vera

(Aloe Barbadensis Miller)
Aloe Vera Benefits

With an impressive nutrient profile of over 200 active constituents, Aloe Vera contains the polysaccharide “Acemannan” – a long chain sugar that injects itself into all cell membranes. It is a powerful immuno-modulator which increases the fluidity of cell membranes, allowing toxins to flow out more easily and nutrients to flow in. This improves cellular metabolism throughout the body leading to an overall boost to energy production, cells are more resistant to viruses and pathogenic bacteria, and the kind of inflammation that can lead to all kinds of chronic disease is reduced. 

 

Amla

(Phyllanthus emblica)
Amla Benefits

Amla has a regenerative effect on the immune system. Research has shown Amla berry extract to be an effective antibacterial against illness causing bacteria like staphylococcus and cholerae.

Amla is also loaded with powerful antioxidants and is extremely rich in vitamin C, nutrients that strengthen the immune system and mop up free radicals before they can do enough damage to impair important bodily functions.

 

Ashwagandha

(Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha Benefits

Ashwagandha is a powerful herb for the immune system, which as an antioxidant supports overall immune system function. The main chemical constituents of the root activate enzymes and macrophages (Th1 helper cells), that can engulf disease before it manifests - defending the body against parasitic, bacterial and viral infections. It can also reduce the harmful suppressive effects of chemotherapeutic drugs on the immune system.

Research studies have shown that Ashwagandha increases white blood cell counts, platelet counts, stem cells in the bone marrow and the amount and diversity of antibodies produced in the body. This is why it has been especially used in Ayurveda to support patients’ recovery from illness.

 

Astragalus

(Astragalus membranaceus)
Astragalus Benefits

Astragalus has a long and enduring history as a potent immune boosting herb and disease fighter. It is an immunostimulant (an agent that stimulates the immune system) that it is known to increase the count of white blood cells and stimulate the production of antibodies, this builds up bodily resistance to viruses and bacteria. 

There have been many clinical studies showing how Astragalus not only boosts the immune system, but also encourages an increase in immune cell (T-cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, immunoglobulin) activity, production, and function.

Astragalus appears to help trigger immune cells from a resting state into heightened activity. The number of macrophages (cells of the immune system that ingest foreign antigens to protect against infection) has been shown to increase after administering Astragalus. The natural killer cells of the immune system also have a markedly enhanced ability to fight intruders (five to six times higher than normal).

 

Camu Camu

(Mycaria dubia)
Camu Camu

The Camu Camu fruit contains more vitamin C than any other fruit known. The importance of this powerful vitamin to a healthy immune system cannot be overstated - white blood cells which play a critical role in immune function, contain more than 20 times the amount of vitamin C than any other cell - These cells need constant replenishment to keep the immune system working to its optimum capacity.

A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C can block free radicals and other pathogens from entering the body, helping the immune system to run more smoothly overall.

 

 

Cats Claw

(Uncaria tomentosa)
Cat's Claw

A recent study showed that Cat’s Claw significantly elevated the infection fighting white blood cell count in adult men who supplemented with this herb for 6 months. Researchers also noted a repair in DNA – both single and double strand breaks.

Its effect on the immune system appears to be two fold, with the ability to both boost and dampen immune response, depending on what is needed. Hyper immune responses can be contained, whilst a weak immune system that allows disease to advance undeterred is strengthened by supplementation with Cat’s Claw.

 

Chaga Mushroom

(Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga Mushroom Benefits

Chaga is rich in beta-glucans – one of the most potent and healing polysaccharides known. It is renowned for its role in in activating the immune system and reducing the blood sugar of people who have abnormal blood sugar peaks.

Chaga is a natural Biological Response Modifier (BRM), meaning it helps to boost the immune system when needed, alternatively slowing it down if it becomes overactive. The compounds found in Chaga help the immune system to differentiate between the body's cells and foreign cells, helping the immune system to respond accurately to protect the body from pathogens.

 

 

Cordyceps

(Cordyceps sinensis)
Cordyceps Benefits

The Cordyceps mushroom is a powerful immune booster. It stimulates the immune system by increasing the number and boosting the activity of natural killer cells (a type of white blood cell), which protect the body from viruses and bacteria. A recent study showed that Cordyceps increased the levels of these cells by 74% in healthy individuals. A number of polysaccharides found in Cordyceps are also believed to play an important role in enhancing the immune system by increasing its defensive power.

 

Echinacea

(Echinacea Purpurea)
Echinacea Benefits

Echinacea has long been esteemed as a powerful immune system stimulator providing significant therapeutic value. It is perhaps most famous for its ability to cut the chances of catching the common cold by up to 58% and in reducing its duration by 1 – 2 days. (Published in the “Lancet” after a meta-analysis study by the University of Connecticut which evaluated 14 studies.)

Studies suggest that complex substances called “phenolic compounds” are responsible for Echinacea’s immune boosting abilities. They are thought to stimulate cells whose primary function is to fight invading particles and organisms. White blood cells and spleen cells increase after ingestion of Echinacea and the core body temperature rises. A higher body temperature accelerates the internal workings of cells meaning disease fighting cells respond faster and immune responses increase – this effect resulting in a two-pronged attack against disease causing germs and viruses.

Echinacea also contains a compound called echinacein, which can help against bacterial and viral infections. According to a study in Pharmaceutical Biology, Echinacea exhibited antimicrobial properties and is effective against 15 different pathogenic bacteria and two pathogenic fungi.

 

Elderberry

(Sambucus)
Elderberry Benefits

Elderberries are particularly rich in flavonoids, especially anthocyanins which are responsible for their deep purple (almost black) colouring. These powerful antioxidants work to keep the immune system strong and resilient. Dr Gerhard Rechkemmer is the President of Germany’s Federal Research Institute for Nutrition and Food. His research has shown that the anthocyanins in elderberries boost the production of cytokines – proteins that act as messengers within the immune system – thereby enhancing the body’s immune response. Cytokines play a crucial role in the immune system’s response to disease and work in ways very similar to hormones. They can be both inflammatory or anti-inflammatory depending on what is needed and are released by immune cells either directly into the blood stream or locally into body tissue during an immune response.

These tiny berries are also believed to contain antiviral agents– compounds so potent they are thought to deactivate viruses. Viruses are unable to multiply on their own and need to get inside a healthy cell to do so. They are cleverly coated with something called “haemagglutinin spikes” to help them pierce the cell wall. These viral spikes are also covered with enzymes which the virus uses to break down the cell wall. Elderberries have high concentrations of bioflavonoids which appear to inhibit the action of this enzyme, thus deactivating viruses and rendering them unable to pierce the cell wall and replicate.

 

Goji Berries

(Lycium barbarum)
Goji Berries

Goji berries contain unique compounds known as Lycium barbarum polysaccharides, with research showing these compounds enhance the body’s ability to resist disease. They are also rich in vitamin C – crucial to the body in its efforts to fight infections (both bacterial and viral), white blood cells contain 20 times the amount of vitamin C than other cells and require constant replenishment to keep the immune system working to its optimum capacity.

Goji berries support the immune system in that they promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. They contain pre-biotic fibre which feeds the probiotic bacteria which in turn will enhance the function of the immune system.

 

Golden Seal

(Hydrastis Canadensis)
Golden Seal

The Goldenseal root was highly prized by Native Americans for its immune boosting and infection fighting abilities. The active component "berberine" is now thought to be responsible for this powerful herb's effects, including its ability to kill all sorts of bacteria - including E-Coli which is the primary culprit behind diarrhoea and urinary tract infections.

Goldenseal provides immune system support, with studies showing it can activate white blood cells making them even more effective in fighting infection and strengthening the immune system. Additionally, research at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School has shown Goldenseal’s medicinal effectiveness as an immune stimulant may be due to its ability to reduce the pro-inflammatory response, which indirectly leads to the  limiting of clinical symptoms during infection. 

 

Hibiscus Flower

(Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Having a good amount of vitamin C, Hibiscus Flowers can be used as a natural boost to the immune system while also lowering blood pressure. There are also certain chemicals in Hibiscus that have been proven to cleanse the intestine of foreign bacteria making the immune system more effective.

Hibiscus comes from Hawaii/Polynesia and has integrated into many cultures being firmly associated with feminine energy. In India it is the favourite flower to be offered to female deities.

 

Maitake Mushroom

(Grifola frondosa)
Maitake Benefits

The fruiting bodies of Maitake mushrooms are rich in polysaccharides, in particular beta-glucans, with one portion of these complex sugars known as Maitake’s “D-fraction”. These powerful compounds activate a host defence response by stimulating the proliferation of immune cells such as macrophages, T-cells, natural killer cells and neutrophils. These cells will help the immune system to rapidly and efficiently fight against illness, increase resistance against sickness and disease, help the body to remove cellular waste and speed up recovery from tissue damage.

The polysaccharides found in maitake mushrooms are also helpful to those undergoing heavy treatment for life threatening illnesses and have been reported to reduce the side effects of certain treatments.

 

Meadowsweet

(Filipendula ulmaria)
Meadowsweet Benefits

Research has demonstrated immunomodulatory properties of Meadowsweet preparations extracted from both the flowers and roots of the plant. All parts of the plant contain high levels of phenolic compounds, including a newly discovered flavonoid glycoside named ulmarioside, which is unique to Meadowsweet. Extracts of this herb were shown to inhibit both T-cell proliferation and complement cascade activation (a major part of innate immunity), therefore inhibiting the immune response. They also inhibited the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals). All of these processes play a part in the inflammatory response, and explain the effectiveness of Meadowsweet preparations in the treatment of inflammatory conditions which can ultimately cause havoc in the body. 

 

Olive Leaf

(Olea europaea L. folium)
Olive Leaf Benefits

Olive leaves have been traditionally used for centuries to support the immune system, maintain overall good health and to relieve symptoms of coughs, colds and flu. It has five times (400%) more antioxidant power than the equivalent amount of Vitamin C.

The Olive Leaf also has anti-viral properties with research showing that extracts can effectively fight against a number of disease causing microbes. These powerful compounds destroy invading organisms and don’t allow viruses to replicate and cause infection.

 

Oyster Mushroom

(Pleurotus ostreatus)
Oyster Mushroom Benefits

Oyster Mushrooms contain complex carbohydrates made up of small sugar molecules known as polysaccharides, more specifically they contain certain polysaccharides, beta-D-glucans. These powerful compounds naturally boost the immune system by optimising its response to disease and infections. Over 150 years of research has found that beta glucans act as immunomodulator agents, meaning they trigger a cascade of events that help to regulate the immune system and make it more efficient.

Specifically, beta glucans stimulate the activity of macrophages - versatile immune cells that ingest and demolish invading pathogens and stimulate other immune cells to attack. Macrophages also release cytokines, chemicals that when secreted enable the immune cells to communicate with one another. In addition, beta glucans stimulate lethal white blood cells (lymphocytes) that bind to tumours or viruses, and release chemicals to destroy them.

 

Pau D'arco

(Tabebuia Avellanedae or Tabebuia Impetiginosa)
Pau d'arco Benefits

Pau D’arcos antiviral properties are legendary in its native South America with it being used as such for 1000’s of years. Viruses stopped in their tracks by Pau D’arco tea range from the common cold to more serious viruses that can cause life threatening diseases. It has been shown to actively inhibit dangerous viruses through the 2beta-lapochone2 content which inhibits the enzymes in virus cells, directly affecting the synthesis of DNA and RNA. The virus is no longer able to take control of the reproductive processes of the cell meaning it can neither replicate itself or infect other cells.

 

Reishi Mushroom

(Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi Mushroom Benefits

Reishi Mushrooms contain hundreds of biologically active molecules which promote the immune system, longevity, the cardiovascular system and the brain. One of these compounds is Ganoderma Lucidum Peptide which is thought to be responsible for its potent antioxidant capacity, with polysaccharides & triterpenes targetting inflammation which in turn can bolster the immune system.

Triterpenes also offer protection against viruses, fungal and microbial infections and have been shown to strengthen the lining of the digestive system, helping to fight off bad bacteria whilst encouaging the growth of good bacteria. This can result in better digestion which leads to the absorption of more nutrients from the food you eat. It is now known that gut health plays an important role in immunity, with a healthy gut being an essential component to a strong immune system.

 

Shiitake Mushroom

(Lentinula edodes)
Shiitake Benefits

The Shiitake mushroom is almost unique in its ability to either up-regulate or down-regulate the immune system. Several studies have demonstrated this potential, with one set of studies showing they prevent over activity of the immune system – helping to reduce inflammation and allergies. Another set of studies showed that Shiitake can stimulate a poorly functioning immune system, helping to fight off viral infections – including tumour related growths. Whilst this dual regulatory action may seem contradictory, this type of adaptive regulation is exactly what the body needs to thrive.

In April 2015, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences published a study showing increased immunity in persons who ate cooked Shiitake mushrooms every day for 4 weeks. Through blood tests before and after the experiment, researchers saw better functioning gamma delta T-cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins.

Shiitake mushrooms also contain an extensively researched polysaccharide called “lentinan” – a compound which activates macrophage T-lymphocytes and other immune effector cells.

In addition to the above, Shiitake mushrooms demonstrate strong anti-fungal and antibacterial effects.

 

Siberian Ginseng

(Eleutherococcus Senticosus)
Siberian Ginseng Benefits

As an adaptogenic herb, Siberian Ginseng has the ability to effect “immunomodulation” – a process by which an immune response is altered to the desired level. This is partly achieved by recharging exhausted adrenal glands - when these glands become over-taxed it can lead to different systems in the body to break down.

Siberian Ginseng consists of a group of glycosides known as "eleutherosides". The evidence is mounting that Siberian Ginseng enhances and supports immune system response, making it a possible natural alternative in the long term management of various diseases of the immune system. German research has shown that it increases lymphocytes – important components of the immune system which act as the body’s primary defence against viral infections. They found that Siberian Ginseng significantly increases the activity and number of CD4 cells, a subset of T-lymphocyte cells, whose proper activity is crucial to the ability of the immune system to function normally.

The jury is still out as to how Siberian Ginseng achieves this powerful effect on the immune system, with some researchers believing it induces increased interferon biosynthesis (interferon is a powerful chemical which boosts immune-system activity). Others attribute its success to the naturally occurring polysaccharides (long chain sugar molecules), which stimulate the activity of special white blood cells called “macrophages”. Macrophages play a number of roles in the immune system, including the breakdown of infected cells and the stimulation of other immune cells. 

 

Turkey Tail Mushroom

(Trametes Versicolor)
Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits

Turkey Tail Mushrooms are renowned in Asia as a powerful immune booster. They are extremely high in the protein bound polysaccharides PSK and PSP - both types of beta glucans. It is these compounds that are thought to be responsible for its powerful immune boosting properties – improving the ability of the immune system’s natural killer cells which protect the body against viruses and bacteria.

Beta glucans provide receptors in the small intestine area that will keep the immune system strong and resilient. Turkey Tail has also been shown to modulate the immune system which further helps your body to fight off infections and illnesses. It is especially effective against the types of viruses responsible for causing colds and flu.

 

Turmeric

(Curcuma longa)
Turmeric Benefits

Studies suggest that Turmeric can provide a boost to the white blood cells that help the body fight off bacteria, viruses and other ailments. Furthermore, studies have also been performed on Turmeric's effects on inflamed white blood cells and the mediation of those cells.

The outcome of all studies provides evidence that Turmeric helps regulate the communication of white blood cells to the immune system and the rest of the body, providing a better connection and improved immune function. 

Turmeric has also been found to increase the expression of perforin - a protein that plays an important role in immune response. It was shown to be twice as effective as curcumin alone in initiating immune responses.

 

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