Overview Of Immunomodulating Herbs Commonly Used In HIV / AIDS

Herbs used in the treatment of HIV / AIDS are aimed at improving the integrity of the immune system. The herbs below are presented merely on an informational basis. They are generally used for tonic purposes, taken in any number of forms from concentrated extracts to use in soups. They are considered to have a high safety profile, although little research has been conducted on the effects of these herbs clinically in individuals with HIV / AIDS using conventional pharmacotherapy. Readers can refer to other topics in this textbook for HIV- and AIDS-related conditions, for example, nausea and vomiting of pregnancy for common antinausea herbs, vaginitis, insomnia, anxiety, or depression. Anecdotally, many HIV / AIDS patients have reported that, in conjunction with conventional therapies, various combinations of the following herbs, and others, along with heavy nutritional supplementation programs, have vastly improved their quality of life.


Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is the one of the most widely used immune tonifying herbs of Chinese medicine. It is primarily used as a lung tonic, and may be helpful in increasing resistance against respiratory infections. It is also used as a digestive tonic. It has been shown to potentiate both thymus and spleen function, and to augment both humoral and cell-mediated immunity. Most studies evaluating the effects of astragalus on immunity have used cancer models and patients undergoing chemotherapy. The quality of astragalus products varies greatly. At least nine different species and one other genus (Hedysarum) of plant are traded as astragalus but not all contain the primary marker compound astragaloside intravenous.


Atractylodes (A. lanata) is much like astragalus in improving digestive and assimilative functions. It increases energy, and has specific and nonspecific immune-stimulating activity. It can increase phagocytic activity, increase white blood cell counts, increase lymphocytic transformation, promote cellular immunity in general, and significantly increase immunoglobulin activity (IgG). It is also high in vitamin A.


Codonopsis (C. pilosulae) is used similarly to ginseng as a tonic. It can increase both red and white blood cell counts and hemoglobin, increase phagocytic activity and promote lymphocytic transformation. It has also been reported to increase T-cell production.


Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) has primarily been valued for its adaptogenic properties and its ability to increase nonspecific resistance to physical and psychological stresses. Eleutherococcus increases macrophage activity in lymph tissue.


Extracts of licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) are widely used as part of an AIDS protocol in many clinics. Anti-AIDS activity that has been reported include reversal in P-24 antigen, reduction in the progression from ARC to AIDS in hemophiliacs, increases in overall lymphocytes, increase in natural killer (NK) cell activity, and a dose-dependent reduction in viral replication. Preparations used clinically include oral administration of crude licorice extracts as well as intravenous preparations. Although generally safe, excessive amounts of glycyrrhiza can cause fluid retention, heart palpitations, and contribute to hypertension.


Ligustrum (L. lucidum) is widely used in China as an adjunctive therapy to chemotherapy and radiation therapy used in the treatment of cancer. It stimulates hematopoiesis, and has been shown to restore immune functioning to almost normal in cancer patients. Ligustrum specifically promotes lymphocytic transformation, increases leukocytes, and may decrease the immunosuppressive side effects of radiation and AZT.


Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is one of the primary herbs of choice in any immune deficiency disease. It possesses a broad spectrum of immunostimulating activities, as well as anti-inflammatory and antiallergenic properties. Reishi contains more than 100 oxygenated triterpenes, many of which exhibit a marked effect on the activity of NK cells. It has been widely used for a variety of infectious disease such as bronchitis and hepatitis. It stimulates phagocytosis, increases T-cell activity and is a treatment for viral hepatitis. Reishi has been reported to increase CD4 cells in vivo. It is also used as an effective antidepressant.

Shiitake Mushroom

Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes) are rich in immunostimulating polysaccharides, and seem to exhibit a primary healing effect on the liver, being widely used for hepatotoxicity, Hepatitis-B, and cirrhosis. For this purpose, a high-tech extract of the immature mycelium is used. It is rich in a broad spectrum of amino acids and B vitamins. One constituent, Lentinan, has been shown to possess a 97% inhibition rate against sarcoma 180 growth, and 80% inhibition of Ehrlich’s Sarcoma in vitro.