Three of the most commonly-used medicinal herbs are Echinacea purpurea, Astragalus membranaceus, and Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice). Doctors who tested them found them to be effective in boosting blood lymphocytes, which are essential to the body’s immune system. They also found that the extract of a mushroom commonly found in the woods of North America, Asia and Europe?which is too tough and chewy to eat?has a beneficial impact on the immune system.

Echninacea has a long history?it has been used for centuries by Native Americans, and is one of the most commonly used herbs for respiratory tract infections. Astragalus is primarily used in Chinese medicine to prevent colds and to aid the spleen and lungs. Glycyrrhiza has been used medicinally since the beginning of recorded history, and is widely used today in Indian and Chinese medicine. For centuries the herb has been used to treat respiratory, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular conditions.

Most of the research on these herbs has been conducted on animals, but in order to measure their effects in humans, researchers must had to examine the impact the herbs have on cell activation in lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell and come in three forms: B cells, which make antibodies that bind to a virus or micro-organism and then destroy it; CD4 T cells, which coordinate the immune system?s response; and CD8 T cells, which kill cells that become infected.

Sixteen healthy subjects participated in recent a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized clinical trial. The subjects took solutions of Echinacea only, Astragalus only, Glycyrrhiza only, or a combination of all three in equal parts. Some of them received a placebo. The subjects took their doses twice a day for seven days. Blood was drawn from them three times: before ingesting the herbal solution, after 24 hours, and seven days after taking the herbs. The white blood cells were separated from whole blood and analyzed to determine how the herbs affected their immune systems. The researchers found that these herbs stimulated the growth of all three kinds of immune system cells.

The “Turkey Tail” mushroom is too tough to eat, and can only be ingested in the form of liquid or powdered extracts. It is produced in Japan, where it is used as a cancer treatment. A study of blood samples, before and adding the extract, showed that the mushroom definitely does boost the immune system.

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