Immune | July 4, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Echinacea is by far one of the most recognised and supplemented herbal medicines worldwide. While it is mainly known for its ability to prevent and treat the common cold it has become increasingly popular for multiple other uses and benefits. So why the surging popularity in this magnificently attractive flower? Because Echinacea benefits our health and well-being in a profound way like few other herbs on this planet.
Echinacea was first discovered by Native American Sioux Indians where it was used medicinally for over 400 years. It was traditionally used for snakebite, infection, colic and external wounds, among many other things.
Before the introduction of antibiotics, Echinacea was used in mainstream medicine and by eclectics as a popular anti-infective medication. With the surging popularity in antibiotics, Echinacea quickly fell out of favour and was no longer considered a ‘real’ medicine for infection.
In the last 15 years its use has re-emerged, possibly due to the issues surrounding the over prescription of antibiotics and the need to source other alternatives for self-care.
The root, leaves and aerial parts of the herb are used, however some companies only use the roots or just the aerial parts and leaves. The roots contain more volatile oils, while the parts that grow above the ground have been found to be higher levels of polysaccharides. Other components which benefit our immune system include caffeic acid, alkylamides, flavonoids, vitamin C and a range of other vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
There are several different species of Echinacea which includes E. purpurea, E.pallida and E. angustifolia.
The quality of Echinacea can vary significantly, as the active constituents found in the end products can depend on species and part used, growing conditions and the drying and extraction process. Some companies will check for the ratios of these chemicals within the herb which give it its physiological function in the body while also checking that it is indeed the correct species. Some companies don’t check this, so you may not even be getting Echinacea in the formula or it may be of inferior quality. Always buy from a reputable company so that you are likely to get a good outcome.
Echinacea is usually thought of as an immune stimulator, but this is not the whole picture. Echinacea in fact, helps to modulate the immune system, depending on your own constitution. Ritchie et al, illustrated this when Echinacea treatment stimulated the formation of additional chemicals if they were low in certain individuals but for those who already had sufficient amounts, there was no further increase. It may also help to modulate the immune system, where there is overactivity which is generally the case for allergies and autoimmunity.
Echinacea is widely used to fight infection, particularly the common cold, flu, sinusitis, tonsillitis and other upper respiratory tract infections.
If taken daily, Echinacea can reduce your chance of catching a cold and if taken at the first sign of a cold can reduce the amount of days with symptoms.
A 2007 meta-analysis published in Lancet Infectious Diseases has confirmed these findings and concluded that Echinacea products from all species can significantly reduce the incidence (by 58%) and duration (by 1.4 days) of the common cold.
In athletes Echinacea was found to reduce the immunosuppressive effects that can occur after intensive exercise by reducing the amount of upper respiratory tract infections experienced.
Echinacea can be used to treat a wide variety of other infections such as urinary tract infections, herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2 and fungal, streptococcus and Staphyloccocus infections. This is due to its antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic and anti-inflammatory activity along with its enhancement of other components of the immune system which help to detect and eradicate infection.
It’s the alkylamides that exert a mild numbing effect. When the roots of the Echinacea are chewed or a liquid extract is taken, this can be experienced as a tingling sensation on the tongue. A 2009 study found that an Echinacea/sage preparation was more efficacious in the treatment of a sore throat compared to a medicated antibacterial and numbing spray containing chlorhexidine and lignocaine.
Echinacea can also be taken internally to help with the pain associated with tonsillitis, tooth ache, stomach ache, headaches and measles.
Several clinical studies support the topical use of Echinacea in the healing of wounds.
A trial involving 4598 people investigated the effects of the topical use of Echinacea on various wounds, burns, skin infections and inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. This study found that Echinacea had an 85% overall success rate.
Echinacea can be take internally too for these same conditions and has been found to help improve acne, boils and chronic ulcerations.
Echinacea is generally a very safe and well tolerated herb. In rare cases, Echinacea may cause allergic reactions which usually manifests as a mild rash. People with asthma or allergies may be at an increased risk for developing these reactions and sometimes formulations using Echinacea root may be better tolerated. People with allergies to the asteracea (compositae) family of plants (e.g. chamomile and ragweed) should not take Echinacea.
Oral use of Echinacea has generally been considered safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding when used in recommended doses. Patients being treated for autoimmune diseases should be cautious and interactions with some immunosuppressant medicines may occur.
Braun, L. & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs and natural supplements: An evidence based guide vol. 2. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Mills, S. & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: Modern herbal medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Jawad M, et al. Safety and efficacy profile of Echinacea purpurea to prevent common cold episodes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Evid Based Complementary Alternat Med. 2012;2012:841315. Epub 2012 Sep 16
Ross SM. A standardized Echinacea extract demonstrates efficacy in the prevention and treatment of colds in athletes. Holist Nurs Pract. 2010 Mar-Apr;24(2):107-9
Schapowal A, et al. Echinacea/sage or chlorhexidine/lidocaine for treating acute sore throats: a randomized double-blind trial. Eur J Med Res. 2009 Sep 1;14(9):406-12