Echinacea is a Flu-Destroying Machine!

Echinacea is actually a genus of plants belonging to the daisy family. These plants are native to eastern and central North America. Some species of this genus are actually used for a variety of herbal preparations. Popular species of it used in alternative medicinal products include the eastern purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), and the narrow-leaf coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia). The flower head of Echinacea is surrounded by distinct prickly scales hence it derives its name from the Greek word “echinos” or hedgehog.

It is with all probability that every herb that one comes across is hailed as a miracle cure for all sorts of illnesses, and a number of them would claim to be a cure-all, especially against the common cold and influenza. One such herb that lays claim to being just that is Echinacea. This purple wonder herb has such as an appeal amongst believers in herbal medicine for claims of boosting the immune system. Do the facts live up to the hype? These are some of the questions that this piece will attempt to answer before anyone should consider using it.

How was it traditionally used?

Popular belief and traditional methods call for Echinacea as a cure-all herb. It has been used to manage colds, coughs, sore throat, and flu as well as infectious diseases such as scarlet fever, syphilis, diphtheria, sepsis, and malaria. As a matter of fact, prior to the discovery antibiotics, it was the most popular remedy for any sort of bacterial infection.

What is the contemporary use of Echinacea?

Echinacea nowadays is used by alternative health care providers both for prevention and treatment of disease. Herbalists would prescribe it to prevent the common cold and flu and other diseases associated with respiratory tract infections. A more popular use for its treatment by reducing symptoms associated with colds and flu such as cough, sore throat, and fever as well as shortening the course of the disease.

What are the active substances and what are their effects to the body?

Just like any other medicinal plant, Echinacea has rather complex chemistry. Echinacea preparations contain alkamides, polysaccharides, glycoproteins, and chichoric acid. Proponents of Echinacea attribute its immune-boosting capabilities to the presence of alkamides and chichoric acid being that the two said active ingredients exert an immunomodulatory effect which is effective in stimulating neutrophils and monocytes (both phagocytic white blood cells) to perform phagocytosis of bacteria and other foreign matter.

What conditions would prevent people from taking Echinacea?

As there is some concern that it can reduce the efficacy of certain medications, people affected by tuberculosis, diabetes, connective tissue disorders, HIV or AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and leukemia should not take the herb. Individuals who are using immunosuppressant drugs are also prohibited from the its use.

Which is more useful in Echinacea preparations? Is it the root or is it the whole plant?

Each part of the plant contains a distinct mixes of active ingredients. As an example, the upper portions of the plant are abundant in polysaccharides while the roots have more volatile oils. Therefore no two parts of the same plant have the same chemical composition and therefore all parts of the plant may be equally useful. For example, Echinacea purpurea’s upper portions and the roots are said to be equally useful while the roots of pallida and angustifolia are much useful.

What do Scientific Studies Say about the Effectiveness of Echinacea?

There are published findings that deny Echinacea’s effectiveness. A recent December 2010 study suggests that this herb does not reduce the duration and sensitivity of the common cold. There are similar studies that have come to the same conclusion. A recent placebo-controlled trial stated that there is no statistical difference between the effects of Echinacea and placebo. These studies, however, have its critics in that some would claim that the dosages used in the study are too low. To add to the confusion, there are studies that attest to the effects of Echinacea in improving the response of the immune system.

In what forms is it available? Where can I purchase it?

Echinacea preparations include tinctures as extracts, tinctures, tablets, capsules, and ointments. There are also available products that contain Echinacea in combination with other herbs, vitamins and minerals. They are usually available in pharmacies, supermarkets, and health food stores.

In conclusion…

All individuals considering the use of Echinacea either to stay away from antibiotics or make use of more natural alternatives to preventing and treating respiratory tract infections and other disease should consult a physician or health care provider before use. Despite results from research, there are still groups that still believe in the effectiveness of Echinacea and other herbal preparations. The studies themselves are still believed to be inconclusive, as critics would point out, and clinical research is still ongoing. After all, when there are still people that testify to the help it provides, it still has enough merit for investigation. Ultimately, it is left up to the reader to decide.

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