by Samaya Cullerton, LAc
California has had plenty of rain and snow this year. Most of our beautiful state has been pulled out of the long standing drought. All the moisture is creating super blooms of buds and blossoms. While we are all enjoying the beauty of green lush landscapes which have been brown for many previous seasons, and blooms of epic proportions, those who suffer from seasonal allergies are coping which very high pollen counts. In our spring blog, we’ll be discussing adaptogen herbs, and approaches to countering your seasonal allergies by working with your innate immune system.
Our immune system is actually a dynamic, complex web of systems designed to keep us safe from invading pathogens which cause diseases. Cytokines are the messengers responsible for most biological effects in the immune system, such as cell mediated immunity and allergic type responses. Cytokines can be divided into two major functional groups; those that are pro-inflammatory and those that are anti-inflammatory, but also cause allergic responses. T lymphocytes are the primary cells that produce cytokines. These cells bear antigen specific receptors on their surface to allow them to recognize foreign pathogens. This is known as cellular immunity. They can also mistake normal tissue for a foreign pathogen during episodes of autoimmunity. Helper T cells are regarded as being the most prolific cytokine producers. Helper T cells can be further divided into Th1 and Th2 cells. Many immunologists regard allergies as a Th2 weighted imbalance, and immunologist has been dedicated to redirecting Th2 responses in favor of Th1 responses in their research of the treatment of autoimmune diseases.
Traditional medicine has also spent centuries modulating Th2/ Th1 responses with herbal formulas. The herbs which are often used for this immuno-modulation belong to the general category of herbs called adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs that increase our resistance to stress and promote homeostasis. We might refer to these herbs as harmonizing herbs in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), though herbal adaptogens belong to many categories. Adaptogens improve our immune function, but they also modulate our immune responses. Herbs including ginseng, rhodiola, astragalus, eleutherococcus, echinacea, and reishi have been researched for their immunomodulating effects, and their capacity to balance Th1/ Th2 ratios. Adaptogenic herbs can play a pivotal role in the prevention of seasonal allergies, and modulation our innate immune responses.
Martha Benedict always includes adaptogens in her formulations, so they can be seen in most of the internal Benedictine formulas. We have a few specific adaptogenic formulas I will be discussing in detail in this blog, Immune Plus and Adaptogen Plus for the actions of immuno-modulating. Adaptogen Plus is a formula using three herbs, Astragalus, Reishi and Eleutherococcus. These three herbs all have superior tonifying properties but can be used to relieve excess conditions often found in seasonal allergies, where many tonifying herbs can not. This is what makes these herbs adaptogenic, they can both boost a low functioning immune system, and reduce overactive immune function, or autoimmunity, by way of immuno-modulation. These herbs help our innate immune system function properly, efficiently to restore homeostasis. Adaptogen Plus can therefore be utilized in a wide range of conditions involving the function of the immune system including seasonal allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, frequent bouts of infectious diseases such as cold and flu, and various skin autoimmune conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and hives. This formula can adjust energy levels and healthy sleep function without being stimulating or sedating and is well tolerated by sensitive patients. Eleutherococcus is a type of ginseng. Ginsengs can often be too stimulating for sensitive patients who are highly reactive to caffeine and other stimulants, however I have found Eleutherococcus to be the most mild and well tolerated, and least stimulating of all the ginseng species.
Immune Plus is a larger formula designed more specifically to boost immune function and ward off externally contracted diseases. However, because the formula works by way of modulating our innate immune function with adaptogenic and supportive herbs, I also find it very helpful for diseases that are autoimmune in origin. Immune Plus is made with Eleuthero, Astragalus, Echinacea, Turmeric, Cat’s Claw (also known as Gou Teng), Rhodiola, Pau D’Arco, Aloe, Schisandra, Borage, Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake mushrooms. The overall energetic quality of this formula is cooling and nurturing to the yin aspects of the body. My personal experience with this formula was life changing. I was working in a public health clinic, where I was exposed to airborne, highly contagious diseases on a daily basis. I also had a toddler who was entering his first year of preschool, which can be a perfect storm of highly contagious pathogens. Between the two of us, it felt like our family was constantly fighting off an onslaught of sicknesses. I started taking the Immune Plus and giving my son the Immune for Kids. It changed our lives. We felt as if our normal, high functioning immune systems had returned and our health was restored. Because my personal experience with the formula was so positive, I began recommending it to various patients in my clinical practice. I’ve seen it be life changing for people with chronic autoimmune dysfunction as well as low functioning immunity. I now recommend it to people who are living with chronic stress and illness in many forms, because chronic stress puts our immune function in a vulnerable place where dysfunction is the result. People who live with autoimmune disorders often experience flare ups when they are under chronic stress, and this is a wonderful balancing formula for modulating immune function.
I will add, that tuning our immune systems is often a multi-factorial process which adaptogenic herbs can play a part in, but I also work with people on their sleep habits, diet and digestive function, and stress management. These are so often the cornerstones to achieving health and balance. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about utilizing adaptogens to achieve functional immunity. May you all be well and enjoy the beauty of springtime.
Th1 and Th2 Responses: What Are They? Abi Bergere, BMJ. 2000. Web. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC27457