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Using herbs to boost your immune system

How Astragalus, Cat´s Claw and Echinacea can really boost your immune system.

This article looks at how the best way to boost your immune system may well be by using natural herbs.

As you may be aware, even healthy people make several hundred cancer and pre-cancer cells every day. You may also be aware that people with cancer often have weak immune systems. One school of thought says that because the immune system was weak, a cancer was allowed to form because the pre-cancer cells overwhelmed the poor defences. Another school says that a full-blown cancer weakens the immune system, rendering the defences incapable of fighting back. Chicken or egg? Whatever the view, one thing is certain: The moment you start taking drugs, have anaesthetic or radiotherapy, your immune system will be compromised even further.

Many people turn to diet as a way of boosting their immune system. Others turn to antioxidant supplements, like Vitamin E or beta-carotene. At this point I would like to make clear my, often mis-quoted views:

  1. Nothing beats good quality, traditionally produced organic foods for vitamin and mineral content. If you are in any doubt see my book ´The Rainbow Diet´ for the clear research evidence.
  2. Synthetic High Street vitamins are to be avoided. There are a number of research studies suggesting that they may do little of benefit and some studies suggest some may even cause harm.
  3. Natural Compounds, including natural vitamin supplements however can prove very corrective. Many such natural compounds like indole 3 carbinol, resveratrol, vitamin D etc are being developed right now by pharmaceutical companies into products that can be patented. They know they achieve results.
  4. Some of the very best immune stimulants are not merely natural compounds but traditional herbs.

Indeed,  the evidence is turning more and more to a role for herbs, oddly enough from US medical schools which have only a limited history in the use of herbs,  as herbs have no ´traditional medicine´ foundation in America as they have in Europe.

First Hand experience

I witnessed personally that Cat´s claw, Astragalus, and Echinacea can be an excellent immune system re-booting combination for cancer patients, especially after treatment with radiotherapy or chemotherapy. We gave this combination to Catherine when the chemotherapy drugs had reduced her white cells to desperately low levels, and the standard immune-stimulating drug injections on offer simply would not work even though she tried them daily for almost a month. On taking these three natural herbs, her white cell levels recovered in less than two weeks! (She was also taking aloe vera and turmeric (curcumin), which most probably helped further.)

So here is a little guide to these three ´big´ herbs. I think you will be surprised at the research supporting their use. You will find taking a natural liquid tincture is probably the most effective route forward. (If you are considering using supplements, readers can go to the Natural Selection shopping trolley (click on the tab at the top of this page) to order freshly prepared natural tinctures at very reasonable prices).


An all round performer

Astragalus has been around in Chinese medicine for two thousand years. It is known as ´haung qi´, or chi, because it boosts natural body energy levels. Astragalus is taken from the root of a perennial plant (Astragalus membranaceous) needing four to seven years to mature before the root is harvested in early spring. The root is not unlike a garlic bulb. Traditionally, this herb is known to boost the immune system and has chronicled benefits in cases of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and respiratory infections. It is also used as a general tonic and to treat burns, abscesses and for hepatitis.
An excellent Immune system booster

Its wide usage in China as an immune system booster brought interest from Europe, Japan and America. Original Chinese studies dated back to 1981, when a study by Hou et aI showed that Astragalus taken orally induced greater quantities of interferon and leukocytes in the blood stream.
A common misconception is that merely stimulating the immune system will be enough to kick out a cancer. Maybe, in a few cases it will. But, by and large, the problem with cancer is two-fold true, the immune system is weak, BUT .......the cancer evades the immune system because of the low immune system response capacity. (In English the bad guys can´t be ´seen´, no matter how many good guys you produce. The issue is to make lots of good guys AND stimulate the bad guys in such a way that they appear on the radar screens).
So, Medical Herbalists rightly point out that two therapeutic requirements are essential when treating cancer Immuno-modulating action, and Adaptogenic action, and BOTH are required to work synergistically.
Astragalus is a very important herb because it seems to be able to do both jobs. Firstly, it has phenomenal immune system modulating effects. In tests at the Hiroshima School of Medicine in Japan, it was shown to directly increase B-lymphocyte and T-lymphocyte levels, interleukin and antibody production.
But, not only does it increase the number of various white cells and in particular the ´hunter´ T-cells, it also helps ´identify´ the viruses, bacteria and other rogue cells. The University of Texas has shown that Astragalus seems to be an adaptogenic herb ´offering up´ viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells to be seen by the immune system.

Astragalus contains bioflavonoids, choline and a polysaccharide, astragalan B, amongst other active ingredients. Astragalan B controls bacterial infection, viruses and other such ´rogue´ bodies by binding to their outer membranes. This has two effects it weakens their internal systems, and by sitting on the membrane it thus helps the T-cells identify the invaders and rogue cells.

All this also makes its use as an adjunct to fight AIDS increasingly important.

FDA to approve role in cancer

A considerable amount of detailed German and American research has confirmed the herb´s powers, and identified an important potential role in cancer therapy. For example:

  • Researchers from the University of Texas, Houston, have reported that cancer patients receiving Astragalus have twice the survival rate of those only receiving placebos.
  • It is often used in conjunction with other herbs. In a 1994 Italian study (Morazzoni, Bombardelli) breast cancer patients were given a combination of Iigustrum and Astragalus. Patients given this mix showed a decline in mortality from 50% to 10%.
  • In another study of patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer all undergoing chemotherapy, the group taking the dual herb mix showed an average life span increase of 130%.
  • Astragalus doesn´t merely enhance interferon levels; there is strong scientific evidence that it benefits liver function (often impaired in the cancer sufferer). In China, Astragalus is widely used in the treatment of hepatitis. It seems to reduce toxin levels significantly, boost interferon levels and inhibit viral protein expression whilst having little or no effect on normal DNA.(Zhang 1995, Fan 1996)

The FDA is on record as saying that is looking at granting it approval as an anti-cancer agent. However, the FDA has never in its history approved any herb as a cancer treatment in whole or in part!

Improves the effectiveness of Radio- and Chemotherapy

One extremely important conclusion from several US studies is that Astragalus seems to help the immune system differentiate between healthy cells and rogue cells, thereby boosting the body´s total ´cancer fighting system´. One effect of this is the added benefit of improving the effectiveness of radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments.

  • In Chinese hospitals, Astragalus is now routinely used to help people recover from the negative effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
  • MD Anderson Cancer Center (Texas) researchers reported that cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy had twice the survival rates if they took astragalus during the treatment.
  • In the West some herbalists routinely provide chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients with Astragalus and, apart from boosting the immune system (which of course both orthodox treatments damage), it also seems to stop the spread of malignant cancer cells to secondary healthy tissues.

There are no known conflicting effects with drugs. Astragalus should be taken with meals at a total intake of 2,000 to 3,000 mgs per day.


Although Echinacea was a favourite of Native American Indians for centuries, it lost its position as an immune system booster when antibiotics came along. Originally claims were made for its excellence in aiding relief from anything from colds to cancer.
Over the last twenty years it has been the Germans who have pioneered all the new research work with literally hundreds of studies. This is a very well researched herb!
The German Federal Health Agency has approved echinacea as a supportive treatment for colds and influenza, hard-to-heal skin wounds and urinary tract infections. Almost all the research uses liquid preparations or tinctures. Other research studies have noted an effect in eczema, candidiasis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
However in 1999 a paper by M J Verhoef in Neurology volume 52, reported the successful study of echinacea in neurological disease and in brain tumours, and this led scientists to refocus their attentions to cancer.

An excellent Immune system booster

Echinacea is a member of the Compositae family. Although there are nine members, only three have been widely studied and used. Most common, the purple cornflower, is a native plant to America and was first officially used there in medical practice in 1887. Both the roots and the leaves have medicinal properties.
It boosts the immune system directly due to a number of active chemicals like polysaccharides, alkylamides, flavenoids, caffeic acid derivatives, polyacetylenes and essential oils. For example, arabinogalactan is a very powerful immuno-modulating polysaccharide and is effective in activating macrophages, interleukin and interferon with an increase in T-cell activity. It can boost the immune system to attack and kill microbes, cause cancer cell death and more and more studies are showing positive effects with brain tumours.

Several studies have indicated this increase in levels of interferons, whilst highlighting increases in the ingestion of foreign particles by the white cells (phagocytosis).
The University of Munich have shown that it stimulates interleukin and increases levels of white B- and T-lymphocytes, the latter (the cells that can hunt down cancer cells) by 30 per cent.
It can also be used to reduce secondary infection during and after radio and chemotherapy.


Recommended dosage appears to vary from 900 mgs to 1200 mgs per day divided into three equal doses. No significant side effects have been reported in the German research, although echinacea should not be used for more than eight weeks at a time as it thins the blood.
It is also available in health shops in capsules and teas.

CAT´s CLAW (Uno de Gato).

Boosting the Attack

Alkaloids are very powerful natural plant compounds and there are six oxindole alkaloids in Uno de Gato bark. This natural compound is found in the Peruvian rain forest and China. It is known to be anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant and an immune stimulator.

An excellent Immune system booster

Cat´s Claw is an immuno-modulating herb - it is known to increase various white cell levels stimulating the production of Natural Killer Cells. Four alkaloids in particular boost phagocytosis (the ability of the white cells to attack, wrap up and carry off the rogue cells in the body; be they microbes, viruses, antigens and even cancer cells).
Research studies have shown the herb to be very powerful in its use with AIDS and cancer therapies. Research shows an action in decreasing the size of some tumours.

Protects healthy cells during radio-and chemotherapy

Cat´s claw can reduce the damaging side effects from radiotherapy and chemotherapy as it seems to offer protection to healthy cells while enhancing the attack on and removal of cancer cells.
As an anti-cancer aid it can also be combined with wild yam and aloe vera forming a very strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial immune boosting force.
It has also been shown to boost the body´s natural energy levels. You should take one gram a day on an empty stomach.


As you can see from the above they all work in slightly different, but complementary ways. Of real significance are the claims from top German and American Medical Schools that they can enhance the effect of chemo and radiotherapy, whilst protecting healthy cells.. The claim by some orthodox medical ´experts´ that somehow these herbs are ´counter-indicated´ (as icon experienced when being thrown out of two hospitals by an uninformed oncologist, is clearly more based in mythology than accurate science).

Frankly, the research evidence is growing apace. The synergism between these three herbs means that these could be a solid base for building (re-building) any depleted immune system. Whether the illness is cancer or any other.

Of note is research on Turmeric/Curcumin that might well be the fourth musketeer in the immune boosting effort; and the US VITAL study which showed Grape Seed Extract head and shoulders above anti-oxidant supplements.

People Who read this article also read:

Curcumin/Turmeric:  CLICK HERE to read

Grape Seed Extract: CLICK HERE to read


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