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A superhero herb that’s scientifically proven to boost immunity

Every family has its remedy for fending off colds and boosting general wellbeing as soon as you can feel a sniffle coming on, out come the hot toddies, the lemon and honey, the ginger and turmeric, or tincture teas. My family swears by echinacea. It may taste like troll pee, but man does it work when the lurgy makes its rounds.

A flowering plant that is native to South Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka. The leaf and underground stem used to make medicine and used for centuries – and from what studies show, experts, think it fortifies our immune systems by boosting our white blood cell count but, they’re not entirely sure. Research has brought back mixed findings.

One under-the-radar herb that’s ready to defend us all, however, is Andrographis. It may not have had the same spotlight as echinacea or other well-known remedies, but science says it’s a horse worth backing.

Full name: Andrographis paniculata, the small green shrub found in tropical regions (especially Asia) has been used for generations in ayurvedic medicine to fight fevers and boost immunity. But recent studies have found evidence that supports its role as a remedy. A 2014 study found that it could soothe upper respiratory tract infections and reduce sick days taken. It’s even thought (though not proven) to have helped bring a quicker end to the Spanish flu epidemic in India in 1920. In Sweden, pharmacists are more likely to recommend Andrographis to combat a cold, over echinacea.

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The question is, how does it work? The active constituents of Andrographis, known as andrographolides, seem to support the body’s immune system effectively. The plant extract plays a part in reducing bacterial load after infection, controlling inflammation (which is essential for long-term recovery after an illness) and inhibiting the formation of sticky deposits (or biofilms) that bacteria make on mucus membranes in the gut and lungs.

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It is of particular interest at the moment as we’ve become much more aware of our health and immunity in the wake of the pandemic. Herbal remedies like Andrographis are no match for viruses like COVID 19, and there’s evidence that it might lessen its long-term impact. A study conducted last year found that Andrographis’ ability to reduce excessive inflammation (which damages our body when out of control and can extend illness) may have potential utility against the virus – especially when combined with melatonin (the hormone that controls our sleep cycle). More research is needed here, but we expect this to unfold as work goes on to find supportive ingredients that help balance our immune system.

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