Neem as an Immune-System Booster
BREAKING NEWS ON COVID-19. While neem is an excellent choice as an immune-system booster, it should NOT be taken if you have contracted the virus. The science gets complicated quickly, but its immune-boosting properties may set off or exacerbate something called a “cytokine storm.” They have only been seen in hospitalized patients but if you become ill, your doctor should be aware that you have been taking an immune-boosting herb. Paul Bergner, director of the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism, has written a monograph explaining cytokine storms written for professional herbalists. You can read it here.
While neem is known around the world as “The Village Pharmacy,” its most important benefit may its immune-boosting properties. Researchers don’t know how it works, they do know it carries a one-two punch, boosting both the lymphocytic and cell-mediated immune systems.
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The fact that neem boosts the cell-mediated immune (CMI) system is particularly important to most people. Led by “Killer T” cells, the CMI system is the body’s first defense against infection, particularly viruses. It recognizes small parts of a virus and then destroys with toxic chemicals.
Much of the research on Killer T cells – more formally known as cytotoxic cells – focuses on treating cancer in Swiss mice. Sixteen separate reports published in peer-reviewed journals with abstracts in the National Institutes of Health library specifically look at cytotoxic cells and the role they play in suppressing tumors, mostly in mice but also on human cancer cells in test tubes.
It’s so complicated you probably need an advanced education to understand it so we’ll just include the link to the abstracts here for those wise people instead of trying to translate for the rest of us.
Some of the earliest research on neem looks at how neem functions as a contraceptive, specifically focusing on its immune-boosting properties. The first was published in Immunology & Cell Biology where researchers describe how neem increases the body’s CMI response in both rodents and primates, effectively terminating their pregnancies.
Another report in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology supports those findings, noting that it initially stimulates T cells and macrophages, and then causes an elevation of both immunoreactive and bioactive TNF-alpha and gamma-interferon.
A follow-up study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reported that long-term use of neem oil, up to 10% of body weight, showed no apparent toxic effect but completely abrogated pregnancies. All three studies note that the effect of neem last for one or two cycles and animals born after treatment with neem showed no damage.
Other research on how neem boosts immune systems looks at diverse but economically important animals including mice, chickens, bass, catfish and even buffalo calves.
The calves were fed an additive that included neem seed cake for four months. Those who received the supplement showed increase in both their CMI and humoral immune responses.
Chickens with immunosuppressed systems that were fed powered dry neem leaves showed significantly enhanced humeral and cell-mediated immune responses to a common virus. The scientists concluded that neem leaf could be beneficial in immunosuppressed conditions in poultry.
In another chicken experiment, birds fed neem leaves showed higher levels of antibodies that could minimize the need for antibiotics typically used to treat Newcastle’s and infectious bursal viruses.
Seabass fingerlings were fed various concentrations of neem and then injected with a lethal dose of a vibrio infection. Not only did the survival rate increase because of the fishes’ enhanced system, they also gained more weight more quickly.
Striped catfish were used to screen the immune-modulatory action of neem and other plant extracts. Neem and four others induced significant changes in pro-inflammatory, antiviral and adoptive immune cytokines.
Although most of this research has been conducted in animals and considers very specific types of antigens and infections, the overall results indicate that neem provides a significant boost to human immune systems. However, it also makes it clear that anyone (male or female) who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid using neem.