Best adaptogens, medicinal mushrooms and herbs to support your immune system

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Adaptogens

Adaptogens or adaptogenic compounds (derived from the Russian word adaptatija) refer to a term first defined by a Soviet physician and researcher, Nikolai Lazarev, in 1947. These terms are used for herbal remedies, drugs, or other compounds that increase the ability to adapt to physical, biological, and chemical stressors while promoting normal balanced functioning of the body.

Adaptogens (herbs and other substances that have been shown to help the body to adapt to stress) can also be helpful. Medicinal mushrooms, in general, are stimulating the production of macrophages that eat identified pathogens.

Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a common decaying fungus of birch and some other deciduous trees. One-year-old sporangium grows under the bark after the tree or part of it has died. Before that, for years, there are black-speaking mycelial wax malformations on the tree. Tea made from them has been used in Finland for hundreds of years, especially as an adaptogen and as natural medicine.

Chaga growing out of birch tree.

Chaga mushroom has the highest ORAC value (measure of antioxidant capacity) of any other food. It lowers cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammation and oxidative stress. Polysaccharides from the chaga mushroom’s fruiting body (PFIO) have been shown to effectively promote macrophage activation through the MAPK and NF-κB signaling pathways, which regulate the immune system function.

Use as a water extract or an alcohol extract; combining both is the best option. We recommend probably the purest and highest quality Chaga mushroom tincture made in Finland by Foodin: you can get it from HERE.

Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)

For thousands of years, Reishi has been used in Chinese medicine, for example, to relieve cough and asthma, to calm the mind, and to relieve dizziness, insomnia and anxiety. Reishi was discovered and used first about 2,500 years ago when it was used mainly in royal and wealthy circles. According to a legend, China’s first emperor sent explorers to search for the elixir of life in the Eastern Islands (present-day Japan). The explorers who returned years later brought Reishi with them.

There are six types of Reishi in nature that are thought to have different effects. Red Reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum, is the most studied of these and has the strongest medicinal effects. Reishi is also known by the names of Lingzhi, “10,000 years sponge”, “immortal sponge” and “life elixir.” Extremely beautiful red Reishi is a relatively rare appearance in the wild. For this reason, lacquer rolls are now cultivated using organic dark rice or logs as the growth medium.

Reishi is said to sustain life, increase life expectancy, promote health and balance body functions without side effects. Reishi is thought to increase the so-called shen, which in Chinese medicine is the channel of spirituality – the connection of heart and mind. Reishi contains a huge variety of bioactive polysaccharides, beta-glucans and over 120 different triterpenoid compounds.

Reishi’s ingredients affect the cells that regulate the immune system. Reishi can either stimulate or silence the immune system – thus balancing and teaching cells to adapt to the responses produced by the environment. Because of these properties, Reishi acts as an immunomodulator. Based on studies, Reishi increases overall well-being, raises HDL-cholesterol, activates the immune system (CD3 and CD4 lymphocytes, NK cells), decreases TNF-alpha and reduces fatigue.

Use as a water extract or an alcohol extract; combining both is the best option. We recommend the purest and highest quality wild Reishi mushroom tincture made in Finland by Foodin: you can get it from HERE.

Turkey tail (Coriolus / Trametes versicolor)

Turkey tail (Trametes / Coriolus versicolor) is a very common polypore mushroom found throughout the world. It usually grows on dead logs. Because of its shape and various colors that are similar to those of a wild turkey, the mushroom is in general called Turkey tail.

Turkey tail has been shown to fight against leukemia cells in vitro and improve the immune system of people getting chemotherapy. It contains 35 different phenolic compounds and flavonoid antioxidants quercetin and baicalein, which are strong antioxidants. Turkey tail also contains other substances, such as Polysaccharide Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP), which activate macrophages and modulate immune response. Turkey tail extract has been found to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enterica in vitro.

Our recommended product is Host Defense: Turkey Tail Capsules

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) plant is a herbaceous perennial legume native to the Middle East, southern Europe, and parts of Asia. Licorice flavors are generally used as candies or sweeteners, particularly in some European and Middle Eastern countries.

Licorice extracts have been used in herbalism and traditional medicine. for example, in traditional Chinese medicine it is believed to “harmonize” the ingredients in an herbal formula. You can easily see it as an integral part of many herbal teas, for example. Licorice has also been used in Ayurveda in to treat various diseases.

Influenza virus infection is characterized by an acute lung inflammatory response (hypercytokinemia) and high oxidative stress that contributes to virus-induced lung damage and morbidity. Isoliquiritigenin (ILG) present in licorice has been recognized as a potent inhibitor of influenza virus replication in human bronchial epithelial cells and an inhibitor of inflammatory cytokines. Administration of ILG reduces the morbidity of mice infected with the H1N1 virus. Glycyrrhizin, an active compound of licorice root, has also been used to inhibit the replication of SARS-associated coronavirus.

Astragalus (Astragalus mebranaceus)

Though there are over 2,000 species of astragalus of which two are being used for medicinal purposes – Astragalus membranaceus is the most common one. In practice, the root of the plant is made into many different forms of supplements, including liquid extracts, capsules, powders and teas.

Astragalus has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Research shows it protects against gastrointestinal inflammation and has immune system boosting properties. In one study, an herbal tincture of astragalus, echinacea and glycyrrhiza stimulated immune cells within 24 hours of ingestion and remained active for at least 7 days. Test tube studies have shown that Astragalus membranaceus extract activates immune response in macrophages (a pathogen destroying cell in the immune system). The latest research on astragalus also shows that it is a very potent herb for activating autophagy pathways and can have therapeutic potential in autophagy dysregulation-associated diseases because of their biological positive effects.

Olive leaf extract (OLE)

Olive leaf extract, which has long been used in traditional medicine, comes from the leaves of the olive tree (Olea europaea) and has a variety of health benefits. Olive leaf extract (not to be confused with olive oil), contains polyphenols, notably oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, that have antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may reduce upper respiratory infection rates. Based on a randomized controlled trial published in 2019, OLE decreases the duration of upper respiratory infection in high school athletes.

Recommended product is Now Foods Olive Leaf Extract Capsules.

Turmeric & curcumin

Curcumin is a phytochemical isolated from the root of the turmeric plant, which is the most studied single ingredient in the plant. Curcumin gives turmeric its yellow color. The use of turmeric in cooking is quite common in India. Nowadays, in many Western countries, turmeric is widely used in various dams, sauces and smoothies. However, the intestinal absorption of the turmeric root is relatively poor. Black pepper piperine significantly improves the absorption of curcumin. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from oxidative stress (especially as BCM-95 and Meriva-SR patent forms).

Curcumin has been shown to embody anti-inflammatory properties that can help in treating chronic pain and infections. It also helps to boost glutathione levels in the body. Curcumin and turmeric also have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties in humans.

We recommend high-quality BCM-95 or Meriva-SR forms of curcumin. This is our recommended product: Thorne Research Meriva 500-SF capsules.

Use turmeric also as a spice. Prefer organic and very high-quality and trusted products to avoid any contaminants.

Ginger

Ginger rhizome is the part commonly used as a spice. It is often called ginger root, or simply ginger. Ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and is closely related to turmeric, cardamom and galangal. It has a very long history of use in traditional medicine. Ginger has been used to help digestion, reduce nausea and help fight the flu and common cold, to name a few. Ginger can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or as an oil or juice.

Ginger helps to lower inflammation, treat infectious agents, and protect against environmental stressors such as smoke and chemicals. Ginger also decreases oxidative stress, inhibits prostaglandin synthesis and lowers the levels of several inflammatory cytokines such as IL1, TNF-α and IL8 in the blood.

Want to know even more about different immune system optimizing herbs, supplements and foods? Check out the Biohacker’s Flu Guide!

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