Echinacea, when used properly, represents a tool in the fight against the common cold and influenza. Simultaneously, echinacea has been the subject of controversy due to the herb’s side effects. The usefulness of echinacea as an herb deserves a good, critical look.
What is the history behind echinacea?
Archaeological records indicate Native Americans used echinacea as an herbal remedy starting around 4,000 years ago. As European settlers moved into the Great Plains, they, too, began to use the herb for medicinal purposes.
There are several different kinds of echinacea, and people traditionally described the plant as “snakeroot” because they used the plant as a way to treat snake bites. Modern science determined that some of the chemicals found in echinacea actually do inhibit the action of enzymes found in snake and spider venom, so the traditional use of echinacea for snake bites was spot on in terms of healing with herbs.
What does modern science say?
In modern pharmacology, studies are mixed when it comes to echinacea. However, scientists narrowed down various types of echinacea, the dosages and the duration of use when it comes to taking the herb. Most people take echinacea today as a way to boost the immune system and lessen the effects of a cold or the flu.
Out of 16 clinical trials with nearly 3,400 people who used the fresh-pressed juice of echinacea, most trials found the effects of echinacea are better than that of a placebo. Two major studies, both done in 2005, serve as the baseline in terms of research for echinacea as a medicinal herb.
Experts see the Turner study published in 2005 as one definitive echinacea study done so far. In it, participants consumed one of three different Echinacea augustifolia extracts. Among 437 people, participants received the echinacea extract, a placebo or simply preventive measures to try to ward off a cold.
After receiving these treatments for seven days, everyone received an inoculation with a rhinovirus, or the type of virus that causes colds. Then Turner’s assistants sequestered all 437 people for five days.
The results of the Turner study showed the placebo had about the same effect as the echinacea. However, the caveat is that people received around 900 milligrams per day. World Health Organization (WHO) experts believe people need 1500 to 3000 milligrams of E. augustifolia per day to prevent or lessen the effects of an infection.
In the same year as the Turner study, doctors had a different result with E. purpurea extract. Around 150 people got colds naturally, and they were treated at the onset of symptoms and then for seven days. There was a statistically significant decrease in symptoms compared to a placebo in this study, so the type of extract makes a difference.
What benefits does echinacea have?
Medical literature shows chemicals in echinacea have antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and larvicidal capabilities. That means, when taken in the right doses, echinacea could combat several kinds of illnesses as an immune booster.
What doses of echinacea should people take?
Pharmacologists may recommend patients take a tincture of echinacea within 24 to 48 hours of noticing cold-like symptoms. Patients may take a tincture of echinacea extract at 3 to 4 milliliters every three to four hours. This comes out to 3 to 6 grams per day of echinacea for the first one to two days of feeling symptoms. The key is that people must take it at the beginning of a cold, otherwise echinacea may not have the therapeutic effects. Nature’s Way echinacea products seem to show the most benefit.
What are the side effects of echinacea?
The one major side effect people should worry about is an allergic reaction to the plant. Doctors should watch for patients with asthma, eczema and autoimmune diseases in terms of an adverse reaction.
Side effects include abdominal pain, nausea, rash, itching of the skin, swelling, difficulty breathing, reddening of the skin and elevated skin rashes. If patients experience any of these side effects, they should consult with a doctor immediately.
There are three keys to taking echinacea. One is the type of herb used in the supplement, two is the dosage and three is the timing. Patients should find one or two varieties, take a high enough dose and only when a cold starts as a way to bolster the immune system during a cold.
People should not take echinacea continuously, because that could increase the chances of adverse side effects. As always, people should consult with a licensed medical professional in terms of knowing a patient’s medical history and drug interactions when it comes to taking echinacea.
Although this herb has a long history of a traditional remedy for various maladies, patients must use echinacea with caution and only in proper dosages. Consumers should always read the labels of herbal supplements to make sure they get the right kind of product for their needs.
Manayi, Azadeh. “Echinacea purpurea: Pharmacology, phytochemistry and analysis methods.”
Pharmacognosy Reviews, Jan-Jun 2015. Accessed March 2, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4441164/
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “”Echinacea.” Updated September 2016. Accessed March 2, 2017. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/echinacea/ataglance.htm
University of Maryland Medical Health Center. “Echinacea.” Reviewed Feb. 2, 2016. Accessed March 2, 2017. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/echinacea
WebMD. “Echinacea.” Accessed on March 2, 2017. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-981-echinacea.aspx?activeingredientid=981&