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For thousands of years, our ancestors have used herbs for immune system health. Herbs kept us healthy, safe from infection and made up the basis for all medicine. Of all the herbal remedies that are lasted the test of time, we have found that more than just a few should be in all of our medicine cabinets.

Top 8 Herbs for Immune System Function

Have you ever noticed that some of your friends or family get sick all the time, while others never do?  There are many reasons this happens, including genetics, environment, diet, and lifestyle habits.Here are eight essential nutrients, including herbs for immune system health that can boost your overall immunity:

Because all of these individual scenarios point back to one common thread – something is getting in the way of the immune system firing as it should.

You can visualize it like a leaky roof.  Over time these small leaks lead to big floods and damage to the house – or your body. The good news is that several vital nutrients can fill in the gaps to optimize your immune health.  These eight nutrients are well-backed in research, and many have been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine.

1. Echinacea

Echinacea, a flowering plant, has a long history of immune-supporting benefits. Echinacea can help increase the number of immune system cells that fight off viruses and other infections while decreasing inflammation. (1, 2) It seems to work best when taken consistently (versus only when you think you are getting sick). Echinacea has been well-studied for its effectiveness in reducing upper respiratory infections.

One study found that when a group of people who described themselves as more prone to sickness consistently took echinacea, they were less likely to catch a cold. When they did, the length of time they were ill was decreased. (3) Another meta-analysis found that taking a daily echinacea supplement reduced the frequency of getting sick with a cold. It also slightly decreased how long subjects were ill, even if taken only at symptom onset. (4)

2. Bupleurum root

 While less common in western immune support therapies, Bupleurum (or Chaihu) is well regarded in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to improve energy flow (qi) by supporting the liver as well as for its immune-stimulating power.  Bupleurum is an herb that grows primarily in China with more than twenty different species. (5)

In TCM, Chaihu is used for many conditions, including the treatment of chills or fever and the common cold. (6) It has been studied for its ability to inactivate certain viruses (7) and may upregulate the immune system. (8) Interestingly, Bupleurum may also induce autophagy in the body. (9) Autophagy is the body’s way of self-cleaning old and damaged cells.  It usually only occurs during times of fasting or in ketosis. Autophagy may also make room for new and more robust immune cells. (10)


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3. Licorice root

Since ancient Egyptian times, Licorice has been used for its role in digestion, energy balance, and immunity. It’s powerful enough that it can interact with certain medications. (11) Hundreds of flavonoids (natural compounds found in plant-foods known for beneficial health effects) exist in Licorice. (12)

Studies point to the essential health benefits they provide for our immune system, including antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory actions. (13) Licorice may also inhibit inflammatory cytokines, which are chemical messengers that promote inflammation in the body. (14)

4. Elderberry fruit

Elderberry has become more mainstream in recent years as a go-to immune-supporting nutrient. Still, many people don’t know why it’s useful. Elderberry, a dark purple berry from the Elder tree, boosts the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses by revving up the immune system. (15) Elderberry is naturally high in antioxidants that fight off free radical damage. It has antiviral properties that help to block viral proteins from entering cells. (16)

Studies have also shown it can reduce the severity of flu symptoms while also shortening the length of time you are sick. (17) One study found that elderberry reduced the time and severity of cold symptoms. (18) Elderberry also can help to stimulate and balance cytokines necessary to boost the immune response.

5. Astragalus root

Another TCM herb, astragalus, has been used for centuries for its immune-supporting, anti-aging, and inflammation balancing benefits. (19) One study found that astragalus activated the immune cells even more than echinacea and Licorice. (20) An animal study also found that astragalus improved the immune response in older mice to a response usually seen in younger animals, pointing to the herb’s immune restorative properties. (21)

Astragalus also has anti-inflammatory properties. One study examining its effects on asthma found that an astragalus extract helped inhibit airway inflammation in animal models. (22) Asthma is considered an inflammatory condition, again highlighting astragalus’ anti-inflammatory benefit. (23)

6. Gingko Biloba

Gingko is typically associated with cognitive health, but the benefits extend to immune support. It’s known to be high in flavonoids and antioxidants, which help fight back against free radical damage in the body. One of the ginkgo compounds studied for its immune-supporting properties was found to increase the number of critical immune cells. (24) Another study showed that ginkgo significantly decreased the number of inflammatory markers found in the body (25), especially those associated with aging. (26)

7. Zinc

When it comes to immunity, zinc is a top nutrient choice. Zinc, an essential micronutrient, is a potent antioxidant that facilitates hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body. (27) Through its antioxidant capabilities, zinc decreases inflammation and helps to boost immunity, which is why zinc deficiencies can so negatively impact the body. Zinc is widely used both in acute care and the holistic health world for its role in protein synthesis and wound healing and reducing infection risks and duration of illness. (28)

Without optimal zinc levels, the immune system is at a disadvantage as it is needed for the optimal functioning of immune cells. Studies have found that zinc supplementation can help to decrease oxidative stress and inflammatory markers in the body. (29) Research on zinc supplementation has elucidated that high doses can also decrease sick time, helping you feel better quickly if you do get sick. (30) Taking it at the first sign of a cold can also help activate the immune system to fight it off before symptoms progress. (31)


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8. Vitamin C

Vitamin C, an essential vitamin for the human body, is probably the best known of the immune-boosting supplements. Specifically, ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C, is critical for tissue repair and the development of enzymes that support the body’s immune response. (32)

Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that removes free radicals in your body and protects against oxidative stress. (33) Studies show that vitamin C can reduce how long you are sick. (34) High doses at the beginning of illness can also help.

Filling the Holes for Immune Health

All of these nutrients work together to prime your immune system to fight back against colds, infections, and other pathogens. But it’s unrealistic to expect you will easily obtain all from food or take eight different supplements each day.

How can you fill the holes created by everyday life – genetics, stress, toxicity, and general lifestyle factors?

Based on the above research, Cytodefend was developed. Easily taken each day, it includes all eight of the nutrients mentioned above in research-backed ratios to ensure that your immune system is working optimally.

While it’s essential to address all the lifestyle aspects of your health to build immunity from the ground-up, Cytodefend acts as your insurance policy to keep you healthy when life gets in the way.

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    2. Agnew, L. L., S. P. Guffogg, A. Matthias, R. P. Lehmann, K. M. Bone, and K. Watson. “Echinacea Intake Induces an Immune Response through Altered Expression of Leucocyte Hsp70, Increased White Cell Counts and Improved Erythrocyte Antioxidant Defences.” Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics 30, no. 4 (August 2005): 363–69.
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