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Immuunsysteem versterken / Herbs for the Immune System

Waar zit mijn weerstand?

Waar zit mijn weerstand?
Om gezond te zijn is het nodig een goede weerstand op te bouwen tegen bacteriën en virussen. Maar waar zit die weerstand in ons lichaam? En hoe kunnen we die weerstand verbeteren? De weerstand van ons lichaam. Deze reële maar wat vage term heeft de laatste jaren concrete invulling gekregen door de wetenschappelijke kennis over het immuunsysteem.

Het immuunsysteem is niet zoals bijvoorbeeld het hart een concreet orgaan dat we kunnen terugvinden in het lichaam. Maar het is wel gebonden aan verschillende organen en mechanismen. Lymfeklieren, milt en thymusklier samen met witte bloedcellen zorgen er voor dat bacteriën, virussen en andere bedreigende minibeestjes het lichaam niet ondermijnen.
Door het slecht functioneren van deze mechanismen wordt je gevoeliger voor allerlei infectieziekten, griep, verkoudheid maar ook voor herpes, klierkoorts en voor bvb het HIV-virus.

Factoren waardoor een immuunsysteem verzwakt wordt
  • De eerste grote groep wordt immuundeficiëntie genoemd, waarbij het lichamelijke afweermechanisme  minder actief wordt als gevolg van leeftijd, voeding.
  • Een andere categorie is auto-immuniteit, waarbij het lichaam geen onderscheid tussen zichzelf en vreemde pathogenen maakt. Als gevolg hiervan valt het vaak zichzelf aan, waardoor een soort zelfvernietiging ontstaat.
  • Ten slotte is er overgevoeligheid, het lichaam gaat overreageren met een enorme respons, wat ervoor zorgt dat het eigen weefsel beschadigd raakt. Deze toestand wordt gekenmerkt door reacties op allergieën. Dit is een mechanisme waardoor anafylactische reacties ontstaan. Immuunsysteem ziekten komen dus met een set van complicaties die gevarieerd zijn en tegelijkertijd beperkt zijn.


This group of herbs is typically used to treat short-term, acute infections through the stimulation of immune activity. Immunostimulants help the body to resist infection during the beginning stages of infection, as well as throughout the duration of infectious illness.

Many studies have demonstrated the reduced duration of infectious illness with the use of herbal immunostimulants, as opposed to placebo. Potential exposure to a contagious pathogen is another indication for immunostimulation. Personally, whenever I fly, I take Spilanthes to help my body effectively cope with the higher concentration and variety of potential pathogens. A good number of these herbs also possess anti-microbial activity, and thus help the body to fight infection by augmenting the immune response, in addition to directly inhibiting the pathogen itself.

Also called surface immune activators, these herbs quickly stimulate immunity, and need to be re-administered frequently to maintain their effectiveness. Their mode of action can include increasing phagocytosis, white blood cell division and activity, or moderating immune communication chemicals, such as cytokines. Cytokines are produced by a wide variety of cells, especially those residing in the mucus membranes of the body, and are considered to be immunomodulating hormone-like agents. Interleukins and interferons are two classes of cytokines.

Immunostimulants, in general, have traditionally been used short-term, as they are often stimulating in nature, and can result in imbalance if used for an extended period of time. Many are heating and dispersing and can be aggravating for people with hot constitutions. These herbs have a potential to increase autoimmunity, and have caused flare-ups in people with autoimmune conditions, although this is more the exception than the rule. In addition, there is the possibility of ignoring underlying imbalances, which may have weakened the body’s resistance to illness in the first place. Treating symptoms without changing unhealthy inputs is not a holistic approach to healing. I like to imagine the basics of health (good quality sleep, food, water, and air; avoidance of harmful substances; exercise; creativity; purpose; emotional expression; love and community) as the cake, and herbal therapies as the icing on the cake. How easy it is to forget these basics, but they really are the heart of holistic treatment!

  • Allium sativum – Garlic bulb
  • Baptisia tinctoria – Wild Indigo, root
  • Commiphora mol-mol – Myrrh, resin
  • Echinacea spp. – Purple coneflower, root and seed
  • Eupatorium perfoliatum- Boneset, leaves and flowers
  • Sambucus canadensis/ S. nigra- Elderberry, flowers and fruit
  • Spilanthes acmella – Toothache plant, leaves and flowers
  • Usnea spp. – Usnea lichen or old man’s beard, whole lichen body
  • Zanthoxylum clava-herculis and Z. americanum – Toothache tree, bark

These herbs have been used traditionally as tonic support for the immune system, and are slower acting with a more prolonged effect, as compared to immunostimulants. Also called deep immune tonics, they are used for longer periods of time when necessary and have a more balancing, rather than stimulating effect on the body. As tonics, they are not typically overtly heating or stimulating and match a wide variety of constitutions. We can examine each herb for its traditional usage and constitutional picture to find the remedy with the greatest affinity for each situation.

Therapeutically, these herbs are used when there is poor immunity, as seen in individuals who experience frequent infections due to low immune resilience. Herbal immunomodulators are also used when the immune system is over-active, as in allergies and auto-immunity. This seemingly dualistic nature can seem miraculous, especially to those familiar with the unidirectional action of pharmaceuticals. Considering that most plants contain thousands of bioactive compounds, there is an immense synergy involved with each herb’s complex biochemistry. When we add the unique physiology of each human’s body into the equation, the possibilities of effects are almost infinite.

Most immunomodulators also possess adaptogenic qualities. Adaptogens are tonic herbs, which help to balance the body in adapting to emotional, physical and mental stress. I like to visualize adaptogens as imparting the grace and wisdom of an old willow tree, knowing the strength of yielding to wind, yet remaining deeply rooted in the Earth. Herbal immunomodulators can equilibrate the endocrine and nervous control of the immune system. By balancing the hypothalamus/ pituitary/ adrenal interplay, these tonic herbs help to harmonize the control centers of the body by affecting hormonal regulation of the immune system. Another possible mode of action is the regulation of Th1 and Th2 balance, which involves the equilibrium of cell-mediated and antibody-mediated immunity.

The term “immunomodulation” is also applied to pharmaceutical drugs in a somewhat different context. Pharmaceutical immunomodulators are predictably immunostimulating or immunosuppressive at their target site, but have differing effects depending on the target site. They are used to stimulate immune activity in cancer and suppress immune activity in autoimmunity and grafts/organ transplants.

Note that many of the herbs listed below come from Asia, which simply reflects the cultural and governmental interest in herbal medicines in Asian nations, with the attendant funding of botanical medicine research. Cultivation of most of these medicinals in the home garden is possible, and large-scale domestic farming of many of these botanicals is already underway. Many of our tonic western herbs used for immune support are likely to be immunomodulators as well.

  • Astragalus membranaceous – Astragalus, root
  • Eleutherococcus senticosus – Eleuthero, Siberian ginseng, root
  • Cordyceps sinensis – Cordyceps, fungus growing on catepillars  (only use cultivated, over-harvested)
  • Ganoderma lucidum, G. tsugae – Reishi, varnished artists conk, fruiting mushroom body
  • Lentinus edodes – Shitake mushroom
  • Ligustrum lucidum – Privet, fruit
  • Ocimum tenuiflorum syn. Ocimum sanctum – Holy basil, herb
  • Panax ginseng – Asian ginseng, root (only use cultivated sources, over-harvested)
  • Panax quinquefolius – American ginseng, root (only use cultivated sources, over-harvested)
  • Rhodiola rosea – Roseroot, root
  • Schisandra chinensis – Wu wei zi, berries
  • Withania somnifera – Ashwagandha, root
Herbal Immune Tonics
These herbs have traditionally been used as long-term immune tonics and may possess immunomodulating effects. They have demonstrable sustained immune stimulation and are suitable for long-term use in cases of poor immunity and in cancer therapy and prevention.
  • Glycyrrhiza uralensis, G. glabra – Licorice rhizome
  • Grifola frondosa – Maitake, fruiting body
  • Gynostemma pentaphyllum – Jiaogulan, herb
  • Sambucus canadensis and S. nigra – Elder, flower and fruit
  • Trametes versicolor – Turkey tail, fruiting body

Antimicrobial herbs help the body resist pathogenic bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoans. They are a broad class of herbs that achieve this function in many ways. It is interesting to note that most traditional culinary herbs demonstrate considerable antimicrobial affects, which protect against food spoilage and enteric pathogens. Having lived in a sub-tropical climate without food refrigeration I can attest to the food preserving qualities of raw garlic, cayenne and oregano. In my experience, non-spiced dishes spoiled days quicker than generously spiced dishes.

In treating illness caused by microbes, it is important to examine the condition, or terrain, of the body and how the disease was able to take footing. If we ignore the basics of good sleep, nutrition, water intake, and lifestyle, and dose ourselves up with antimicrobial herbs we have missed the point.

Modern medicine has much to offer in the realm of fighting infectious organisms; antibiotics, antifungals, antiprotozoans and similar drugs have saved many lives. The benefit of these remedies is indisputable, but the administration must be appropriate or there can be side effects, such as diminished beneficial flora or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Herbal antimicrobial therapies are appropriate for the common cold, the flu, and manageable mild to moderate infections.

  •  Allium sativum – Garlic
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi – Bearberry or uva-ursi, herb
  • Artemisia spp. – Wormwood, sweet annie, sagebrush, herb
  • Baptisia tinctoria – Baptisia or Wild indigo, root
  • Calendula officinalis – Calendula, flowers
  • Capsicum spp. – Cayenne peppers
  • Ceanothus spp. – Redroot, root
  • Commiphora mol-mol – Myrrh, resin
  • Hydrastis canadensis – Goldenseal root
  • Hyssopus officinalis – Hyssop, herb
  • Inula helenium – Elecampagne root
  • Isatis tinctoria – Woad, root
  • Juglans nigra – Black Walnut, hull
  • Juniperus spp. – Juniper, needle
  • Ligusticum porteri and L. canadensis – Osha species, root
  • Liquidambar styraciflua – Sweet gum, resin
  • Lonicera japonica – Honeysuckle, flowers
  • Mahonia spp. – Oregon grape root
  • Mondarda spp. – Bee balm, wild bergamot, herb
  • Rosa spp. – Rose, flowers and herbs
  • Rosmarinus officinalis – Rosemary, herb
  • Salvia officinalis and S. aparine – Garden sage and White sage, both herb
  • Sambucus canadensis and S. nigra – Elderberry, flower and fruit
  • Spilanthes acmella – Toothache plant, herb
  • Thymus vulgaris – Thyme, herb
  • Usnea spp. – Usnea lichen
  • Xanthorhiza simplicissima – Yellowroot
  • Zanthoxylum clava-herculis and Z. americanum – Toothache tree, bark

Wetenschappelijk onderzoek immuunmodulatie

Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2011 Mar;33(1):141-5. doi: 10.3109/08923973.2010.487490. Epub 2010 May 27.
Evaluation of immunomodulatory effect of three herbal plants growing in Egypt.
Ghonime M1, Eldomany R, Abdelaziz A, Soliman H.
A group of medicinal plant including Silene (Silene nocturna), Black seed (Nigella sativa) and Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) growing in Egypt were examined for their immunomodulatory effect in Balb/c mice. Treatment (intraperitoneal injection) with five doses of methanolic extract for each plant was found to enhance the total white blood cells count (up to 1.2 × 10(4) cells/mm(3)). Bone marrow cellularity also increased significantly (P < 0.01) after the administration of the extract of each of three test plants. Furthermore, spleen weight of the treated groups was significantly increased (P < 0.01). Two groups of mice were immunosuppressed with cyclophosphamide, the one which pretreated with the plants extracts significantly (P < 0.01) restored their resistance against lethal infection with the predominately granulocyte-dependant Candida albicans. These results confirm the immunomodulatory activity of Silene, Black seed, and Chamomile extracts and may have therapeutical implications in prophylactic treatment of opportunistic infections and as supportive treatment in oncogenic cases.

J Ethnopharmacol. 2000 Sep;72(1-2):167-72. Evaluation of the immunomodulatory effects of five herbal plants.
Amirghofran Z1, Azadbakht M, Karimi MH.
A group of medicinal plants including, Silybum marianum, Matricaria chamomilla, Calendula officinalis, Cichorium intybus and Dracocephalum kotschyi which grow in Iran, were extracted with ethanol 70% and the mitogenic activity was examined both on human peripheral blood lymphocytes and thymocytes. Effect of these extracts on proliferative responsiveness of human lymphocytes to phytohemagglutinin (PHA) and on the mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) was also investigated. The results obtained indicated that none of the extracts had a direct mitogenic effect on human lymphocytes or thymocytes (stimulation index, SI<0.07). Among the plants studied, C. intybus and C. officinalis showed a complete inhibitory effect on the proliferation of lymphocytes in the presence of PHA (SI range 0.01-0.49). A dose dependent inhibitory effect was obtained in the case of D. kotschyi. Extract of M. chamomilla showed almost no stimulatory effect. A significant decrease in proliferation assay due to 0.1-10 microg/ml of S. marianum was observed (SI<0.46, P<0.05). In MLR, a markedly stimulatory effect with some lower concentrations of all the extracts except Dracocephalum was detected. The highest stimulatory effect was due to 100 microg/ml of S. marianum (SI 2.82). Treatment of mixed lymphocytes with 0.1-10 microg/ml of C. officinalis (SI range 1.34-1.80) and 10 microg/ml of M. chamomilla and C. intybus (SI 2.18 and 1.70, respectively) strongly increased the cell proliferation. In conclusion, this in vitro study revealed the capacity of all the extracts except Dracocephalum to enhance the proliferation of lymphocytes after stimulation with the allogenic cells.

Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2014 Jul-Sep;27(3):313-9.
Review on medicinal uses, pharmacological, phytochemistry and immunomodulatory activity of plants.
Akram M1, Hamid A2, Khalil A3, Ghaffar A4, Tayyaba N5, Saeed A6, Ali M7, Naveed A8.
Since ancient times, plants have been an exemplary source of medicine. Researchers have discovered some important compounds from plants. The present work constitutes a review of the medicinal plants whose immunomodulant activity has been proven. We performed PUBMED, EMBASE, Google scholar searches for research papers of medicinal plants having immunomodulant activity. Medicinal plants used by traditional physicians or reported as having immunomodulant activity include Acacia concocinna, Camellia sinensis, Lawsonia inermis Linn, Piper longum Linn, Gelidium amansii, Petroselinum crispum, Plantago major and Allium sativum. Immunomodulant activities of some of these medicinal plants have been investigated. The medicinal plants documented have immunomodulant activity and should be further investigated via clinical trial.

J Immunotoxicol. 2011 Oct-Dec;8(4):265-73. doi: 10.3109/1547691X.2011.590828. Epub 2011 Jun 28.
In vitro immunomodulatory effects of extracts from three plants of the Labiatae family and isolation of the active compound(s).
Amirghofran Z1, Hashemzadeh R, Javidnia K, Golmoghaddam H, Esmaeilbeig A.
Plants may have the ability to modulate immune responses. In the present study, the effects of three plants belonging to Labiatae family, each traditionally used for the treatments of infections and inflammatory diseases, as well as the role of thymol (as one the major components of these plants), were investigated for their potential to affect the activation of lymphocytes. Four organic extracts of Thymus vulgaris and two other plants (i.e., T. daenensis and Zataria multiflora) were prepared. The effect of the extracts on mitogen (PHA)-stimulated peripheral blood lymphocytes was determined using a cell proliferation assay. The hexane extracts obtained from the three plants showed the strongest inhibitory effects on PHA-induced proliferation. Use of preparative thin layer and gas chromatographies in conjunction with the proliferation assay confirmed that thymol was the major component responsible for the observed effects from the three plants. Thymol inhibited inducible lymphocyte proliferation in a concentration-dependent manner, with reductions ranging from 62.8% at 50 µg/ml to 89.8% at 200 µg/ml (> 0.1 µg/ml (p < 0.01). Flow cytometric analysis using propidium iodide staining showed that the inhibitory effect of thymol at 200 µg/ml was due to a cytotoxic activity. In conclusion, the three Labiatae plants studied here each showed immunosuppressive effects against lymphocytes and it was most likely that thymol was the compound in these plants responsible for this effect.

Immunomodulatory agents of the plant and animal origin enhance the immune responsiveness of an organism against a pathogen by activating the immune system. [15] Different types of immune responses fall in two categories, specific or adaptive immune response and nonadaptive or nonspecific immune response. Specific immune response responds to the challenge with a high degree of specificity as well as the remarkable property of "memory". Typically, there is an adaptive immune response against an antigen within five or six days after the initial exposure to a particular antigen. Exposure to the same antigen some time in the future results in a memory response. The immune response to the second challenge occurs more quickly than the first, is stronger, and is often more effective in neutralizing and clearing the pathogen. Memory response generates a life-long immunity following an infection. The two key features of the adaptive immune response are thus specificity and memory. The major agents of adaptive immunity are lymphocytes, antibodies and the other molecules they produce. Because adaptive immune responses require some time to marshal, innate immunity provides the first line of defence during the critical period, just after the host's exposure to a pathogen. In general, most of the micro-organisms encountered by a healthy individual are readily cleared within a few days by the defence mechanism of the innate immune system before they activate the adaptive immune system. The nonspecific immune response provides the first line defence against infection. Most components of innate immunity are present before the onset of infection and constitute a set of disease resistance mechanisms that are not specific to particular pathogens, but which include cellular and molecular components that recognize frequently encountered pathogens. Phagocytic cells, such as macrophages and neutrophils, barriers such as skin and a variety of antimicrobial compounds synthesized by the host, all play important roles in innate immunity.

When mice are sensitized with SRBC, an antigen gets diffused in the extra vascular space and enters the lymph node via the lymphatics. Particulate antigens are taken up by macrophages lining the sinuses or disperse in the lymphoid tissues and are processed. Small highly antigenic peptides are combined with MHC class II molecules. B cells with receptors for antigens bind and internalize it into an endosomal compartment and process and present it on MHC class II molecules to the TH 2 cells. These B cells are triggered to proliferate, giving rise to clones of a large number of daughter cells. Some of the cells of these expanding clones serve as memory cells, others differentiate and become plasma cells that make and secrete large quantities of specific antibodies. During a primary response, IgM is secreted initially, often followed by a switch to an increasing proportion of IgG. [16],[17] The magnitude of the secondary antibody response to the same antigen is amplified in terms of antibody production. In the present study, assessment of humoral immunity was carried out using the H.A. titre. The anti-SRBC antibody titre was raised in EBV-treated groups in doses of 125, 250 and 500mg/kg with normal immune status, but was found statistically significant only at the dose of 500mg/kg, when compared to the control group in both primary and secondary antibody titre responses.

In the immunosuppressed groups Cyclophosphamide was used as an immunosuppressant, as it selectively suppressed humoral immunity, by exerting a depressive effect on antibody production, if given after antigenic stimulation. [18] This may be due to the interference with helper T-cell activity. [19] In the immunosuppressed group EBV 250, 500mg/kg/p.o significantly inhibited cyclophosphamide-induced suppression of humoral immunity, indicating that EBV counteracts the suppression of both primary and secondary humoral responses induced by cyclophosphamide.

The increase in the carbon clearance index reflects the enhancement of the phagocytic function of mononuclear macrophage and nonspecific immunity. Phagocytosis by macrophages is important against the smaller parasites and its effectiveness is markedly enhanced by the opsonisation of parasites with antibodies and complementing C3b, leading to a more rapid clearance of parasites from the blood. [20] EBV significantly increases the phagocytic activity when compared to the control.

Cytokines are secreted by activated immune cells, for margination and extravasation of the phagocytes, mainly polymorphonuclear neutrophils, often just called neutrophils. These constitute the majority of the blood leucocytes. Similar to monocytes they too migrate into tissues, in response to certain stimuli. Experimentally, activation of neutrophils can be studied by the neutrophil adhesion test. EBV significantly evokes an increase in the adhesion of neutrophils to nylon fibres, which co-relates to the process of margination of cells in blood vessels. Neutrophil adhesion is significantly increased by EBV when compared to the control.

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7. Parekh J, Karathia N, Chandra S. Evaluation of antibacterial activity and phytochemical analysis of Bauhinia variegata L bark. Afr J Biomed Res 2006;9:53-6.
8. Rajkapoor B, Jayakar B, Murugesh N, Sakthisekaran D. Chemoprevention and cytotoxic effect of Bauhinia variegata against N-nitrosodiethylamine induced liver tumors and human cancer cell lines. J Ethnopharmacol 2006;104:407-9. [PUBMED] [FULLTEXT]
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