By John Steinke, L.Ac.
Anyone who’s had their summer vacation ruined by a cold knows that infections can strike at any time of the year. Vacations often involve travel to new places and contact with new people, factors that dramatically increase exposure to new versions of viruses not recognized by the immune system. Air travel also raises risks of infection, as recycled cabin air concentrates and spreads airborne viral particles that can penetrate the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes and mouth.
Advanced herbal immune-support formulas are a natural approach to supporting the immune system, aiding the body in defending against colds and flu viruses before they have a chance to spread. And when taken at the first signs of infection, a good blend immunosupportive herbs – such as Ilex, Isatis and Forsythia – can offer support for rapid recovery from nasal congestion, headaches and stuffy head symptoms. Continued use can stop a cold or flu quickly and reduce symptoms, as well as confering protective benefits with regular use.
Can I Take Immuno-supportive Herbs Every Day to Strengthen My Immune System?
This is one of the questions I frequently receive, and the answer is a definite yes. However, combining immune-support herbal formulas along with circulatory support herbs can offer an even more potent approach for building the immune system and fighting off colds and flu than either formula alone. This combination allows you to quickly boost immune function to counter the immediate threat of an infection while building immune system strength over time.
Strengthening the Immune System
Chinese circulatory support formulas are recognized for their ability to enhance circulatory health, as well as supporting a healthy immune system. One of the primary circulatory support herbs is Astragalus root, the leading immune system-building herb in China. Consequently one always finds astragalus in formulas designed to restore impaired immune function following chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
As reported previously, consistent use of circulatory support formulas has been shown to preserve both the size and function of the thymus gland, an important regulator of immune performance throughout the body. (1) In one hospital study of Chinese circulatory support formulas, 44 patients were shown to have the following positive changes in immune function:
- Increased lymphocyte transformation rate (for improved efficiency of cellular immunity)
- Increased rosette formation (for improved immune function of red blood cells)
- Improved plasma/globulin ratio
Supporting Immune Response with Herbs
I often recommend that people take two capsules of a good immune-support herbal formula daily during the cold and flu season to keep the immune system tuned up and prepared to ward off infection. If exposed to a virus at home, work, or while traveling, increasing this protective dose to two capsules, three times per day, can boost the immune system to help control infection before it becomes a major problem. If symptoms of a cold or flu worsen, increasing the dose to two capsules every three hours can help to bring the problem under control.
Once all symptoms have passed, continue taking the immune-support formula at the higher rate for one additional day to prevent a rebound infection. And if the infection leads to bronchial irritation, adding a lung support formula is an effective way of quickly resolving cough.
For the elderly and those whose immune systems have been weakened by illness, surgery, overwork, or stress, adding a circulatory support formula to these regimens can further support and boost the immune response.
Preventing Viral Infections to Reduce Arterial Inflammation
Reducing the frequency and intensity of viral infections has been shown to also confer a measure of protection for the heart and arteries. Research reveals that viral infection can trigger chronic inflammation of the endothelium, or lining of the walls of arteries, and lead to the formation of artery-clogging plaque (atherosclerosis). (2,3,4,5)
Strengthening the immune system to reduce the number and severity of viral infections can aid in preventing chronic arterial inflammation and reducing the potential for arterial disease.
Adding two capsules of an immune-support herbal blend to a daily regimen of circulatory support herbs can benefit arterial health by supporting the immune system when threatened by chronic inflammation. Ilex root, a strong anti-inflammatory, anti-viral herb contained in advanced immune-support formulas, is used in Chinese hospitals specifically for arterial inflammation. (6,7) Other important herbs contained in such formulas, such as Pueraria root, Lonicera flower, Forsythia flower, and Isatis root, provide important isoflavones that have been shown to improve arterial health and enhance blood circulation. (8,9)
In conclusion, the combination of herbs contained in Chinese circulation support formulas and immune-support formulas have been shown to synergistically benefit both the circulatory and immune systems.
1. Restoring Thymus Function for Enhanced Immune Support. Nutrition Review, Dec. 2006.
2. Pathophysiology and aetiological diagnosis of inflammatory myocardial diseases with a special focus on parvovirus B19. J Vet Med B Infect Dis Vet Public Health. 2005 Sep-Oct;52(7-8):344-7. Pankuweit S, et al.
3. Viral persistence in the myocardium is associated with progressive cardiac dysfunction. Circulation. 2005 Sep 27;112(13);1965-70. Epub 2005 Sep 19. Kuhl, et al.
4. High prevalence of viral genomes and multiple viral infections in the myocardium of adults with “idiopathic” left ventricular dysfunction. Circulation. 2005 Feb 22;111(7):887-93. Epub 2005 Feb 7. Kuhl U, et al.
5. Effects of Ilexonin A on Circulatory Neuro-regulation. Adv. Exp Med. Biol., 1995:363:143-54. Luo RJ, Chen JW.
6. Effects of Ilexonin A on cAMP metabolism in platelets. Chin Med Sci J. 1993 Dec:8(4):215-7. Wang Z, Li F.
7. Ilicis pubescendis radix. Oriental Materia Medica, a concise guide. Oriental Healing Arts Institute. 1986. p. 459.
8. Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases with Chinese Herbs, Subhuti Dharmananda, Institute of Traditional Medicine. Itmonline.org
9. Simple Traditional Formulas for Pain, Subhuti Dharmananda, Institute of Traditional Medicine. Itmonline.org.