Originally published October 18 2008
Tune Up Your Immune System for Cold and Flu Season
by Barbara L. Minton
(NaturalNews) It's almost cold and flu season again. This is the time to make sure your immune system is up to the task of killing off invading germs, viruses and bacteria. A healthy, well-tuned immune system also vanquishes abnormal or degenerating cells before they can do any damage. One of the best ways to make sure your immune system is first rate is through the use of adaptogens, a group of substances that have nonspecific actions in the body and create minimal disruption while they normalize body functions. Two herbal pillars of Chinese medicine, astragalus and schisandra, are adaptogens rapidly gaining favor in the Western world.
Walking on the tightrope
You and your immune system do a constant balancing act as you walk the tightrope of life. Let your immune system weaken too much, and the door is opened to pathogens. Let it strengthen too much, and the result can be systemic inflammation, allergies and autoimmune disorders. Astragalus and schisandra function as balance beams to keep you perfectly centered on that tightrope.
Astragalus is a 2000 year old healer
Astragalus, known in Chinese medicine as Huang Qi, has been used for more than 2,000 years to strengthen vitality and stave off illnesses including colds and flu. Its growing popularity in the West may be due to extensive scientific study that began in the 1970's, documenting the ability of the herb to stimulate the immune system, fight bacteria and viruses, reduce inflammation and protect the liver.
Astragalus is prescribed for shortness of breath, general body weakness, and poor appetite. It has diuretic properties and can be used to treat colds, flu, stomach ulcers, and diabetes. It supports and strengthens body resistance, invigorates, and promotes tissue regeneration. Recent research findings point to the conclusion that astragalus acts by augmenting white blood cells that fight disease, and clearing out aberrant cells that may create disease in the future.
Astragalus is a perennial plant and a relative of the pea plant. It's native to the northern and eastern parts of China, Mongolia and Korea. It contains numerous nutritional components including flavonoids, polysaccharides, triterpene glycosides, saponins, amino acids, and trace minerals.
Research documents the normalizing effects of astragalus on the body
In a study reported in the Journal of Food and Medicine, September edition, researchers investigated the immune stimulating effects of astragalus through the innate effects of astragalus on pro-inflammatory cytokines produced by cultured macrophages. Astragalus was able to affect production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha when used in high concentrations. It was also able to modify responses from artificially stimulated macrophages, with identified immunomodulatory effects to reduce production of TNF-alpha, interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, and IL-12 in a dose-dependent manner. Researchers concluded that astragalus exhibited ability to modulate macrophage responses during stimulation. These results underscore the adaptive, balancing qualities of astragalus.
Other research conducted in the U.S. investigated astragalus as a treatment for people with compromised immune systems from chemotherapy or radiation. In these studies, astragalus supplements were shown to speed recovery and extend life expectancy. Studies performed at the National Cancer Institute and other leading Cancer Institutes in recent years have positively shown that astragalus strengthens cancer patients' immune systems, allowing them to recover significantly faster and live longer.
Recent research in China reveals that astragalus offers antioxidant benefits to people with severe forms of heart disease by relieving symptoms and improving heart function. The Chinese have known for centuries that astragalus is a superior herb. In the West the benefits of this herb are beginning to be understood by allopaths. It is well accepted by naturopaths and holistic healers.
How to use astragalus
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, astragalus may be given to children to support their immune systems if there is no fever present. The dose should be determined by adjusting the recommended adult dose to account for the weight of the child. The dose for an adult is calculated on a weight of 150 pounds. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 pounds, the appropriate dose of astragalus would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
Adult doses from 1 to 25 grams are used as follows:
•Decoction (strong boiled tea): 3-6 g of dried root per 12 oz water, three times per day
•Fluid extract (1:1) in 25% ethanol: 2-4 mL three times per day
•Powdered root: 500-1,000 mg three times a day
•Powered extract: 100 to 150 mg
•Tincture: (1:5) in 30% ethanol: 3-5 mL three times a day
Astragalus has no side effects and can generally be used safely. It does interact with prescription drugs.
Schisandra, another ancient adaptogen
The Chinese name for schisandra means "five-taste-fruit". Its balancing affect includes the taste buds where it produces a mixture of sour, sweet, salty, hot, and bitter tastes. This herbal adaptogen improves vitality and promotes revitalization. It boosts the immune system, and enhances physical endurance and mental concentration. It soothes the nerves, reduces anxiety, and is said to promote radiant skin tone.
Schisandra contains essential oils, acids and lignans that help regenerate liver tissue damaged by alcohol or hepatitis. One group of the lignans is therapeutic against oxidative neuronal damage induced by excito-toxins, making schisandra a supplement to use before consuming foods suspected of containing MSG or asparatame.
The herb improves physical and mental performance, relieves fatigue, and strengthens and tones the body, particularly after exertion or disease. It promotes cellular oxygenation and potentiates the immune system through its beneficial effects on blood circulation. It is said to improve sexual performance for men and women.
Schisandra is a research star
The European Journal of Pharmacology, September edition, reports a study of schisandra's anti-inflammatory ability on plasma nitrate concentration in mice. Results indicated that induced paw edema and vascular permeability were inhibited by schisandra. The herb also had a protective effect on induced sepsis. This study is the first to show that the anti-inflammatory properties of schisandra result from the inhibition of nitric oxide production, prostaglandin release, and COX-2.
A review of Russian research from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, July edition, reveals that schisandra was used as an adaptogen in the USSR in the early 1960's. It is included in the National Pharmacopoeia of the USSR and the State Register of Drugs. Animal studies in the USSR have shown that schisandra increases physical working capacity and affords a stress-protective affect against a broad spectrum of harmful factors including heat shock, skin burn, cooling, frostbite, immobilization, decreased air pressure, aseptic inflammation, irradiation, and heavy metal intoxication.
Schisandra exerts an affect on several body systems including central nervous, sympathetic, endocrine, immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal. It is a blood sugar stabilizer and acid-alkaline balancer in the body. Studies on isolated organs, tissues, cells and enzymes have revealed that schisandra exhibits strong antioxidant activities and affects smooth muscles, arachidonic acid release, biosynthesis in leucocytes, platelet activating factor activity, carbohydrate-phosphorus metabolism, tissue respiration and oxygen consumption, and the tolerance of the body to oxygen intoxication.
In healthy subjects, schisandra increases endurance and accuracy of movement, mental performance and working capacity. It generates alterations in the basal level of cortisol in blood and saliva with subsequent effects on the blood cells, vessels and central nervous system. Clinical trials have demonstrated the efficiency of schisandra in dealing with psychiatric disorders such as neurosis, depression, schizophrenia, and alcolism. It is effective against influenza, chronic sinusitis, otitis, pneumonia, allergic dermatitis, and stomach and duodenal ulcers. It has been used successfully in wound healing.
How to use schisandra
For use as a general tonic in China, patients are advised to chew dried schisandra berries daily for 100 days. Daily doses of schisandra supplements range from 1 to 6 grams. Schisandra is frequently consumed in the form of an infusion. To make an infusion, pour ˝ cup berries into a one gallon container of dark fresh fruit juice and allow them to soak for one day, strain and drink. Schisandra can be added to tea decoctions and other herbal simmered brews.
Shopping for astragalus and schisandra
Two products containing both astragalus and schisandra stand out and are readily available online. Zand Astragalus Formula is available as a tincture in a 2 oz. bottle from Vitacost for $6.59, or as capsules in a bottle of 100 for $9.03. Gaia Herbs, a company that promises that all their ingredients are organic or wild crafted, sells Astragalus Supreme in a bottle of 60 capsules for $18.74. Both are excellent products.
Sources not mentioned in text:
Katrina Thompson, "The Healing Plant", Cancer Salves Sacred Medicine Sanctuary.
"Astragalus", University of Maryland Medical Center.
"Schisandra", Life Extention Center.
Dr. Maoshing Ni, Secrets of Longevity.
About the authorBarbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
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