It’s 2020, and the major trend in supplements is to reformulate product lines with a few immunity-centric ingredients and slap an immunity claim on the front of pack label.
Vitamin D is inexpensive, vitamin C is well-known, elderberry is the herb of the year, zinc is the leading mineral.
In 2018, back before CBD blew up, adaptogens were all the rage. These Ayurvedic herbs have a remarkable ability to help with stress, anxiety, energy and sleep.
Adaptogens are still big—and now it’s turning out they can help with immunity as well. They can modulate immunity, restore Circadian health and reduce inflammation.
“Adaptogens have a normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the pathologic state,” said Lise Alschuler, N.D., at a recent webinar sponsored by supplement maker Gaia Herbs. “Stress is really not a good thing for our immune system. One of the most important things we can do is use adaptogens.”
Chronic stress, said Alschuler, can lead to the development of cortisol resistance, and cortisol is known as the stress hormone.
“Just like with insulin resistance, the same thing happens with cortisol,” said Alschuler. “Cortisol inhibits NF-kappa B, which regulates inflammation in the cell. With increased stress, we get increased cortisol resistance and more inflammation. Under cortisol resistance, our natural killer cell activity goes down, so we have decreased immunity.”
Alschuler identified five adaptogens in particular that can be used in immune-health formulations. “All these selected adaptogens reinstate circadian rhythm, increase NK cell activity and reduce inflammation,” she said.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an unusual adaptogen for its sedative, restorative properties. Ideally it should be used in the afternoon or evening in order to take advantage of sedative aspect to help people get to sleep. Studies show it can reduce anxiety and significantly reduce cortisol levels. “That’s clinically significant,” said Alschuler. “That will go a long way to resolve chronic cortisol and inflammation. It has very clear immunogenic effects. Ashwagandha increases innate immunity and increases protection against viral infections.”
Studies show the herb can improve adaptive immunity by enhancing NK cell proliferation and activity.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus, once known as Siberian ginseng) is the classic adaptogen that builds stamina and resilience. It’s more anti-inflammatory and reduces anxiety. Human clinical trials show it’s good for reducing moderate fatigue. One study found eleuthero with andrographis when taken within 72 hours of symptoms of colds and flu starting reduced the severity and length of colds.
Of note, researchers in this study said they did not determine whether it was the eleuthero or the andrographis or the combination of the two herbs. Efficacious dosage levels range from between 450-2,000 mg/day.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is a wild fungus traditionally found in Tibet above 10,00 feet. Commercially available cordyceps today is produced from a mycelial strain (Paecilomyces hepialid) isolated from wild cordyceps and then fermented. It builds stamina and resilience. Alschuler said it houses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and is an energizing adaptogen. In an 8-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial on 80 healthy adults who received 1.68 grams of cordyceps extract or placebo, cordyceps resulted in a 39% increase in NK cell activity compared to placebo.
Dosages range from 500 mg - 2,000mg three times daily. “That’s a big dosage range,” said Alschuler. “I like 3 grams a day, that’s the data on most mushrooms.”
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is energizing and uplifting. “Holy basil is one of my very favorites,” said Alschuler, “like when you’re getting exhausted and rundown and starting to get sick, and the immune system is starting to suffer. It’s a little bit energizing. Holy basil improves a cell’s ability to handle oxidative stress. It does all the things you’d expect an adaptogen to do.”
It’s been studied for immune effects, and has been shown to improve innate immunity. One study on 24 healthy adults taking 300 mg of ethanolic extract of holy basil or placebo for four weeks found holy basil increased T-helper cells and NK cells—markers of an immune response.
Panax ginseng, also known as Asian ginseng, is a classic adaptogen that builds stamina and resilience, reduces fatigue and is stimulating. One study on 72 healthy volunteers aged 50-75 years found panax ginseng significantly increased NK cells by 35% at 8 weeks and 40% at 14 weeks.
The dose is 250 mg twice daily of standardized extracts standardized to 15% ginsenosides typically for 4 weeks to 3 months.