Andrographis paniculata, (AP), also known commonly as "King of Bitters," is a member of the plant family Acanthaceae, and has been used for centuries in Asia to treat GI tract and upper respiratory infections, fever, herpes, sore throat, and a variety of other chronic and infectious diseases. It is found in the Indian Pharmacopoeia and is the prominent in at least 26 Ayurvedic formulas; whereas in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Andrographis is an important "cold property" herb: it is used to rid the body of heat, as in fevers, and to dispel toxins from the body. In Scandinavian countries, it is commonly used to prevent and treat common colds. Research conducted in the '80's and '90's has confirmed that Andrographis, properly administered, has a surprisingly broad range of pharmacological effects, some of them extremely beneficial.
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.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 (Somewhat confusingly, this proprietary combination is sold under the same name, “Kan Jang,” as the pure andrographis product noted above; the manufacturer regards this combination as more effective than andrographis alone, and the combination version of the product has now superceded the previous single-herb version.) Another study found this combination more effective than echinacea for colds in children.
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.
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.