Like millions of Americans, you may have heard Dr. Oz extol the virtues of Andrographis paniculata on his TV show, and you want the real scoop on this herbal remedy. With a few caveats, the medical consensus is that Andrographis, also called “Indian Echinacea,” is an unassuming little herb that delivers some remarkable health benefits. Grown throughout India and tropical Asia, this herbaceous plant has been used for eons as a natural antibiotic, and its anti-inflammatory benefits are proven when it comes to treating sinus and upper respiratory infections (URIs) stemming from colds or the flu. In addition, Andrographis extract has antioxidants and other properties that seem to spur the body’s immune system, so it is of great interest to cancer and HIV researchers.
Read on to learn more about this herb, which has been used in traditional Chinese, Indian, and Southeast Asian medicine for millennia. As with all herbal supplements and remedies, however, be cautious, particularly if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or taking any medications on a regular basis.
This potent herb is a mainstay of India’s system of Ayurvedic medicine, in which it is known as Kalmegh. Also dubbed the "King of Bitters," it thought to have cooling and other properties that flush toxins from the body. It can be used either to treat acute symptoms or as a prophylactic to help prevent infection in the first place, thanks to its mighty immune-boosting characteristics.
According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), contemporary medical researchers have chiefly investigated the use of Andrographis to combat colds, the flu, and URIs. The consensus? Whether used alone or in tandem with other beneficial herbs, Andrographis extract is a safe, effective way to mitigate the symptoms of many respiratory infections. In fact, has been marketed in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe for over a decade to fight URIs, and is a very popular alternative remedy there, much like Echinacea or Oscillococcinum.
While Andrographis has shown potential cancer-fighting properties in laboratory studies, this phenomenon has not yet been confirmed in human subjects. And in another clinical trial, the plant’s active compounds—called andrographolides—have been found to up the lymphocyte (a type of white blood cells) count of HIV-positive individuals, indicating an increase in the body’s immune functions.
Andrographis is also used to treat patients with heart disease or high blood pressure, who often respond well to its anti-hypertensive properties. Small clinical trials have also shown the beneficial the effects of Andrographis extract on rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis, but further research is needed to substantiate these claims.
Research to date has found that Andrographis poses few risks, and that its side effects are mild and rare. Patients have reported allergic reactions, altered taste, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, nausea, and enlarged or swollen lymph nodes.
Moreover, do not ingest this herb if you are taking anticoagulant, antiplatelet, or chemotherapy medications, as well as drugs to counter hypertension. People with immune-system diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis should also steer clear of andrographis, as should pregnant or nursing women and couples trying to conceive.