Daily Herbal Defense and Immune Support
By Dr. Juliette Sweet, ND
To say, “the immune system is the talk of the town” is an understatement. It has been a worldwide concern for almost two years now. You have probably heard a lot of recommendations on how to ‘boost your immune system’ as soon as you have the first signs or symptoms of feeling unwell. There’s some validity to this but just like every system in the body, our immune systems are working around the clock and benefit from daily support.
As mentioned in last month’s article, Ayurvedic Medicine refers to the vitality of a person as ojas. This not only includes the physical appearance and energy of a person, but ojas is a direct representation of the immune system. According to Dr. Lad, “Ojas, the pure essence of all bodily tissues, circulates via the heart and throughout the body to maintain the natural resistance of the bodily tissues. Ojas fights against aging, decay, and disease. A person who has good ojas rarely becomes sick” (5).
From a cellular biology perspective, the immune system has (2) parts: The innate immune system, which are the first responder cells to injury or any pathogen that is detected and our adaptive immune system, which creates antibodies or memory cells for future protection. There are also messenger cells that communicate between the two branches. These cells can cause upregulation or deregulation, meaning an increase or decrease in the overall response of the immune system.
Why is this important? There is such a thing as an overactive immune system or one that is ‘confused’ when it comes to knowing self vs. non-self. This is what an autoimmune condition is and where immune modulation can be helpful. Immune modulation means increasing or decreasing certain cells depending on what the unique individual needs to be balanced, called homeostasis.
So, if we want to truly “support the immune system” we must think about ojas, the innate and adaptive branches, immune modulation, and other factors that play into our ability to fight bacteria and viruses. Some of these other factors include diet, exercise, exposure to environmental toxins, sleep, and of course, stress. Minimizing stress or how we respond to stress is not to be overlooked. If your mind and body are always on “alert” the immune response gets the backburner. You might be wondering; how do we aid all these factors of immunity on a daily basis?
Rebel Herbs has a comprehensive formula that can be used daily for immune maintenance, called Imunade. This Ayurvedic herbal formulation includes a combination of herbal rasayanas that balance each branch of the immune system while also minimizing the stress response. Rasayanas build and tonify ojas and when used daily, they combat illness and create longevity. Imunade consists of Curcuma longa (Turmeric), Tinospora cordifolia (Guduchi), Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha), Zingiber officinalis (Ginger), Emblica officinalis (Amla), and Azadirachta indica (Neem). Let’s look at each herb and how they work together to support ojas and the multifaceted immune system:
Turmeric is quite popular for decreasing inflammation and joint pain, but daily use helps to tonify the immune system. Research shows that curcumin, one of active constituents in turmeric, can balance both branches of the immune system depending on what each individual needs for optimal health. It does this by either increasing or decreasing the signaling cells (T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells) while also downregulating cells that cause inflammation (TNF, IL-1, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, IL-12, and chemokines). It also has the ability to enhance antibody or memory cell production (3). Turmeric shows us the powerful wisdom nature holds and how plants work together with the body to create homeostasis.
Guduchi is called amrita in Sanskrit which translates to nectar of immortality. It is also referred to as “the one who protects the body”. Research is growing to prove the many actions Guduchi has on immune function, rejuvenation, and protection from all types of stress. In fact, it has been shown to activate one of the most important ‘first responder cells’ in our innate immune system, the macrophage (8). Macrophages are large white blood cells that literally eat (phage) unhealthy cells, and microbes. As part of our first line defense, activation of these powerful ‘packman-like’ cells is very important but if they aren’t kept in balance, macrophages can begin eating our healthy tissues too, known as autoimmunity. Guduchi not only activates but also regulates macrophages so they don’t become unruly. Once again, it is all about balance and Guduchi is great at this!
In my practice, I see autoimmune conditions arise with patients during times of extreme stress. Whether the stress is physical (illness), mental, or emotional (usually a combination of all three), the body’s response on a cellular level is the same. Stress doesn’t always lead to the body attacking itself, but stress does cause decreased immune regulation and increased inflammation. These factors are documented precursors for autoimmunity (2).
Have you heard of adaptogens, which are substances that help us adapt to stress? Most rasayanas in Ayurvedic medicine, including the herbs in Imunade, are considered adaptogens. In fact, Ashwagandha is one of my personal favorites that I use every day to keep my nervous system calm and my immune system on point. Ashwagandha has been shown to decrease anxiety and circulating cortisol, maintain healthy blood pressure, support hormone production, decrease inflammation, protect against stress-induced ulcers, is neuroprotective, and regulates blood sugar (1). With the support of ashwagandha, you and your immune system can continue to be unstoppable!
Ginger has long been used and studied for the multitude of ways it can support our immune systems. Research reveals it can stimulate acute immune function, modulate chronic immune challenges even as severe as cancer, and treat autoimmune diseases (7). It is also well known as a powerful herb for the entire gastrointestinal tract which is where a large part of our immune system resides. Ginger kindles the digestive fire, known as agni in Ayurveda, which is the foundation for all health. “If you worship agni, you will be blessed with perfect health” – Dr. Lad (5). The spicy nature of ginger also increases circulation and lymph flow which is imperative to a well-functioning immune system.
A small sour superfruit called Amla is growing in popularity in the United States but has been long used in India for daily and acute immune support. This powerful fruit contains 20 times the amount of Vitamin C compared to an orange and is packed full of antioxidants. In fact, one of the tannic antioxidants found in amla, chebulagic acid, has been reported to inhibit the NF-κB signaling pathway. This pathway plays a crucial role in moderating our innate and adaptive immunity, inflammation, and the development of B-lymphocytes, the memory cells that create antibodies to bacteria and viruses (4). Remember, it is not just about initially fighting infection but educating the adaptive immune system so it can respond quicker in protecting you against the same pathogen in the future. Amla also contains quercetin which balances the inflammatory response during infection. It has been hypothesized that quercetin is a helpful treatment during ‘cytokine storms’, a severe and dangerous inflammatory response of the immune system (9).
Neem is referred to as “India’s Pharmacy” because it is used for so many ailments. It is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitic, immune-stimulating and modulating; the list goes on. All parts of this tree can be used as medicine depending on what condition is being treated. For instance, the seed oil is very medicinal but only to be used topically. The leaf and bark are used internally and are often the first-line defense before pharmaceuticals are prescribed. It has been shown to fight against gram positive and gram-negative bacteria as well as a variety of viruses. The research on Neem in the oncology world is growing rapidly because of its antitumor properties. This is a very powerful herb which is contraindicated in fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and in children less than 100 lbs (6).
We have discussed our beautifully complicated immune system. As you can see, it is a delicate balance between stimulating and regulating the different responses. So, having an army of herbs to keep you healthy during this time is what Imunade is all about. You still must do your part to eat healthy, exercise, get adequate sleep, and keep up on daily stress management. But remember, prevention is the best medicine and everyone needs support during this time - our immune system is no different.
Thanks for reading,
1. Biswajit A, Jayaram H, Achintya M, Abedon B, Shibnath G, A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study, JANA. 2008;11(1):51-57.
4. Jantan I., Haque Md. A., Ilangkovan M., Arshad L., An Insight Into the Modulatory Effects and Mechanisms of Action of Phyllanthus Species and Their Bioactive Metabolites on the Immune System. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2019;10:878. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.00878, PMID: 31440162
7. Mashhadi NS, Ghiasvand R, Askari G, Hariri M, Darvishi L, Mofid MR. Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: review of current evidence. Int J Prev Med. 2013;4 (Suppl 1):S36-S42.
Dr. Sweet’s Bio
Dr. Juliette Sweet holds a Doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine and Master’s degree in Ayurvedic Sciences from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. She is the owner of SpiraVita Natural Health where she implements Naturopathic and Ayurvedic philosophies for education, prevention, and treatment. Dr. Sweet is the Director of Clinical Education for Rebel Herbs and is excited to make ayurvedic medicine more accessible to everyone. She is also the immediate past president of the New Mexico Association of Naturopathic Physicians and was actively involved in attaining licensure for Naturopathic Doctors in 2019.