Andrographis is a plant native to South Asian countries. It is commonly used in traditional Indian medicine, such as Ayurveda; it is an important constituent of at least 26 Ayurvedic formulas in Indian pharmacopoeia. The leaf and stem are used for supporting the immune system. Research suggests it may prevent flu viruses from binding to our protective layer of cells, known as the mucosal layer, and other cells in the body. Therefore, a common use for Andrographis is to remedy or prevent colds and flu, and other infections causing symptoms in the upper respiratory tract. The Chinese and Thai herbal medicine systems have also incorporated this herb; used mostly for its “bitter” properties, as a treatment for digestive problems [i].
Other suggested uses include osteoarthritis and ulcerative colitis. It has been used by traditional medical practitioners for stomach aches, inflammation, and fevers. In Malaysia, a decoction of the aerial parts is used to treat common cold, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, malaria and snakebite [ii].
In a study on mice, improvements were seen in the antibody formation and white blood cell activity such as macrophages and lymphocytes; cells which are responsible for fighting infection in the body [iii]. Evidence from clinical trials suggests that Andrographis is effective in reducing the severity and the duration of colds and flu when treatment is started within the first 36 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms [iv]. Symptoms such as cough, sore throat and fever were reduced.
Andrographis displays antibacterial properties against a wide array of bacterium including disease causing E.coli. There were also reports of anti-fungal activity against Candida albicans [v].
The antioxidant activity of Andrographis in animal studies was seen to reduce oxidative stress in organs such as the liver, kidney, heart, lungs and spleen [vi]. The body requires a good supply of antioxidants to prevent free radicals from causing mutations in our cell’s DNA which can lead to cancerous changes. Oxidative stress, if left unmanaged can also lead to other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
In addition to its antioxidant action, Andrographis has been seen in studies to possess protective action against some cancer cell lines, including leukaemia cells, breast cancer and colon cancer [vii] [viii] [ix].
Traditional use includes a powdered version of the herb is mixed in oil and applied on eczema lesions, it is also used internally for therapeutic effect [x]. Its antimicrobial properties provide good protection against skin infections associated with dermatitis and conditions whereby skin is left exposed to microbes. Such benefits have been seen in studies [xi].
Inflammation and Pain:
Traditionally the herb may also be used for menstrual pain [xii] [xiii]. Studies show the reduction of inflammatory pathways in response to the compounds contained in Andrographis extracts [xiv] . A small-scale prospective study suggests potential benefits in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis alongside conventional treatment. Mechanisms were found between consumption of Andrographis and reduction of rheumatoid factor [xv].
Andrographis is likely safe when used in doses up to 340 mg daily for up to 12 months. It also appears to be safe when taken as a specific combination product containing Andrographis extract and Eleuthero for 4-7 days [xvi].
Andrographis can cause rare side effects such diarrhoea, vomiting, rash, headache, runny nose, and fatigue in some people. Side effects are more likely with higher doses [xvii].
Pregnancy: Andrographis is possibly unsafe when taken by mouth during pregnancy. There is a concern that it might cause miscarriage.
Breastfeeding: There is not currently enough information to know if Andrographis is safe to use when breastfeeding.
Use in auto-immune disease may worsen symptoms due to Andrographis potentially causing the immune system to become more active.
Bleeding conditions: Andrographis might slow blood clotting. This might increase the risk of bleeding or bruising in people with bleeding disorders.
Surgery: Andrographis might slow blood clotting and reduce blood pressure. It might cause extra bleeding or low blood pressure during and after surgery. Stop using Andrographis at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
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