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Echinacea

Overview

Echinacea, commonly known as the purple coneflower, is easily one of the most well-known herbal remedy or supplement.  It has been used for centuries to help treat infection, colds, inflammation and sore throat.  Echinacea preparations are especially popular in Germany, where most of the research into its effectiveness has been done.

 

There are three strains of Echinacea that are used medicinally – Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea angustifolia.  In Germany, where herbs are regulated by a government body, two of the three – purpurea and pallida – are approved for medicinal use.  Many Echinacea preparations include extracts from two or even all three strains of Echinacea to boost the benefits associated with them.

 

What Echinacea Does:

The key compounds in Echinacea include polysaccharides (starch and cellulose), glycoproteins (a protein connected to a starch) and flavonoids (phytonutrients found in many fruits, vegetables and seeds).  Scientists believe that flavonoids, polysaccharides and glycoproteins are all potent antioxidants, and may play a role in stimulating the immune system.  In addition, Echinacea boosts the body’s production of interferon, which fights virus organisms.  This may account for the evidence that Echinacea can help limit both the severity and the length of a cold when taken at the first sign of cold symptoms, as well as the herb’s effectiveness against cold sores and cankers, yeast infections and urinary tract infections.

 

Different parts of the plant contain varying levels of effective ingredients.  The roots, for example, are high in volatile oils, while the leaves, stems and flowers contain more polysaccharides.  Researchers believe that the effectiveness of Echinacea at fighting infection is due to a combination of all the key chemicals.

 

Health Benefits of Echinacea:

Because of the immune system boost that Echinacea offers, there is evidence that it may be helpful in preventing or treating:

-         Common Colds

In a recent review of research into how effective Echinacea is in fighting the common cold, two different groups of researchers found 13 ‘high quality’ studies – studies that were conducted with significant controls, included a fairly large number of people and met other standards that support the truth of the results.  The majority of those studies found that Echinacea can shorten the duration of a cold and lessen the severity of its symptoms when taken at the first sign of symptoms.

-         Cold Sores

Echinacea is a natural antibiotic and antiviral agent. It promotes the healing of skin lesions and wounds, including cold sores, cuts, burns, boils and viral herpes.

-         Yeast infection and Urinary Tract Infection

Because of its immune system enhancing quality, Echinacea can be helpful in treating recurrent urinary tract and yeast infections. At least one study conducted in 1986 supports the effectiveness of Echinacea in reducing the incidence of infection in women who were prone to them.

-         Builds Immunity

The most beneficial effect of Echinacea seems to be its ability to boost the body’s natural immune system by triggering the production of antibodies and interferon.  For this reason, many nutritionists recommend taking a supplement that contains Echinacea as part of your daily nutrition regimen.

 

Possible Side Effects of Echinacea:

Taken at recommended dosages, Echinacea has no reported harmful side effects.  People who are allergic to daisies are advised to avoid it, however, as it may trigger allergic symptoms.  Doctors also caution people with auto-immune disorders such as lupus or those taking immunosuppressant drugs to avoid or restrict their intake of Echinacea as it may interfere with the effectiveness of the medication.

 

Summary:

Because the different parts of the Echinacea plant contain varying amounts of the active ingredients, you should always read the labels carefully.  A recent study undertaken by ConsumerLab.com showed that nearly half the samples of supplements containing Echinacea actually contained the minimum level of active ingredients.  The Complementary Medicine Program at the University of Maryland Medical Center advises that you should read labels carefully when choosing a product that contains Echinacea, and only use those that either guarantee potency or contain a standardized extract.

 

In addition, when Echinacea is taken alone to build immunities, herbal experts recommend that it be taken for no longer than eight weeks at a time and rotated with other immune system boosters.

 

 

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