By Ellen J. Kamhi, Ph. D. with Dorie Greenblatt
The immune system has been receiving a lot of media attention, especially since the rise in recognized immune system deficiency diseases. The efficient functioning of the immune system is of paramount importance to everyone, adults and children alike, since it controls our ability to fend off illness, whether it is a common cold or more deadly disease. The immune system is made up of a combination of specialized cells, chemicals, tissues and organs. These include the lymph nodes, thymus gland, spleen, bone marrow and tonsils, as well as specialized white blood cells, which recognize and engulf invading microorganisms and cellular debris.
The ability of the immune system to function optimally is influenced by many factors. These include inherent genetic makeup, environmental influences (such as pollution, pesticides, hormones, artificial flavoring/colorings in food), obesity, stress levels, exposure to infective agents, etc. Specific research suggests that consuming excessive amounts of sugar interferes with immune function. We can aid our immune system by eating a high amount of organic green vegetables, whole grains and nuts, while cutting down on 'junk food' consumption. Stress reduction, through prayer, meditation, yoga and moderate exercise can also help.
Herbs may be used in two different ways to help the immune system. Tonics strengthen the immune system over time, while strong immune system stimulants have a more immediate action, and are used during an acute infection.
Herbal tonics work to help maintain a dynamic balance in the body and usually need to be taken long-term. Astragalus is said to build "Wei chi". "Chi" is the Chinese concept of life energy force. "Wei chi" is thought of as 'protection'. Current scientific studies confirm the positive benefits of Astragalus on the immune system. One study by the National Cancer Institute demonstrated Astragalus' ability to help strengthen resistance of the immune system, especially to viral infections. Reishi, called the "mushroom of immortality", has been used for centuries as an overall tonic. Chinese physicians have used Ligustrum berries specifically for their immune-enhancing activities. They are often combined with Astragalus for a synergistic effect. Coptis is another Chinese herb that contains the bitter yellow compound, berberine. This herb helps the immune system prevent infections. Many of these herbs can be found in the unique combination formula called Immunotonic™ (alcohol-free). Immunotonic™ offers the ideal way to experience the benefits of many herbs in one convenient supplement.
Other immune system tonic herbs include Siberian Ginseng and Schisandra. Siberian Ginseng is an adaptogen that helps to balance the immune system. It gives strength and fortitude, especially when dealing with environmental stress. Schisandra has been shown to build non-specific resistance, improve brain function, increase work capacity and build strength.
Osha Root has been used traditionally by both Chinese and Native Americans (who called it Chuchupate) for colds and flues, sore throats and other health ailments requiring a higher level of immune support. Echinacea is a well-researched and respected immune system stimulant. (Refer to our Echinacea article for further information). It helps increase the activity of white blood cells, which engulf invading microorganisms. Thuja is an herbal extract from the Northern White Cedar tree. It is a strong immune stimulant that Native Americans used for colds, coughs, bronchitis and other respiratory infections. Possibly the mushroom with the greatest capability of stimulating the immune system is the Maitake. It is known as the "dancing mushroom" because it was so highly prized that whoever found some would dance for joy. Maitake contains specific chemical components that have been scientifically studied for their strong immune enhancing effects; (refer to Maitake Bio-Beta-Glucan™ article for further information). Nature's Answer® combines these herbs in Immune Boost™, a combination formula for use during acute illness and infections. Try it along with the combination formula Echinacea & Goldenseal. Nature’s Answer® offers a selection of all these herbs in liquid and/or capsule forms. Check with your local health food store, or visit www.naturesanswer.com, for more information.
Children can often use a boost to their immune system to help ward off colds and flues. Nature's Answer® comes to the rescue with three alcohol-free formulas specifically designed for their special needs - E-KID-nacea™, E-KID-nacea Plus™, and NatChoo™. All of these outstanding formulas help promote a healthy immune system.