Herb Feature

Herb Feature

One of the best things about winter in tropical North Queensland is the cooler weather: we can turn off our air-conditioners and fans, and stop sweating when we’re doing absolutely nothing! Unfortunately, we’re also much more likely to get viral infections of the respiratory system. “Common colds” and influenza contribute to considerable suffering, loss of work and leisure time and can lead to more severe infections of the lungs, which can even be life-threatening! Our magnificent herb this month is Andrographis (Andrographis Paniculata), one of the most useful plant medicines for preventing and reducing the duration and severity of colds etc.

Andrographis is widely grown in Southern and South-Western Asia as a medicine and has traditionally been used by Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners. Known as Maha-Tikta in northern India, it is literally “The King of Bitters”, as anyone who has tasted the liquid extract can attest! It is equally regarded for liver and digestive problems, as it has liver protective and restorative properties for the stomach and intestines. It is used as a febrifuge (to relieve fevers), as a blood purifier, as a tonic, and to expel worms. Energetically Andrographis is considered “cold” and consequently is good to remove heat from the blood. The concept of energetics in health and disease is a bit hard for Westerners to understand, with our reductionist/ rationalist approach to thinking, but nevertheless it works, and continues to work even if you don’t believe it!

Western Medical Herbalists have embraced Andrographis primarily for its remarkable affects on immunity: along with Echinacea, it has been proven in well designed randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to prevent viral infections, and to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms once they have started. An RCT of 158 patients with pharyngotonsillitis showed that Andrographis 6 g a day for 7 days was as effective as paracetamol in relieving fever and throat pain. In a double-blind trial, a standardized extract significantly reduced tiredness, sweating, shivering, lymph gland swelling, rhinitis (runny nose), sinus pain, headache and muscular aches in patients compared to placebo. In another RCT, Andrographis significantly reduced the number of sick days, clinical symptoms and hastened recovery in patients with the common cold. So, this is a wonderful plant to have in our Natural Medicine armoury against the constant onslaught of these nasty intracellular invaders.

In my clinic, I’ve found a couple of excellent extracts/ formulas that work incredibly well to keep people free from illness, especially through the cooler months.  I have a patient who is a schoolteacher and she was getting sick repeatedly from the stress of work and constant exposure to viruses from her students. Once she started using an Andrographis herbal combination, she has had very few episodes of illness, and they clear up very quickly if she does develop them. This is typical of the response people get from using this remarkable herb. I like to combine Andrographis with other immune-modulating and antiviral herbs such as Echinacea, Astragalus, Sacred Basil, Licorice Root, Ginger and Hypericum. It is, however, extremely bitter so not everybody can take a liquid extract. Fortunately, we have some excellent high quality tablet extracts which work brilliantly to keep people well over the cold/’flu season.

Andrographis is safe and well tolerated by most people, but I have seen a very few people with mild side effects which stop as soon as the medicine is discontinued. Interestingly, in the rare cases that people do have a reaction, they can usually re-introduce the herbs at a lower dose and slowly increase to the original amount with no reappearance of the symptoms. Such is the magic of the interaction with these wonderful plant medicines working within the intricate complexity of the human body. Andrographis is not recommended to take in pregnancy, as there are better options for women during this special time. I have not really talked about the liver protective properties of Andrographis, but if I have a patient with a history of liver injury and compromised immunity, I will definitely consider it. I feel grateful to have this powerful and effective Natural Medicine at our disposal to protect us against the endless sea of microbes that we live in everyday. Stay healthy, and enjoy your Autumn/ Winter!

David Peirce is a practicing Naturopath/ Herbalist.

Bachelor of Health Science - Complementary Medicine

Contact: 07 4032 0038

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