Andrographis is a shrub found throughout India and other Asian countries that is sometimes called “Indian echinacea.” It has been used historically in epidemics, including the Indian flu epidemic in 1919 during which andrographis was credited with stopping the spread of the disease.1
What Is Andrographis Used for Today?
Over the last decade, a proprietary extract of andrographis (currently sold in combination with eleutherococcus) has become popular in Scandinavia as a treatment for colds. It is beginning to become available in the United States as well. Reasonably good evidence tells us that either form of this extract can reduce the severity of cold symptoms. It may also help prevent colds.
Although we don’t know how andrographis might work for colds, preliminary evidence suggests that it might stimulate immunity,2 potentially making it useful for general immune support.
Andrographis combined with eleutherococcus, licorice, and schisandra has shown promise for a genetic disease called familial Mediterranean fever.24, 25
Preliminary studies in animals weakly suggest that andrographis may offer benefits for preventing heart disease.3,4,5 In addition, highly preliminary studies suggest that andrographis may help protect the liver from toxic injury, perhaps more successfully than the more famous liver-protective herb milk thistle.6,7,8 It also appears to stimulate gallbladder contraction.9 Andrographis does not appear to have any antibacterial effects.10
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Andrographis?
Reducing Cold Symptoms
A meta-analysis (statistically rigorous review of studies) published in 2004 found seven reasonable quality double-blind, controlled trials, enrolling a total of 896 participants, evaluating the use of a proprietary andrographis extract for the treatment of acute respiratory infections.11,12,13,26 The combined results indicate that this andrographis extract is more effective than placebo for reducing symptoms.
For example, a 4-day, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 158 adults with colds found that treatment with this andrographis significantly reduced cold symptoms.14 Participants were given either placebo or 1,200 mg daily of an andrographis extract standardized to contain 5% andrographolide. The results showed that by day 2 of treatment, and even more by day 4, individuals who were given the actual treatment experienced significant improvements in symptoms compared to participants in the placebo group. The greatest response was seen in earache, sleeplessness, nasal drainage, and sore throat, but other cold symptoms improved as well.
Three other double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, enrolling a total of about 400 people, evaluated a related proprietary herbal combination treatment containing both andrographis and Eleutherococcus senticosus.15,22 (This proprietary combination is sold under the name, “Kan Jang.” The manufacturer regards this combination as more effective than andrographis alone.) Another study found this combination more effective than echinacea for colds in children.27
A different formulation of andrographis has been compared to acetaminophen (Tylenol). In a double-blind study of 152 adults with sore throat and fever, participants received andrographis (in doses of 3 g per day or 6 g per day, for 7 days) or acetaminophen.16 The higher dose of andrographis (6 g) decreased symptoms of fever and throat pain to about the same extent as acetaminophen, but the lower dose of andrographis (3 g) was not as effective. There were no significant side effects in either group.
A Russian study of questionable quality apparently found andrographis extract approximately as effective as the drug amanditine for influenza infections.28
According to one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, andrographis may increase resistance to colds.17 A total of 107 students, all 18 years old, participated in this 3-month-long trial that used the same proprietary extract of andrographis mentioned above. Fifty-four of the participants took two 100-mg tablets standardized to 5.6% andrographolide daily—considerably less than the 1,200 to 6,000 mg per day that has been used in studies on treatment of colds. The other 53 students were given placebo tablets with a coating identical to the treatment. Then, once a week throughout the study, a clinician evaluated all the participants for cold symptoms.
By the end of the trial, only 16 people in the group using andrographis had experienced colds, compared to 33 of the placebo-group participants. This difference was statistically significant, indicating that andrographis reduces the risk of catching a cold by a factor of two as compared to placebo.
A typical dosage of andrographis is 400 mg 3 times a day. Doses as high as 1,000 to 2,000 mg 3 times daily have been used in some studies. Andrographis is usually standardized to its content of andrographolide, typically 4% to 6%. Note that virtually all published studies of andrographis have involved a single proprietary product. It is not clear that the results of these studies apply to products using different andrographis sources, or different methods of extraction.
Andrographis has not been associated with any side effects in human studies. In one study, participants were monitored for changes in liver function, blood counts, kidney function, and other laboratory measures of toxicity.18 No problems were found.
However, some animal studies have raised concerns that andrographis may impair fertility. One study found that male rats became infertile when fed 20 mg of andrographis powder daily.19 In this case, the rats stopped producing sperm and showed physical changes in some of the testicular cells involved in sperm production. Researchers also detected evidence of degeneration of other anatomical structures in the testicles. However, another study showed no evidence of testicular toxicity in male rats that were given up to 1 g per kilogram body weight daily for 60 days, so this issue remains unclear.20 Furthermore, a human trial using the widely tested andrographis-eleutherococcus combination found no adverse effect on male fertility measurements such as sperm quality and number.29
One group of female mice also did not fare well on high dosages of andrographis.21 When fed 2 g per kilogram body weight daily for 6 weeks (thousands of times higher than the usual human dose), all female mice failed to get pregnant when mated with males of proven fertility. Meanwhile, of the control females, 95.2% got pregnant when mated with a similar group of male mice. Another study found a potential explanation for this in evidence that androphraphis relaxes the uterus.23 While andrographis is probably not a useful form of birth control, these results are worrisome regarding the use of androphraphis by pregnant women.
Finally, if androphraphis does indeed stimulate the immune system, this would lead to a whole host of potential risks. The immune system is balanced on a knife edge. An immune system that is too relaxed fails to defend us from infections, but an immune system that is too active attacks healthy tissues, causing autoimmune diseases. A universal immune booster might cause or exacerbate lupus, Crohn’s disease, asthma, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis, among other illnesses.
Safety in young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has also not been established.
Also, because andrographis may stimulate gallbladder contraction, it should not be used by individuals with gallbladder disease except under physician supervision.
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