Enhancing Immunity and Fighting Viruses
"Bernard was correct. I was wrong. The microbe (germ) is nothing. The terrain (milieu) is everything." (Louis Pasteur on his deathbed)
What Pasteur finally wrapped his head around was that fighting infectious agents (i.e. killing germs, etc.) is not as effective as having an immune system which allows them no purchase. This holds true for both microbes and viruses.
In our current climate of fear, the media plays up every new virus as the plague that may decimate us all, and has us all waiting with bated breath for the medical system to develop a vaccine that will be our salvation.
However, our best approach when any such situation arises (e.g. SARS, H1N1 or swine flu), is to ensure that our immune system is operating at full capacity.
Two supplements that ensure a healthy functioning immune system are medicinal mushrooms, and the herb astragalus. NutriStart has combined the two in our ImmuneStart product, which I will review in this and the following newsletter. I will begin here with astragalus, and examine the medicinal mushrooms next week.
Astragalus (membranaceus) is a plant native to Northern China. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the root of astragalus (aged from 4 to 7) is considered one of the most valuable tonic herbs, considered most effective when used on a long term basis.
During the big H1N1 scare of 2009, alternative doctor Andrew Weil suggested that one of the best natural defenses against this virus would be to use the Chinese herb astragalus. Shortly thereafter he was attacked by the American FDA, who took the position that astragalus had no antiviral properties, and in fact had no value at all for the human immune system.
The position of the FDA was based on the fact that the North American medical system does not acknowledge studies done outside of North America. Since there were no Western studies done on the herb, from their perspective, there were literally no studies to support Dr. Weil’s claims. Though there is not a large amount of clinical studies done on this traditional herb as you will note in the links below, there are definitely enough studies to support the position that Dr. Weil took. In fact, many studies (done in other countries) have shown astragalus to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties.
Astragalus In Chinese Medicine For thousands of years Chinese Medicine has used Astragalus for strengthening the immune system. This approach is more about strengthening the natural resistance of the body rather than actually directly killing the attacking bacteria, or viruses. In Chinese medicine, astragalus is used as an energy tonic, and to treat fatigue, wasting conditions, weakness, and loss of appetite. In cases of excessive sweating (especially night sweats) or fluid retention, astragalus is used to control fluids (performing a diuretic function), and is also supportive of the kidneys.
Now let’s have a look at some clinical studies which support the use of astragalus for treating respiratory ailments, and protecting us from viral invaders. As mentioned above, there is little in the way of scientific studies on astragalus done in the West, so these studies all issue out of China. (The reason little scientific research is done on herbal compounds in the West is because natural compounds cannot be patented; thus profit-driven companies have no financial incentive to invest in studies which cannot result in a patent-protected product.)
Studies on Astragalus
Respiratory Tract Infection: In Chinese medicine, astragalus is often prescribed for bronchitis, and other respiratory infections. In one study, the objective was, “To explore and compare the clinical effects of three immuno-potentiators and their influence on immune function in preventing and treating recurrent respiratory tract infection (RRI).”
Two of the compounds tested were drugs, and the third was “milkvetch”, another name for astragalus. Their conclusion was, “They all can enhance the immunological function of the organism, strengthen the disease-resistant ability of patients, and reduce the incidence of RRI. Among them, the milkvetch extract oral liquid is worthy of spreading due to its lower cost, simple administration, exemption from painful injection, and good compliance.” (Study)
COPD “Milkvetch root as a medicine has been used for over 2000 years in China, can strengthen immune function, protect liver, promote urination, resist aging and stress, reduce blood pressure and extensively resist bacterium. This study explored the effects of milkvetch root on the immune function of patients with a definitive diagnosis of acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”
Conclusion: “These results indicate that milkvetch root can improve the immune function of patients with acute exacerbation of COPD.” (Study)
Infectious Bronchitis This is a bird study, but the interesting thing in this case is the source of the infectious bronchitis (IB): “The avian coronavirus causes infectious bronchitis (IB), which is one of the most serious diseases affecting the avian industry worldwide. However, there are no effective strategies for controlling the IB virus (IBV) at present.”
“In conclusion, these results suggest that astragalus polysaccharides exhibit antiviral activities against IBV and it may represent a potential therapeutic agent for inhibiting the replication of IBV.” (Study)
Influenza “Influenza is an acute respiratory infection disease caused by the influenza virus. At present, due to the high mutation rate of influenza virus, it is difficult for the existing antiviral drugs to play an effective antiviral effect continually, so it is urgent to develop a new anti-influenza drug.”
“Recently, more and more studies have been conducted on the antiviral activity of Astragalus membranaceus, but the specific antiviral mechanism of this traditional Chinese medicine is not clear. In this study, the results proved that the Astragalus membranaceus injection showed obvious anti-influenza virus activity.” (Study)
Swine Flu Although this study was done on isolated cells, many scientific studies are performed in a similar manner (“in vitro”). For our purposes, this study is interesting because it looks at the swine fever virus, something akin to the viruses humans have to deal with (such as H1N1).
“The immunomodulatory effects of astragalus polysaccharide (APS) on porcine endothelial cells (ECs) expose to classical swine fever virus (CSFV)...The addition of APS to the culture can obviously regulate the expression of molecules related to the adhesion, growth, and immune response of ECs, as well as the production of cytokines. Therefore, it may have the potential to be an effective component in vaccines against CSFV.” (Study)
NK Cells Part of what makes Astragalus so helpful for the immune system is its ability to increase levels of natural killer cells in the body. These cells circulate through the blood and lymph fluid attacking foreign invaders including cancer, and virus cells. Astragalus is also used to treat immune-suppressive diseases, including AIDS. (Study)
Astragalus is a very safe herb, used by everyone from children to seniors, and can be taken over a long period of time, in order to maintain optimal immune function. Immunestart offers the benefits of a concentrated astragalus extract, along with a concentrated mix of the six most potent medicinal mushrooms (organically grown in the U.S.). Next week we will have a closer look at those mushrooms.