In part three of this series about the immune system, we are going to discuss herbs that can benefit the immune system. Our immune system is comprised of both innate and adaptive immunity (1). They work together to defend the body against developing infections (1). The innate immune system is the system we are born with and is the body’s first line of defense (1). The innate system is neither anticipatory, which means it has no memory, nor clonal (1). It does not respond to environmental changes. The innate system is reactive and through its receptors has reactions directly to a wide array of microorganisms (1). On the other hand, the adaptive immune system is developed through exchanges with the surrounding environment (1). The adaptive system is prone to induction, anticipation (memory of past exposures) and clonal expansion (1). Our adaptive immune system works to eliminate bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections (1). As you can see the innate and adaptive immune systems are integrated and interdependent (1).
The immune system must stay in balance. Negative health effects can result from both a weakened or over-activated immune system. See the graphic to the right for examples (1).
Herbs can act in both a preventive and therapeutic ways. Here are some examples (1):
Green Tea (flavonoids)
Enhances antitumor immunity
May help to treat upper respiratory tract infections
Putative anti-fungal and antiviral properties
May have benefits as an adjunct to cancer therapy
Immune stimulating properties
Helps to clear infectious agents
In addition to the herbs above, ginger, turmeric, elderberry, garlic, and cinnamon are also extremely beneficial to the immune system (2).
Contains sesquiterpenes that can target the common cold virus
Can inhibit certain bacteria like Salmonella
Has pain relieving properties
Helps to heal wounds, release mucus, and repel insects
Powerful at fighting inflammation
Helps to fight off infections and keep cells healthy
Has antibacterial properties
Helps to fight infections and viruses
High in immune boosting antioxidants
It is advised that you consult with your nutritionist or health care provider before starting any herbal supplements. You want to be sure they will not interact with any medications you may be taking or impact any health conditions you are suffering from.
In the coming weeks we will explore each of these herbs in more depth.
About the Author: Leanne DiMaio earned her Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College in December 2017. She is currently working on her Doctorate degree in Clinical Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health. Leanne is passionate about helping others achieve their optimal state of health and wellness. She is currently earning clinical hours toward the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential under Kim Ross's supervision.
1. Haddad PS, Azar GA, Groom S, Boivin M. Natural Health Products, Modulation of Immune Function and Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2005;2(4):513-520. doi:10.1093/ecam/neh125.
2. One Green Planet. Seven Healing Herbs and Spices to Boost the Immune System. One Green Planet. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/seven-healing-herbs-spices-boost-immune-system/. Published 2018. Accessed August 5, 2018.