Andrographis is a popular herb that has deep roots in both Ancient Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. It is said to contain properties that support the immune system, digestion, joints and mobility, mood and behavior, temporary relief from occasional elevated body temperature, and detoxification. Andrographis is also very bitter to taste and is believed to have cooling properties. These traits are prized among modern practitioners of ancient medicine who continue to recommend this herb as a means to clear excess heat from the body and help to balance the pitta dosha.
While first administered thousands of years ago to help people achieve feelings of health and wellness, this versatile herb continues to remain popular among the more than 70% of people in India who practice Ayurveda. (1) In fact, andrographis is continuing to gain popularity outside of India, and among westerners who are more familiar with modern pharmaceuticals, but are curious about introducing the many potential benefits of andrographis into their lives.
What Is Andrographis?
Andrographis is a species of plant that belongs to the acanthus family, and originates on the subcontinent of India. (2)It is known by its scientific name Andrographis paniculata, kalmegh in Hindi, or maha-tikta (“king of bitters”) in the northern province of India. Today, cultivation of the plant has spread to the southern region of Asia. (3) In the wild, andrographis grows well in most soil types, can be found in plains, hillsides, and coastlines, but typically thrives where there is plenty of shade. Identify the plant by its thin stem that reaches more than 40 inches in height, traditionally-shaped leaves with a wing-like appearance, and secondary stems that grow horizontally and produce hairy buds that blossom into white flower petals with purple markings.
Notably, andrographis is thought to have bitterness that exceeds most other herbs. While individual tastes may disagree, the bitter properties are believed to activate the body’s natural response to environmental toxins, and seasonal or microbial challenges that may create a negative state in the body. (4)
Andrographis In Ancient Medicine
In India, Ayurveda is one of the oldest and most popular systems of medicine. The fundamentals of Ayurvedic medicine date back to Atharva Veda, which is a collection of more than 700 hymns and 6,000 mantras divided across 20 sacred books written from around 7,000 BC. (5) Within these works are mentions of diseases and treatments that would later lead to the organized system of medicine known as Ayurveda.
From its beginnings sometime between 3,000 to 4,000 BC, Ayurveda is important to many cultures. As Ayurveda means life (Ayur) and knowledge (Veda), its study and practice continue among scholars and citizens who find that its insights still prove true today. Among the many teachings found in the Ayurvedic system of medicine, the dosha types may be some of the most important. It is written that the three doshas, known as pitta, vata, and kapha, are responsible for governing many areas of the mind and body. (6) Similarly, herbs like andrographis are essential to keeping the doshas in balances, which is said to bring about more positive attributes and physical qualities.
Balancing the Doshas
Each dosha is made up of the five elements that form material existence in the universe. They are space, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements form the building blocks of all life, including humans. At birth, humans have all five elements; however, only two of these elements will be dominant. These dominant elements dictate whether we are a pitta, vata, or kapha. While each person will have one primary dosha, the other two will be present to a lesser degree. While many people have the same dosha, no two people have an identical quality or quantity of elements, which is what gives rise to our difference of appearance, health, behaviors, and emotions.
Elements of the three doshas:
- Vata - air and ether
- Pitta - fire and water
- Kapha - earth and water
Each dosha is dynamic and governs every aspect of the person. (7) The dosha can not be changed and will stay with a person for the entirety of their life. As such, it may be important to understand how the doshas affect nearly every aspect of live. When in balance, a vata, pitta, and kapha have desirable attributes that can lead to success or happiness in life. Alternatively, as a result of bad weather, stress, or lifestyle, the doshas can shift out of balance and result in bad health, failures in life, or an overall sense of unhappiness.
How Andrographis Balances Pitta
While there may be many changes a person can make in life to help balance the doshas, herbs are believed to play an important role, according to Ayurvedic teachings. (8) Different herbs have properties that are ideal for each of the three doshas. For example, andrographis has cooling and bitter properties that makes it ideal to help balance the pitta dosha. If a kapha or vata takes andrographis, it may help to balance their dosha, but to a lesser degree.
The reason andrographis supports the pitta dosha is because it governs key systems of the body, including metabolism, vision, the brain, liver, spleen, and the gastrointestinal tract. (9) These systems of the body gives rise to qualities that are hot and sharp. Therefore, the cooling and bitter properties help to balance the pitta when they get too hot as a result of work, exercise, or eating spicy foods; or too sharp as a result of not eating enough, staying indoors too long, or stress.
When in balance, the pitta may display the following traits:
- Warm friends and fierce opponents
- A strong will
- A healthy appetite
- Strong reaction to challenges
In the study of Ayurveda, some people find that the concept of the doshas and using herbs to balance the mind and body remain true today. While modern medicine is discovering new formulations of synthetic compounds to address health concerns, some circles of research are seeking more advanced study into herbs like andrographis to gain further insight into its potential benefits.
The Potential Benefits Of Andrographis
Andrographis has been found to contain more than 90 naturally occurring compounds. Each of these compounds may provide a range of potential medicinal benefits. (10) This includes andrographis and its major chemical constituent known as andrographolide, which is a secondary plant metabolite. (11) Unlike primary metabolites that are essential to the growth and function of plants, secondary plant metabolites allow the plant to survive in the environment against UV light from the sun, microbes, insects, animals, and other factors. (12) Some of these compounds are known to support free radical scavenging antioxidants, the immune system, the cardiovascular system, the brain, and more.
The potential benefits of taking andrographis as a supplement to support the immune system is not a new concept. According to some historical accounts, andrographis is credited with stopping the 1919 Indian flu epidemic that followed on the heels of the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak. In all, the epidemic would claim 20 to 50 million lives around the world, with at least 10 million deaths occurring in India before it was stopped. (13).
To better understand how andrographis interacts with the immune system, researchers conducted a placebo-controlled double-blind study with extract of this herb. In this study, patients with the common cold were given either 1200 mg of andrographis, or a sugar pill. The study found “significant reductions in clinical symptoms like shivering, sore throat, tiredness, muscular ache, rhinitis, sinus pains, and headache” in patients that received andrographis.” In a similar study, 107 students were given two-200 mg tablets with andrographis extract. When compared to students that were afflicted with the common cold, students that were given the andrographis extract had a “2.1-fold higher prevention rate compared to the placebo group.”
Internal Challenges and Discomfort
Andrographolide has also been shown to host a range of molecular mechanisms that may support the body’s regulating processes during normal aging. These processes may help to regulate how the body responds to internal challenges, promotes comfort, and maintains a positive state.
Investigations into how the compounds in andrographis may accomplish this is not entirely understood, but research may be narrowing down on an answer. When administering andrographolide in a clinical study, researchers found that andrographis has many active components with anti-inflammatory properties. (14)
Current research has shown that various active ingredients of Andrographis affect immune function, interacting with the platelet activating factor receptor, improving the nitric oxide levels in the body, scavenging oxygen free radicals, and inhibiting various proinflammatory cytokines, thus exhibiting a potent anti-inflammatory effect.
According to the study, these potential benefits may be linked to how andrographolide interacts with immune system functions, including the production of cytokines that help to regulate the immune response, and by inhibiting signaling pathways.
In a study that examines the aqueous (water-based) extract of andrographis, the extract was found to have active properties that may support a healthy cardiovascular system, including arteries, and vessels. Additionally, these properties may support clotting factors, as well as help to maintain blood pressure already within the normal range. One study found also found that the extract helped participants to maintain a healthy heart rate.
Some researchers also notes that “andrographolide may have a high therapeutic potential to treat thromboembolic disorders and may also be considered for treating various inflammatory diseases.” This may be the result of regulating factors in platelet aggregation, which is a function of the cardiovascular system that helps to clump platelets together to fill a wound.
Blood Sugar Support
Researchers from the Department of Pharmacology at the National University of Singapore looked into the effect of andrographis leaf extract on blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. (15) In the study, researchers administered 550 mg of dry andrographis extract to one group, and a placebo to a second group. The dosage and diets varied for each group, and blood glucose levels were measured 2 hours following a meal, and after 14 days.
The study found that blood glucose was “significantly reduced” 2 hours after each meal, but over the course of 14 days it was found that the “reduction of fasting blood glucose levels” was not significant. These findings may be the result of the extract helping to maintain normal insulin sensitivity, and providing support for glucose uptake into cells. High glucose levels has been shown to interfere with the pathways that regulate the movement of blood sugar in the body. In order to better understand how andrographis affects this process, including the potential for future development of treatment, researchers note that, “the identification of more antihyperglycemic compounds of AP (Andrographis paniculata) and combination of AP with other medicinal plants would be a focusing point of researchers for the better treatment option for the diabetic patients.”
How To Use Andrographis
Supplements And Teas
Andrographis is a versatile herb that is available as a whole plant, dry powder, or liquid extract. (16) Due to its bitter properties, choosing capsules or tablets may be the preferred method of supplementing a healthy diet.
If using whole plant parts, add 10 to 12 grams of fresh andrographis parts in a teapot or infuser to one cup of boiling water and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. If using dried andrographis leaf, substitutes with one teaspoon. If the tea is too bitter, use less herb or combine with strong fruit, like cranberry.
If taking as a supplement, dosages will vary. Some supplements contain 200 mg or more of andrographis extract per serving. Some studies administer 400 mg or more each day to obtain their results.
Side Effects and Warnings
As with any herb or supplement, there may be interactions with certain medications and medical conditions. Some people report headaches, fatigue, allergic reactions, nausea, diarrhea, altered taste, or pain when taking andrographis. (17) For specific individual needs, first consult with a primary care physician or nutritionist prior to taking any supplement.
Andrographis may be found as a primary ingredient in supplements, blended with complementary herbs, vitamins, or other nutrients. In Ayurveda, herbs are frequently combined to promote optimal medicinal benefits in a healthy body.
Try these other herbs to support optimal feelings of health and wellness:
- Glehnia root
- Apricot seed
- White mulberry leaf
- Gardenia fruit
- Zhejiang fritillary
- Pear fruit
- Lemon balm
- ... and other Ayurvedic herbs!
Andrographis is an ancient herb that has been used for thousands of years as a means to achieve health and wellness in life. While very bitter, this exact quality is believed to be the key to its many potential benefits. Experience andrographis and see if it makes a difference in your life!