On average, adults catch two to four colds per year, while children can experience around six to ten depending on their age and exposure. If you’re keen to stay as healthy as possible this winter, now’s the perfect time to take steps to support your immune health. The herbs astragalus and Siberian ginseng may help, as Erika Morvay explains.
Your immune system consists of numerous body structures, organs and cells, which work together to help protect you from infections, and to fight against them when they take hold.
How the immune system works
The immune system is extremely complex and sophisticated, but a simple way to imagine it is as a layered system of defences, each of which is more specific in its action than the one before. Here are three of its most important components:
- On the outer surface of the body, structures like the skin, mucous membranes and fine hairs lining the nose (called the cilia) act as physical barriers aimed at preventing infectious organisms from entering the body
- If an infectious organism gets through those first lines of defence, the non-specific immune system (comprised of several types of proteins and white blood cells, and also known as the innate immune system) steps in and attempts to fight off a wide variety of infectious organisms
- If an infection-causing organism evades your non-specific immune responses, the specific (also known as acquired or adaptive) immune system moves into action. It’s slower to respond to foreign invaders than the non-specific immune system, but during the process it encodes a ‘memory’ of the microbe, enabling it to respond more aggressively if you experience the same infection again.
Astragalus helps manage recurrent colds
Astragalus is regarded as an important immune tonic in Chinese medicine (TCM), where it’s traditionally used not only to support healthy immune system responses, but also to help manage recurrent colds and flu and help reduce their frequency. In TCM, it’s traditionally considered particularly useful for people with lowered resistance to infection and for those who are recovering from illness.
In particular, astragalus supports healthy non-specific immunity – one of the aspects of immune function that help fend off a wide range of infectious organisms.
Siberian ginseng supports immune and stress responses
Astragalus is often taken with other immune tonic herbs, including Siberian ginseng, which is traditionally used to support healthy immune system responses and aid recovery after illness in Western herbal medicine.
Siberian ginseng helps to address lowered resistance to minor infections, and like astragalus, has documented immune-modulating actions, including helping to support non-specific immune responses.
If you’ve been pushing yourself physically or mentally, you’ll be interested to know that Siberian ginseng also helps to support the body’s natural resistance to stress, relieves fatigue and general debility, healthy vitality and physical and mental performance.
When should I take astragalus and Siberian ginseng?
Astragalus and Siberian ginseng are suitable to take in the lead-up to winter, and throughout the cold and flu season.
Discontinue them temporarily though if you do catch a cold, and instead consider taking the Ayurvedic herb andrographis to help relieve your symptoms, and/or Japanese catnip, which is traditionally used similarly in Chinese medicine.
Erika Morvay is Technical Support team leader at Fusion® Health. She has over a decade of experience in the natural health industry, and a particular passion for helping women look and feel their best.