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5 Herbal Agents for Antifungal Therapy

JASMYNE BROWN, ND, MS  |  January 11, 2021
Autoimmune Disease and Fungal Infections

Throughout life, almost everyone will experience some type of microbial overgrowth or infection. Whether it be as common as a cold or as debilitating as a systemic mold infection, pretty much everyone will go through this. Being aware of as many antimicrobial agents is beneficial in treatment. We are finding fungal overgrowths to be quite common. Our offered profiles including: OAT, MycoTOX, and the Comprehensive Stool Analysis, all can help to diagnose and understand the effect of a fungal overgrowth. Herbal agents are effective in treating fungal overgrowths and are great options in most clinical cases. This post will aim to shed light on a few herbs that have shown antifungal properties.

Goldenseal

The first herb to discuss is a popular one. Hydrastis canadensis, more commonly known as goldenseal, has been used for many decades for its antimicrobial effects. The active ingredient of goldenseal is berberine. Berberine is an isoquinoline alkaloid. This is the component that gives the plant its antifungal properties. This alkaloid is cytotoxic. It works by affecting the cell membrane of fungus. Ergosterol is the most prevalent and abundant sterol in the cell membrane, giving fungal cells their permeability and fluidity. Berberine acts to inhibit ergosterol synthesis. By inhibiting the synthesis, the cell membrane of the fungus becomes unstable and increases its permeability. This causes a loss of internal contents, DNA and protein, of the fungus and subsequently death. Berberine also plays a role in direct lipid peroxidation of the membrane, acting directly to destroy the membrane. Other herbs with berberine as a constituent include Oregon grape root, barberry and goldthread. Any of these, including goldenseal, are valuable components of any antifungal therapy.

Black Walnut

This herb, also known as Juglans nigra, is widely known and used as an antiparasitic agent. It is also a potent antifungal herb. The active component is called juglone. Juglone is a type of organic compound called naphthoquinone. It has shown antifungal properties against topical, intestinal and vaginal candida overgrowth. This compound, in its nanoparticle form, has shown promising efficacy against aspergillus and fusarium mold species. When acting, the juglone also increases cellular catalase and superoxide dismutase. These are common defense enzymes that act at the cellular membrane of the fungal cell to cause damage and death.

Juglone has also shown direct inhibition in cellular respiration of Fusarium mold, a common mold exposure as depicted by the OAT and MycoTOX Profile. It stimulates the increase of glutathione reductase enzyme in addition to its antifungal properties. This enzyme helps to reduce the increase in ROS. Other compounds, phenols, have also been extracted from black walnut. Some include: 3- and 5-caffeoylquinic acids, 3- and 4-p-coumaroylquinic acids, p-coumaric acid, quercetin 3-galactoside, quercetin 3-pentoside derivative, quercetin 3-arabinoside, quercetin 3-xyloside and quercetin 3-rhamnoside. These phenolic compounds have also shown antifungal properties, in particular to candida. With juglone and these phenolic compounds working synergistically, black walnut is a potent option to consider in fungal overgrowth treatment. 

Echinacea

This next herb is a common immune boosting supplement known and used by many. Echinacea purpurea has been long touted for its immunomodulatory effects and antiviral nature. It has also shown efficacy against fungal infections and overgrowths. Vaginal candidiasis and Saccharomyces cerevisiae have been successfully treated with this herb. It acts using its polysaccharide rich composition. They work by enhancing the natural killer cells and macrophages of the host. This causes an increase in the phagocytosis of the fungal cells. Other active compounds in Echinacea that give it its immune modulating properties include the alkamide and caffeic acid derivatives. Echinacea’s direct antifungal, along with UV light therapy, is from the acetylenic isobutyl amides it contains. The UV light therapy isn’t necessary, but its addition does enhance Echinacea’s antifungal property.   

Echinacea also works in a different way to exert antifungal properties. Fungi, including Aspergillus and Candida, have been studied tirelessly and it has been found that they possess lipoxygenase (LOX) enzymes. Their LOX is like the ones found in humans. Echinacea exerts its anti-inflammatory nature by inhibiting these types of enzymes. So, in the presence of LOX enzyme in fungus, Echinacea exhibits the same inhibitory effect, thus affecting the fungal cell negatively. This makes it more susceptible to the polysaccharide function of enhancing immunity. Echinacea is a great addition to any formula for immune support and for antifungal properties. 

Grapefruit Seed Extract

Another herbal option for antifungal therapy is grapefruit seed extract (GSE). This potent extract is used often over the counter for many antimicrobial needs. Its antifungal nature is due to a few mechanisms. One includes its flavone content. The flavones are found in high concentrations in all citrus including grapefruit. The flavones in question are naringin and hesperidin and their derivatives like prunin decanoate. They have been shown to inhibit mycelial growth of not only Candida yeast, but also Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium. 

GSE works by inhibiting fungal cell growth and energy production. It works at the mitochondrial level of the fungal cell. The GSE induces apoptosis by destroying the 60S and L14-A ribosomal proteins found in the mitochondria. Through this inhibition, the conversion of pantothenic acid to coenzyme A. This inhibition disrupts the fungal cellular respiration needed for its own energy production and cellular function. The blockage caused eventually will kill the fungus and disrupt replication. GSE also works by eliminating biofilms that are already present. It also inhibits the formation of new biofilms. GSE can be used not only as a star antifungal player in treatment, but also as a novel biofilm disruptor set in place to enhance the activity of other potent antifungals being used.

Garlic

For centuries, Allium sativum, more commonly known as garlic, has been used for its medicinal properties. Now, most people use garlic only as a nice addition to many savory meals for enhanced flavor. Luckily, its medicinal properties have not been forgotten. Garlic has been touted as antilipidemic, antiproliferative, anti-inflammatory, amongst other great properties. For our purpose we will focus on the more antimicrobial properties and effects of the amazing plant. Allium has shown great efficacy as an antimicrobial agent and as an antifungal. 

This plant has various active compounds that give it its medicinal properties. Two are ajoene and allicin. Allicin is the commonly known active compound in garlic. In its pure form, allicin is a potent antifungal with great efficacy against Candida albicans. It has been shown to inhibit candida growth with topical and internal application. The allicin is released from the plant by the alliin that is acted upon by the phospho-pyridoxal enzyme alliinase. Therefore, it’s best to crush garlic cloves and let them sit before adding to your dish when cooking. This time allows for the allicin to be fully released. Once the active allicin is released it can exert its antifungal properties. It works due to its sulfur content. The sulfur, when in contact with the fungus, enters the fungal cell and binds to the sulfur in the DNA and proteins of the fungus and disrupts synthesis thus killing the organism. One would be suspicious that this compound would do the same to human cells when ingested. This is prevented as the sulfur in the glutathione our cells possess binds synergistically with the allicin and thus inactives this action of the garlic. It’s pretty interesting how plants can be helpful to one organism, yet harmful to another. Allicin has also been shown to cause 100% mycelial growth inhibition of Aspergillus niger.

This other compound ajoene is also an organosulfur compound from garlic. It happens to be from allicin. The further degradation of the allicin, allows for the release of this other potent compound. Ajoene has also shown great efficacy in the killing of fungus. Studies have shown its success in treating Candida and Aspergillus. Some other molds that have been found to be common in water damage building exposure that ajoene can combat include Fusarium and Penicillium. Another plant, highly related to garlic, Allium cepa or onion, has also shown great efficacy in killing mold and yeast. With the same compounds found in both these plants, both would be beneficial to any antifungal protocol.


In the discovery of fungal overgrowths, whether yeast or mold, treatment options are vast. These 5 herbs discussed: goldenseal, echinacea, grapefruit seed extract, garlic, and black walnut are options that should be considered. When deciding which herbs to use to treat your clients consider formulations that include these options.


References

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About the Author

JASMYNE BROWN, ND, MS

Jasmyne Brown is a board certified and licensed naturopathic doctor.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in chemistry with a minor in biology from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in 2013. In 2017, she earned her doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine. Her educational background and her experience as a WIC nutritionist with the Florida Pasco County Department of Health allows her to convey complex concepts in a manner that can be grasped by anyone on multiple levels. She is thrilled to be a member of the MosaicDX team and hopes to bring an understanding of functional medicine to all who seek it. She will be using her professional training to interpret clinical data from MosaicDX lab tests and further her passion for identifying the biochemical pathways within our bodies and how nutrition and lifestyle impact them.

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