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Monograph Library, Year-Round Health

Deep Immune® - Potent Immune Support for Cancer Patients

What is Deep Immune?

With its qi tonic herbs, Deep Immune represents a unique marriage of the Western herbalism approach and the traditional Chinese Materia Medica. Qi tonics are valuable to anyone who wants greater energy, increased resistance to flu, colds, and other infections, and to aid the treatment of immune system disorders. 

Deep Immune – Ingredients

  • Astragalus membranaceus, root
  • Codonopsis pilosula, root
  • Eleutherococcus senticosus, root
  • Ganoderma lucidum, fruiting body (reishi)
  • Ligustrum lucidum, fruit
  • Schisandra chinensis, fruit
  • Atractylodes macrocephala, rhizome
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra, root and stolon

TCM oncologists in China who combine chemo and radiation therapy with herbs do so to augment qi, thus optimizing immune function. This approach is termed “fuzheng” therapy, which means to support the body’s natural order.[1] 

Deep Immune—An Adaptogenic Immune Balancer

In addition to being qi tonics, nearly all the herbs in Deep Immune are also adaptogens. Adaptogens bring the body into a state of homeostasis and stabilize its physiological processes and systems—including immune function, digestion, metabolism, circulation, the brain, and the reproductive organs.[2] 

Adaptogens that double as immune herbs are better termed immunomodulators, rather than immunostimulants - they do not necessarily stimulate immune function, but rather act to correct underlying mechanisms by which immune function goes awry.

Eric Yarnell proffers a list of herbs that he terms “immunomodulators,” with “adaptogens” as a subheading. His list includes astragalus, codonopsis, eleuthera, reishi, and schisandra. [3]

Taking his cue from fellow herbalist Christopher Hobbs, David Hoffmann lists several herbs that he calls “deep immune activators,” namely, astragalus, codonopsis, reishi, ligustrum, and schisandra.[4]

Deep Immune, Cancer and Dr. Neil McKinney, ND

In TCM, cancer treatment focuses on tonifying qi as well as detoxifying pathological qi. As mentioned above, the TCM approach to cancer is termed “fuzheng” therapy. Both the legacy of TCM and modern experimental work indicate that qi tonics enhance white blood cell and immune function, thus optimizing the chances of recovery from cancer, while at the same time reducing side effects of conventional treatment approaches. 

Dr. Neil McKinney has written the influential textbook, Naturopathic Oncology.[5] He explains that astragalus-based formulas have shown with a high degree of scientific rigour to mitigate the harm done by chemotherapy, while improving survival. From his own experience, founded on long years of clinical practice, Dr. McKinney provides a resounding confirmation of the effectiveness and utility of astragalus-based formulae. He asserts that, “It can double the chance of a good response, while reducing side-effects by one-third to one-half.  My current favorite formula is Astragalus Combination from St. Francis Herb Farmalso called Deep Immune formula”[6]

In correspondence with St. Francis Herb Farm, Dr. McKinney notes that for years he has recommended Deep Immune. As he says, “It is my favourite immune support and has been since the folks at SFHF created it.”

What Does the Literature Say?

Cancer Treatment in China

A survey of Chinese literature was conducted that covered the years 1988 to 2007, on trends in the treatment of gastric cancer with TCM. The literature that the authors reviewed were of three types: herbs used to directly treat cancer; herbs used to enhance the efficacy and reduce the side effects of conventional treatments; and herbs that help to prevent metastasis. The authors report that, for all three categories, the most frequently used type of herbal medicine was qi tonic herbs, chief of which were atractylodes, astragalus, codonopsis, Glycyrrhiza and Ginseng.[7]

Cancer Survival and Astragalus-Based Fuzheng Formulae

A large body of evidence is amassing to support the use of astragalus-based fuzheng formulas (Astragalus-FZ) as a complementary approach to cancer treatment. Two systematic reviews and meta-analyses, for example, have been conducted since 2005. They both examined Astragalus-FZ adjunctively administered with platinum-based chemotherapies for the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

The first was a 2006 meta-analysis conducted by a group at Berkeley School of Public Health. McCulloch et al[8] examined 34 randomized, controlled clinical trials representing 2815 patients, and concluded that Astragalus (single- agent or combinations) plus platinum- based chemotherapy, relative to chemotherapy alone, reduced risk of death in NSCLC patients by 42% at six months, 33% at 12 months, 27% at 24 months, and 15% at 36 months. Furthermore, astragalus- treated patients were 61% less likely to experience WBC toxicity from chemotherapy, and 74% less likely to experience hemoglobin toxicity. Finally, when examining performance status, i.e. how well patients were able to function while receiving cancer treatments, found that those receiving the Astragalus-FZ were 36% more likely to be functioning at an optimal level. The conclusion by the authors was that Astragalus-FZ clearly provides a benefit for survival while reducing side effects of chemotherapy among patients undergoing treatment for NSCLC. 

A second meta-analysis conducted by Dugoua[9] and colleagues at the University of Toronto and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine examined 65 Randomized Controlled clinical trials (RCTs), which collectively enrolled 4751 patients. Like McCulloch et al, all trials looked at platinum-based chemotherapy either alone or in combination with a Astragalus-FZ formulation, for treatment of NSCLC. They reported that of 7 trials (n = 529) that examined 6-month survival, they found 46% improved likelihood of survival; 20 trials (n = 1520), meanwhile, looking at 12-month survival showed a 35% greater likelihood of survival in the Astragalus-FZ treated groups, while similar improvements were found for 24 and 36 months survival. The authors also examined Karnofsky performance status, and found that those taking Astragalus-FZ had a 59% improvement in performance. 

Countering Cancer Treatment’s Side Effects

Two systematic reviews and meta-analyses examined the effectiveness of Astragalus-FZ (and/or other fuzheng formulae) for negating the deleterious effects of standard therapies for cancer, such as myelosuppression.

The first, a Cochrane systematic review conducted by Wu et al[10] examined whether Astragalus-FZ could decrease the toxicity experienced by patients treated with chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. They identified nineteen prospective controlled trials, four of which were of sufficient rigor for inclusion (representing 342 patients). The authors conclude that Astragalus-FZ significantly reduced the occurrence of nausea and vomiting, significantly reduced the occurrence of leucopenia (defined as WBC<3 x 10(9)/L), and significantly increased T- lymphocyte subsets CD3, CD4, and CD8.  

The second and more recent meta-analysis, conducted by Jia et al in 2015[11], examined the effectiveness of fuzheng TCM preparations, half of which contained astragalus, for preventing myelosuppression due to chemo or radiation therapy, while not focusing on any cancer type. They looked at 8 RCTs (n=818), 6 of which examined WBC change, while 2 examined red blood cell (RBC) differences. They concluded that by taking fuzheng therapy, patients were 59% more likely to maintain a healthy WBC count. There were no significant changes noted between fuzheng treated and chemo/radiation only groups for RBC indices in their review, however.

Mechanistic Look at Fuzheng’s Effects on Immunity

In terms of positive benefits for supporting the immunity of those individuals with cancer, there is a large body of corroborative research not only on astragalus, but on several of the other herbs in this Deep Immune® formula. We will delve into a few additional detail in the paragraphs that follow.

The Individual Ingredients and their Roles in Cancer Treatment


Some of the key constituents in astragalus root are triterpene saponins, 80% of which are represented by astragalosides I, II, and IV, and isoastragaloside I and II.[12] A recent assay in fact found our astragalus (single herb) capsule to contain a potent 2.4% astragaloside IV. 

Meanwhile an alkaloid component of astragalus root called Swainsonine, was found to effectively (> 80% inhibition) inhibit experimental metastasis of melanoma cancer in a mouse model.[13] The authors further demonstrated that the antimetastatic effect was mediated by Natural Killer (NK) cell activity, which was elevated from baseline by 2- to 3-fold in a 2-day period. 

Meanwhile a study conducted with human mononuclear cells (MNCs) at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that cancer and AIDS patient’s cells, in the presence of an astragalus extract had a 10-fold increase in responsiveness to Interleukin-2, a cytokine that activates lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells (a WBC that kills tumor cells).[14] 

Numerous pharmacological and animal studies show that astragalus has significant immune-enhancing properties.[15]


A codonopsis-based herbal formula given to breast cancer patients receiving chemo or radiation therapy was found to better maintain levels of white blood cells that are otherwise diminished by patients receiving these treatments.[16]

Meanwhile, a clinical trial conducted in China with 76 cancer patients receiving radiation therapy found that codonopsis protected against immunosuppression, while also maintaining a healthy lymphocyte response to cytokines like Interleukin-2, (see above).[17]


Clinical trials have proven that eleuthero, for its part, enhances immune function, especially natural killer and T-helper cells.[18]

In vitro and in vivo work has established the rationale for inclusion of Eleuthero in a formula meant to help cancer patients. A Korean group in 2004, for example, found that macrophages pretreated with eleuthero extract had significantly greater antitumor activity than untreated controls. The same authors administered the Eleuthero extract to mice before inoculating them with cancer cells and found a significant inhibition of metastasis.[19] 


As for reishi, two of its principal active constituents are its polysaccharides and its triterpenoids.[20],[21] Polysaccharides have been found, among other things, to enhance the immune system.[22],[23]

A 2010 study from Japan examined the efficacy if reishi used alone to prevent adenoma recurrence in patients with adenomatous (precancerous) polyps, after their removal during colonoscopy. Among the 96 enrolled in the treatment group, recurrence rate was found to be 11 out of 96 (11%), while 43 out of 102 (42%) in the control group had a recurrence. The result was statistically significant (p<0.01). The adenomas were also significantly smaller in the treatment group.[24]

Reishi has been studied in several trials, many of which delineate its immune and anticancer, antimutagenic and antimetastatic properties.[25],[26]


Ligustrum has a long history of use as a qi tonic and specifically to support those undergoing cancer treatments.[27]

Antiproliferative effectiveness of 12 TCM herbs was analyzed, including atractylodes, ligustrum and astragalus, among others. They extracted the herbs with methanol, chloroform, ethyl-acetate and water. Of the 12 herbs examined, Ligustrum was found to have the lowest ID50 value (the concentration of the compound that inhibits 50% of cell proliferation), for both methanol and ethyl acetate extracts.[28]    


A qi tonic and a spleen qi tonic, in TCM atractylodes is especially favoured for use when cancer patient experience cachexia. A clinical trial there looked at a key component of atractylodes and found significantly improved appetite in those receiving the atractylodes constituent as compared to a fish oil-enriched nutritional supplement.[29]


Licorice is the great harmonizer in TCM herbal formula creation. In Western herbalism, licorice is a premier adrenal tonic for remedying low energy levels and stress.  A 2016 study examined the anticancer potential of licorice, and noted that the polysaccharides inhibited the proliferation of a colon cancer cell line. They also described a potent doubling of interleukin 7 (IL-7) gene expression. IL-7 is an important anticancer cytokine that promotes the production and maturation of immune cells.[30]

A Final Look: In-vivo Scientific Validation of Deep Immune as a Formula

St. Francis Herb Farm has teamed up with researchers at the University of British Columbia and elsewhere to conduct a preliminary study into the immunological benefits of Deep Immune. The results of this undertaking are now being prepared for publication and are a gratifying validation of everything our customers have been saying for over a quarter of a century.

In the study, it was found that male mice with prostate cancer (so-called “TRAMP” mice) that were given Deep Immune over a period had “significantly suppressed” cancer progression. The researchers attributed this benefit to an increase in immune function, specifically in terms of splenocytes. In addition, higher numbers of immune cells were noted. Specifically, in this regard there was an increase in the number of T cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells. These results are exciting and demonstrate the therapeutic potential of Deep Immune.

For a closer look into our deep immune, check out our monograph Deep Immune, to see how it can help your overall health. 

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[1] Q Zhang and HY Hsu, AIDS and Chinese Medicine, New Canaan, CT: Oriental Healing Arts Institute, 1995.

[2] Frank Lesser (18 September 1980), “Letters: Eleutherococcus,” New Scientist 87 (1219): 885

[3] Eric Yarnell, “Compendium of Pharmacological Actions of Medicinal Plants and Their Constituents,” 2012. Accessed online November 22, 2016 from:

[4] David Hoffmann, Medical Herbalism, Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003, p. 443.

[5] Dr. Neil McKinney, Naturopathic Oncology: An Encyclopedic Guide for Patients and Physicians, Second Edition, Vancouver: Liaison Press, 2012.

[6] Ibid.

[7] W Cao and AG Zhao, “Prescription rules of Chinese herbal medicines in treatment of gastric cancer,” Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao (J Chin Integ Med) 2009; 7(1):1-8

[8] McCulloch M, See C, Shu XJ, et al. Astragalus-based Chinese herbs and platinum-based chemotherapy for advanced non-small-cell lung cancer: meta-analysis of randomized trials. J Clin Oncol 2006; 24(3):419-30.

[9] Dugoua JJ, et al. Astragalus-containing Chinese herbal combinations for advanced non-small-cell lung cancer: a meta-analysis of 65 clinical trials enrolling 4751 patients. Lung Cancer: Targets and Therapy 2010; 1: 85–100. Access online at

[10] Wu T, Munro AJ, Guanjian L, Liu GJ. Chinese medical herbs for chemotherapy side effects in colorectal cancer patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD004540.

[11] Jia Y, Du H, Yao M, Cui X, Shi Q, Wang Y, Yang Y. Chinese Herbal Medicine for Myelosuppression

Induced by Chemotherapy or Radiotherapy: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2015, pp. 1-12.

[12] KK Auyeung et al, “Astragalus membranaceus: A Review of its Protection Against Inflammation and Gastrointestinal Cancers,” American Journal of Chinese Medicine 2016 February; 44(1): 1-22.

[13] Humphries MJ, Matsumoto K, White SL, Molyneux RJ and Olden K. Augmentation of Murine Natural Killer Cell Activity by Swainsonine, a New Antimetastatic Immunomodulator. Cancer Res 1988; 48 (6): 1410-1415.

[14] Chu DT, Wong W, and Mavligit G. The in vitro potentiation of LAK cell cytotoxicity in cancer and AIDS patients induced by F3-a fractionated extract of astragalus membranaceus. Chinese J Cancer Research 1996; 8(2): 95-100.

[15] Kerry Bone and Simon Mills, “Astragalus membranaceus,Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine, Second Edition, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013, pp. 381-392.

[16] Zhuang SR, et al. Effects of a Chinese medical herbs complex on cellular immunity and toxicity-related conditions of breast cancer patients. British Journal of Nutrition (2012); 107: 712–718.

[17] Xiao-lan Z, Xin-ai L, Bi-yu Z et al. Immunological and Hematopoietic Effect of Codonopsis Pilosula on Cancer Patients during Radiotherapy. Chinese J Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine 1992; 10.

[18] Kerry Bone and Simon Mills, “Siberian ginseng,” Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine, Second Edition, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone; 2013. Pp. 818-825.

[19] Yoon T, Yoo Y, Lee S, Shin K, Choi W, Hwang S, Ha E, Jo S, Kim S, Park W. Anti-metastatic activity of Acanthopanax senticosus extract and its possible immunological mechanism of action. J Ethnopharmacol 2004; 93: 247–253.

[20] Eric Yarnell et al, Clinical Botanical Medicine, Larchmont, NY: Mary Ann Liebert, 2003, p. 74.

[21] GS Wu et al, “Anti-cancer properties of triterpenoids isolated from Ganoderma lucidum – a review,” Expert Opinion on Investigational Drugs 2013 August; 22(8): 981-92.

[22] William A Mitchell, Plant Medicine in Practice: Using the Teachings of John Bastyr, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2003, p. 4.

[23] S Wachtel-Galor et al, “Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom,” in Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors, Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition, Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2011, Chapter 9

[24] Oka S, Tanaka S, Yoshida S, et al. A water-soluble extract from culture medium of Ganoderma lucidum mycelia suppresses the development of colorectal adenomas. Hiroshima J Med Sci 2010; 59(1): 1-6.

[25] FF Radwan et al, “Apoptotic and Immune Restoration Effects of Ganoderic Acids Define a New Prospective for Complementary Treatment of Cancer,” Journal of Clinical and Cellular Immunology 2011 December; S3:4

[26] J Loganathan et al, “The mushroom Ganoderma lucidum suppresses breast-to-lung cancer metastasis through the inhibition of pro-invasive genes,” International Journal of Oncology 2014 June; 44(6): 2009-15.

[27] L Gao et al, “Ligustri lucidi fructus as a traditional Chinese medicine: a review of its phytochemistry and pharmacology,” Natural Product Research 2015; 29(6): 493-510.

[28] Engi H, Hohmann J, Gang G, Pusztai R, Rédei D, Kovács O, Schelz Z, Molnár J. Chemoprevention and inhibition of P-glycoprotein in cancer cells by Chinese medicinal herbs. Phytother Res 2008; 22(12): 1671-6.

[29] Y Liu, F Ye, GQ Qiu, M Zhang, R Wang, QY He, Y Cai, [Effects of lactone I from Atractylodes macrocephala Koidz on cytokines and proteolysis-inducing factors in cachectic cancer patients] Di Yi Jun Yi Da Xue Xue Bao. 2005 Oct;25(10):1308-11.[Chinese]

[30] PA Ayeka et al, “Immunomodulatory and anticancer potential of Gan cao (Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch.) polysaccharides by CT-26 colon carcinoma cell growth inhibition and cytokine IL-7 upregulation in vitro,” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2016 July; 16:206.

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