When people think of vitamins and herbs that they can use to boost their immune systems, they might remember the orange-flavored chewable vitamin C tablets their moms gave them when they were little or the Echinacea drops they mix into water and drink when they feel run down.
While these are certainly impressive immune system boosters in their own right, today we are going to look at a supplement that is probably not as well-known as vitamin C or Echinacea, but definitely deserves to have its name up in lights.
Called andrographis, this plant, which is grown in the plains of India and is also found in China, produces leaves and flowers that can be used to ward off colds and flus as well as treat stomach issues.
What is andrographis?
To get to know andrographis a bit more requires getting fairly technical for a bit. As Research and Reviews notes (1), Andrographis paniculata Nees, a member of the family Acanthaceae. This plant, which has used by local people for some time where it is grown, has been associated with the treatment of the common cold, liver diseases, snake bite, and some skin infections.
More specifically the plant called Andrographis paniculata usually grows to a height ranging from 30–110 cm. It prefers moist soil and the shade, and features thin dark green stems with lance-shaped leaves with hairless blades.
The fruit of the plant is small – only about 2 centimeters long and a few millimeters wide – and contains seeds that are yellow-brown in color.
What is King of Bitters?
Like many herbs, andrographis goes by a number of different names; for instance, Andrographis paniculata is also called Kalmegh or King of Bitter or Bitters. As you read more about andrographis, you may find these terms used interchangeably in the literature.
How does andrographis fight infection?
Andrographis contains a number of compounds, notes the University of Michigan (2); its chief constituents are diterpene lactones called andrographolides. These compounds, which taste quite bitter, have been found to have immune-stimulating properties, along with antimicrobial activity.
The leaves and flowers of the andrographis plant have been tested in studies for their antimicrobial powers as well as their phytochemical powers. Scientists have used different types of solvents including water, methanol and petroleum ether, and have mixed the liquid with leaf extract of Andrographis paniculata to see how it would perform against a variety of bacteria including Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli.
These studies revealed “maximum inhibitory action” against both of these bacteria. Further research revealed that steroids, phenols, terpenoids, alkaloids, saponins and flavonoids are the active compounds that are found in that plant.
Additional studies show andrographis has antibacterial properties
The U.S. National Library of Medicine (3) reported similar results; they detail a study in which leaves of Andrographis paniculata and Orthosiphon stamineus were extracted with water, ethanol, methanol and chloroform to study their potential as antibacterial and antioxidant agents.
Analysis through high performance liquid chromatography showed that the methanolic extracts of both types of leaves produced the largest amounts of andrographolide and rosmarinic acid, respectively. Both leaf extracts were shown to have both antimicrobial and antioxidant activities and, at the highest concentration that was studied, the extracts performed more effectively against the bacteria Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus than 10% acetic acid.
Overall, the U.S. National Library of Medicine concluded, Andrographis paniculata and O. stamineus methanolic and ethanolic leaf extracts also showed the strongest antioxidant activity, when compared to other types of leaf extracts.
As the researchers concluded, “The bioactive compounds present in these leaf extracts have the potential to be developed into natural antibacterial and antioxidant agents that may have applications in animal and human health.”
What are the uses of andrographis?
A number of double-blind clinical trials have found that andrographis may help to reduce the severity of symptoms in people who have contracted the common cold. In addition, andrographis may also help people who have contracted dysentery, which is a severe type of diarrhea. When taken in combination with antibiotics, the herb may help alleviate the symptoms of this highly uncomfortable condition.
As WebMD (4), notes, you do not have to be suffering from something as serious as dysentery to use andrographis; it can also be used for more common digestive issues including constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain and intestinal gas. For those who deal with seasonal allergies, andrographis may help to provide relief from the symptoms of hay fever, and people have also used it as an astringent as well as painkiller.
How do I take andrographis?
People who take andrographis have reported the best results when using a divided dose. For example, as the University of Michigan notes, those who have a common cold and/or a sore throat should consider taking a standardized extract that provides 60 mg of andrographis’ active constituents; this amount should be taken in three divided doses.
To boost the overall functioning of the immune system, 48 to 60 mg of andrographis in two to three divided doses, taken daily, has been found to be effective. This same dose may help to heal infection by supporting the immune system and protecting against microbes.
As for how to take it, andrographis is found in capsules as a dried herb or as a standardized extract. For people who are dealing with stomach issues such as diarrhea, andrographis may be taken in supplement form, or it can also be soothing to brew it and then sip it in a tea. For this option, try 1 teaspoon of the herb for each cup of hot water; allow the mixture to brew for 10-15 minutes before drinking it, sipping the tea between meals.
Andrographis is also found in the formula Vi-Rid from Healing Blends Global; along with three other well-researched herbs that have been found to fight viral and bacterial infections, the andrographis in Vi-Rid can help to reduce fever while stopping the nagging cough that often comes with a viral or bacterial infection.
Vi-Rid also contains Isatis Root, which has been found to have antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties – along with Lonicera, which may target influenza strains directly, and Forsythia, which also contains the “Three A’s” of andrographis: anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties.