Echinacea

Nutritional Compound

OVERVIEW

Summary

While exercise and proper nutrition decreases the chances of getting sick, today’s fast-paced, hectic lifestyle constantly bombards us with stress and exertion that can wear us down over time and eventually take its toll on our immune systems. This can make us more susceptible to infections, such as colds and flus. Taking Echinacea at the first sign of illness isn’t likely going to have any performance-enhancing effects, but studies have confirmed its benefit for relieving colds and flus. Helping us get well sooner and reducing the severity of symptoms — so we can get back in the gym and in the game of life, sooner.

Other names for Echinacea

Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower, Echinacea augustifolium (Kansas snakeroot), pallida

Where to find Echinacea

Echinacea is native to North America, especially in the Midwest. This perennial herb, known for its prickly scales on its dried seed head, was first used extensively by American Indians to treat wounds, burns, insect bites, snake bites, and infections.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Echinacea

While moderate exercise decreases our chances of getting sick, ironically, extreme exercise, such as when training for a competition, can make the body more susceptible to illness. Fortunately, nature has provided intensely training athletes with a tool to boost their immunity and stay healthy — helping prevent illness and speed recovery if you do, in fact, succumb to an illness.

Ways that Echinacea can enhance Longevity:
  • Increase immunity by stimulating our white blood cells and increasing the number and activity of our bodies’ natural killer cells
  • Fight off viruses and infections and reduce both the length and severity of colds and flus
  • Clear wastes and toxins from the body, which may encourage recovery from illnesses and get the body “back on track”

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Echinacea deficiency

No deficiency conditions are known to exist.

Potential uses for Echinacea

Research indicates that Echinacea may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Common cold
  • Flu
  • Viral infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Boils
  • ALS
  • Fungal infections
  • Insect bites
  • Kidney infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Gingivitis
  • Cold sores
  • Ear infections

DISCUSSION

More about Echinacea

In today’s fast-paced, hectic world, we are constantly bombarded with stress and physical exertion that can begin to wear us down. After taking their toll on our body’s immune system, eventually, these everyday occurrences can make us ill.

While exercise and proper nutrition make us less susceptible to sickness, during intense training phases, our bodies actually become more susceptible to infections. Fortunately, nature provided us with some great natural remedies to help fight off these attackers determined to make our bodies ill and weak. The herb Echinacea is such a remedy.

How does it work?

Our cells each have a natural barrier that’s designed to keep disease-carrying cells out. But an enzyme called “hyaluronidase” can destroy this barrier. Echinacea has been shown in studies to prevent this harmful enzyme (hyaluronidase) from even forming, thus giving the body a potent weapon in the fight against infections and viruses, including those which cause colds or the flu.

Immune enhancement

Echinacea also appears to increase the production of a hormone called “interferon.” This hormone, which is produced in response to viral infections, is able to call out all the other immune cells to fight the infection more quickly and efficiently.

In addition, Echinacea appears to support our bodies’ white blood cells called “macrophages” and “lymphocytes” (or T cells), and their main purpose is to fight off all types of diseases, including cancer. Echinacea has also been shown to increase our bodies’ natural killer cell number as well as their activity, meaning there are more, stronger soldiers on the battlefield.

Lastly, Echinacea may stimulate the lymphatic system to clear the unwanted wastes and remove toxins left behind from both the infection and the battles to fight that infection to improve recovery and help the body get “back on track.”

Other uses

While Echinacea is a popular remedy for common colds and flu, less people are aware it can also be used as a topical treatment. The same actions that fight colds and flu can combat anything from fungal infections to cuts to extremely dry skin to insect bites to acne — both killing the infection and relieving the pain or itching. With a documented 85% success rate, Echinacea salves may be one of the “best” treatments for many skin ailments.

By preventing many harmful enzymes from even forming in our bodies, Echinacea may also help promote tissue regeneration and reduce inflammation even for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

In truth

If you’re currently healthy, with no indications of lowered immunity, Echinacea is probably not an herb to concern yourself with. But when the risk of infection is higher, Echinacea may have a valuable place in your supplement regimen because it does appear to have clear immune-enhancing and disease-fighting benefits that may help us get over colds, flus, and other infections quicker to get back into the game of life.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

The amount needed varies greatly depending on what form is chosen:

  • Powder (as a capsule): 300 mg
  • Dried root (or tea): 1 to 2 grams
  • Freeze-dried plant: 325 to 650 mg
  • Juice: 2 to 3 ml
  • Tincture: 3 to 5 ml
  • Fluid extract: 1 to 2 ml
Timing

Each of the above amounts may be most effective when taken three times a day. With the onset of a cold or the flu, however, 3 to 4 ml of tincture or 300 mg of the powder should be taken every 2 hours for the first day and then 3 to 4 times for the following 10 to 14 days.

The topical cream can be used as needed to relieve pain and itching.

Note

Although there is no “best” species of Echinacea to use, you may get better results if you stay with the more common types, such as E. angustitolia or E. purpurea (which is most accessible), but it’s common to find these forms combined.

Caveat

If you’ve been using Echinacea for a while, it’s a good idea to give your body a break. Most experts suggest supplementing for three to four weeks and then taking a week or two off. Alternatively, you may supplement for six days and then take one day off.

Synergists of Echinacea

Goldenseal may work well with and possibly increase Echinacea’s immune-stimulating effects.

Safety of Echinacea

If you are using or considering using prescription drugs, please consult with your practitioner about possible contraindications with this herb.

Large amounts, over 2,000 mg per day, may cause upset stomach and dizziness.

Echinacea should not be used by people who are allergic to any plants in the sunflower or daisy family.

Echinacea should not be taken by people who have autoimmune illnesses, such as lupus or HIV.

If you are pregnant or nursing, Echinacea is not recommended.

Toxicity of Echinacea

No known toxicity.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Grimm, W., and Muller, H.H., “A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effect of Fluid Extract of Echinacea Purpurea on the Incidence and Severity of Colds and Respiratory Infections (see comments),” Am J Med 106.2 (1999) : 138-43.
  • Gunning, K., and Steele, P., “Echinacea for the Prevention of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections,” J Fam Pract 48.2 (1999) : 93.
  • Hoheizel, O., et al., “Echinacea Shortens the Course of the Common Cold: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial,” Eur J Clin Res 9 (1997) : 261-8.
  • Hu, C., and Kitts, D.D., “Studies on the Antioxidant Activity of Echinacea Root Extract,” J Agric Food Chem 48.5 (2000) : 1466-72.
  • Melchart, D., et al., “Immunomodulation with Echinacea — A Systematic Review of Controlled Clinical Trials,” Phytomed 1 (1994) : 245-54.