For DEEP IMMUNE SUPPORT, the powerful adaptogens Ashwagandha, Eleutherococcus and Rhodiola improve cell-mediated immunity, enhance defense against disease, and boost the body’s resilience to stress which further increases immune potency. These adaptogenic herbs also possess powerful antioxidant properties that help protect immune cells against damage caused by free radicals.
Adaptogens are plant-derived compounds that increase the activity of specialized white blood cells called natural killer cells. These immune cells fight infection, decrease the intensity of inflammation, and patrol the body for abnormal cells that need to be removed.
Ashwagandha is one of the most important medicinal herbs in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian holistic medical system based on body type. Ashwagandha has long been used as a “Rasayana” or rejuvenator. Classified as an adaptogen, it has been valued for over 3,000 years for its deep immune-boosting abilities. Its botanical name is Withania somnifera, and it is also known as Indian ginseng and winter cherry. The root smells like horse or “ashwa” which gives this herb its name: Consuming it is said to imbue one with the power of a horse. Extracts from the plant’s root or leaves are used to treat a variety of conditions including poor immune responses, low thyroid and related immune impairment, and inflammation.
Clinical research confirms that ashwagandha can increase the body’s first line of defense: white blood cells. This herb has been extensively researched for its ability to stimulate immunity, battling both bacterial and viral infections.
A 2009 study presented at the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians examined ashwagandha’s ability to activate human lymphocytes. These white blood cells come in four forms:
- natural killer cells, which are a major component of the immune system and best known for their ability to respond to virally-infected cells and tumors;
- B-cells, which make antibodies that bind to viruses or microorganisms and destroy them;
- CD4+ T cells (also known as helper cells), which coordinate the immune system’s response; and
- CD8+ T cells, which kill cells that become infected.
The research team took blood samples from five healthy volunteers, three female; two male; average age 27, and measured baseline immune cell levels. After consuming ashwagandha, the following beneficial immune effects occurred in white blood cells:
- A statistically significant overall increase in the level of white blood cell activation.
- Cell activation was most pronounced in the CD56+ Natural Killer cells. This is important since these cells play a critical role in the body’s response to flu, mumps, or tumors.
- A statistically significant increase in the number of CD4+ T helper cells that assist in orchestrating immune function.
- Both CD8+ T helper cells and B cells also increased somewhat.1
Eleutherococcus, a member of the ginseng family, is a time-honored adaptogenic herb that was first used as an herbal remedy in China some 2,000 years ago. Supplementing with eleutherococcus has been shown to boost immune function and especially antibody production, both before and during illness.2
By enhancing the immune system, eleutherococcus may improve or speed up the healing process. Many beneficial phytochemical compounds, the medicinal components of plants, are found in eleutherococcus root, including saponins, lignans, coumarins, and flavones. Several studies have shown that eleutherosides in this herb can help to maintain healthy T4 lymphocytes, important immune cells.3,4
In addition to its potential to enhance immunity, eleutherococcus can weaken pathogens that manage to enter the body. Researchers measured antiviral activity of eleutherococcus and found that it inhibited virus replication in cell cultures, preventing viral spread.5 In the body, eleutherococcus is measurably effective as a treatment for the common cold. It shows strong antioxidant activity, helping the body recover more quickly after infection.6 For deep immune function, eleutherococcus is also a potent adrenal supporter. This encourages optimal thyroid function, which is essential for efficient immune system activity.
Rhodiola, also known as golden root, has been used in traditional medicine for centuries in Europe and Asia. Its root contains more than 140 active ingredients, the two most potent of which are rosavin and salidroside. Rhodiola rosea extracts are unique chemopreventive agents, which not only have anti-cancer and anti-inflammation activity, but also strengthen normal physiological functions, such immunity, the stress response, and DNA repair.
Rhodiola can enhance genes that regulate antiviral immune responses. In an important 2014 study of viral infection, researchers found that Rhodiola significantly promoted gene expression leading to improved antiviral immune responses against dengue virus multiplication and spread in the body. The results indicate that rhodiola enhances signal pathways to promote genetic antiviral immune responses against the virus, a novel strategy for treating infection.7
In our clinic, we recommend ashwagandha, eleutherococcus, and rhodiola for low white blood cell counts, frequent sinus or respiratory infections, and for patients with higher risks of auto-immune disorders or who have abnormal cells, such as in a Pap smear or colonoscopy. We also encourage these adaptogenic herbs for a sluggish thyroid: improved thyroid activity strongly supports healthy immunity.
Recommendation: A formula including a daily dose of: Ashwagandha root extract (3.5% with anolides) 100mg; Eleutherococcus Senticosus (20:1) 50mg; Rhodiola rosea extract (3% rosavins, 1% salidroside) 200mg; with Vitamin C, buffered (ascorbate) 500mg; Vitamin B5 (calcium pantothenate) 100mg; Vitamin B6 (pyridoxal-5-phosphate) 50mg. Optional supportive ingredients could include: Astragalus root 150mg, Panax Ginseng extract (10% ginsenosides) 100mg, and Schizandra berry 75mg. This formula should be taken with breakfast or lunch, or divided between each of these meals, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Mikolai, Jeremy, et al. “In vivo effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on the activation of lymphocytes.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 15.4 (2009): 423-430.
- Drozd JA, Sawicka TE, Prosinska JO. Estimation of humoral activity of Eleutherococcus senticosus. Acta poloniae pharmaceutica. 2002;59(5):395-402.
- Kupin, V. I., and E. B. Polevaia. “Stimulation of the immunological reactivity of cancer patients by Eleutherococcus extract.” Voprosy onkologii 32.7 (1986): 21-26.
- Bohn, B., C. T. Nebe, and C. Birr. “Flow-cytometric studies with eleutherococcus senticosus extract as an immunomodulatory agent.” Arzneimittel-Forschung 37.10 (1987): 1193-1196.
- Glatthaar-Saalmüller, Bernadette, Fritz Sacher, and Anke Esperester. “Antiviral activity of an extract derived from roots of Eleutherococcus senticosus.” Antiviral research 50.3 (2001): 223-228.
- Poolsup, N., et al. “Andrographis paniculata in the symptomatic treatment of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection: systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics 29.1 (2004): 37-45.
- Diwaker D, Mishra KP, Ganju L, Singh SB. Rhodiola inhibits dengue virus multiplication by inducing innate immune response genes RIG-I, MDA5 and ISG in human monocytes. Arch Virol. 2014;159:1975–86.