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Andrographis: The Ayurvedic Remedy for Boosting Immunity

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 190 - January 2012

Andrographis paniculata is highly valued in Ayurvedic, TCM, Siddha and Unani medicine for enhancing immunity and combating acute infections, and is beginning to gain popularity here in the West for its ability to support the immune system and as an anti-cold and flu remedy.

Andrographis is an annual plant from the Acanthaceae family, the same family as the Chinese violet. It is native to India and cultivated in China for its use in TCM. It is a beautiful herb that grows about a metre tall with purple and white flowers. The whole plant has a very bitter taste which is prized for its detoxifying effects, in fact it is known in India as maha-tikta, or 'King of Bitters' and chiritayeh in Unani Tibb which has a similar meaning.  It is also known as Kalamegha, Kirata, Bhunimba and Indian Echinacea. Both the fresh and dried leaves, and the fresh juice of the whole plant are used as medicine.

Andrographis paniculata
Andrographis paniculata

Andrographis contains a range of therapeutic constituents including diterpene lactones (andrographolides: andrographolide, deoxyandrographolide and neoandrographolide, ) polyphenols, phytosterols (beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol, ergosterol) and flavones (5,7, tetramethoxyflavanone and 5-hydroxy-7, trimethoxyflavone, oroxylin, wogonin). It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immuno-stimulant, antimicrobial, choleretic, hepato-protective, febrifuge, anodyne, antiviral, antiparasitic, and anthelmintic properties.

In Ayurvedic medicine its cooling and cleansing properties are used for clearing toxins and for reducing Pitta and Kapha. It has an affinity for lymph and blood tissue and exerts its beneficial action mainly in the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and urinary systems. It is used for pneumonia[1] and allergies and is indicated wherever there is Pitta type heat, infection, green infected phlegm, thirst and fever. It also reduces thick phlegm from excess Kapha, and can be helpful in asthma.[2] In TCM it is also used to enhance the function of the digestive, cardiovascular (for prevention of atherosclerosis and heart disease) and urinary systems.

With its detoxifying and immune-enhancing effects, Andrographis is excellent for the prevention and treatment of acute infections. It has commonly been used in India for flu and flu epidemics and research has been conducted on its ability to treat the common cold.[3] It is well worth taking as a preventative and at the first signs of infection, for colds, flu, fevers, coughs, and chest infections. It is also effective for treating sinusitis, mouth ulcers, herpes, otitis media, sore throats, laryngitis and tonsillitis.  It mode of action in respiratory infections may be its ability to stop the infecting organisms (such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenza) from attaching to the mucous membranes and proliferating. It also reduces congestion and liquifies mucus, making it easier to expel.

With its ability to enhance immunity, Andrographis makes a good remedy for people with lowered immunity, as in post-viral fatigue and chronic infections; it is helpful for allergies and may be useful in combating HIV. Research has indicated that it stimulates the production of lymphocytes and interleukin 2 and the andrographolides and diterpenoids may be of benefit in cancer treatment, specifically in leukaemia[4] melanoma and colon cancer. It may also prove useful in leptospirosis[1] and the xanthones isolated from the roots may be helpful in malaria. It may also have a role to play in auto-immune problems. The flavonoids in Andrographis have anti-inflammatory properties which can be useful in the treatment of autoimmune disease including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It also has hypoglycaemic properties which may be helpful in type 2 diabetes.

Andrographis is an excellent herb for the digestive system. It enhances digestion, stimulates the flow of bile from liver and protects the liver from damage from toxins, drugs and alcohol. Bitter and cooling, it reduces heat (in Ayurveda high Ranjaka Pitta) in the liver and helps overcome inflammation and infection[5] including hepatitis. By reducing excess heat and inflammation in the digestive system (high Pachaka Pitta), Andrographis can be used for treating acidity, indigestion, wind, gastritis, peptic ulcers, colitis including ulcerative colitis, heartburn, and diarrhoea. It is best to combine it with aromatic spices like coriander, fennel, cardamom or black cumin to prevent aggravation of Vata from the bitter taste.

With its antiviral, antiprotazoal, antifungal, antiparasitic and anthelmintic properties, Andrographis can be used for preventing and treating acute infections in the gut, bacillary dysentery, enteritis, worms, parasites, and candida. It is antibacterial against a wide range on infecting organisms including Staph aur., Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, Shigella dysenteriae, and E. coli[1] It helps to combat dysbiosis and re-establish the normal gut flora.

With its detoxifying properties Andrographis can be used to good effect for inflammatory skin conditions, including acne, boils, abscesses, sores and eczema.[5] It can also be used externally as a wash or in creams for irritated, itchy, inflamed and infected skin problems including fungal infections, acne, eczema, wounds, ulcers, spots, and boils, and as a douche/wash for vaginitis. In the urinary system Andrographis can be used for aggravated Pitta causing heat and infection of urinary tract with dysuria, haematuria and proteinuria.(WHO monograph 1999 cited in [5])

Andrographis is generally well tolerated and there have been no reports of adverse effects. There has been some discussion about its possible antifertility effect if used long term and it is best avoided during pregnancy, with immunosuppressive drugs and by people with high Vata. There are no adverse herb-drug interactions known. The general dosage is 1-6g of the dried herb or 5-15mls tincture 1:5 @ 25%, daily. Since it is particularly bitter it may be preferable to take in capsule form.

References
1. Kuhn, M. & Winston, D. Herbal Therapy & Supplements. Lippincott. Philadelphia. 2001.
2. Bone, K. The Ultimate Herbal Compendium. Phytotherapy Press. Queensland. 2007.
3. Coon JT, Ernst E. Andrographis paniculata in the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review of safety and efficacy. Planta Med. 70:293-298. 2004.
4. Cheung H.Y.et al; Department of Biology and Chemistry, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China. Planta Med.; 71(12): 1106-11. Dec 2005.
5. Pole, S. Ayurvedic Medicine. Elsevier. Philadelphia. 2006.

Comments:

  1. S said..

    Bone marrow failure in terms of Anaemia.
    2011 Diagnosis:Hypoplastic MDS
    Looking for any treatment available for this incured disease.
    Please e-mail me more details.
    thank you


  2. Raju miah said..

    Does paniculata useful on skin?


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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096  www.annemcintyre.com

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