What is Echinacea?
Echinacea is a renowned traditional herbal remedy for treating a variety of ailments. Native to areas east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States, as well as the western states, Canada and Europe, several species of the echinacea plant are used to make medicine from its leaves, flower and root. The herb fell out of favor with the discovery of antibiotics, but it’s now making a comeback.
Echinacea is widely useful for fighting infections, particularly the common cold and the flu. It can also treat other types of infections, including urinary tract, ear and throat infections. However, more studies are necessary to confirm its efficacy in these areas. It may also treat boils, skin wounds or burns.
What is Echinacea Extract?
Echinacea extract has four main classes of compounds that can suppress the symptoms associated with a viral infection. These are alkamides, glycoproteins, polysaccharides and caffeic acid derivatives (x).
Different species of echinacea have various organic compounds that have numerous effects on the body (x). The roots of Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea have different phenolic compounds such as caffeic, cichoric, caftaric, chlorogenic acid, cynarin and echinacoside. These compounds are also in aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea, along with fatty acid components (x).
Echinacea Extract Benefits
Boosts Immune System
Echinacea purpurea produces adequate quantities of glycoproteins, polysaccharides and caffeic acid derivatives that boost immune system activity by activating macrophages and natural killer cells (x).
Increases Macrophage Activity
The increase in macrophage activity increases the body’s ability to fight off invaders and respond acutely to infection. This activity is essential in the early stages of disease or injury as it allows the body to naturally kill off any unwanted invaders. The increase in natural killer cells assists the body’s baseline defenses during the viral invasion (x).
Throughout the day, the body is exposed to many unwanted pathogens, both bacterial and viral. An increase in the number of natural killer cells assists the body in fighting off the first stages of infection before the invaders causing symptoms such as those associated with the common cold. Continuous stimulation of these cells allows for the body to be better equipped to fight off the common cold (x).
Stabilizes Blood Sugar Levels
While echinacea is not an alternative to traditional treatment options for diabetics, it can help stabilize blood sugar. For those with diabetes and pre-diabetes, this can help prevent blood sugar spikes and prevent individuals from becoming hypoglycemic (x).
Aids Cell Growth, Repair and Regulation
Supplemental echinacea helps with healthy cell growth, repair and regulation (x). The antioxidants in echinacea extract kill off free radicals in the body, which damage naturally produced cells. This forces the body’s energy systems to work excessively to create more cells in order to replace the ones damaged. By combating these damaging chemicals in the body, antioxidants allow for cells to age naturally and function in full without demanding additional energy from the body for maintenance (x).
Contains Cancer-Fighting Antioxidants
Antioxidants in echinacea extract may help fight against certain forms of cancer, especially breast cancer (x).
Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety
Echinacea extract helps reduce symptoms associated with anxiety by intercepting signals passing forth between the body and the brain (x). Anxiety is caused by signals passing from the body to the brain in response to threatening stimuli. These stimuli may be visual, physical or conceptual. Echinacea can block these stimuli, decreasing the symptoms of anxiety and allowing individuals to relax (x).
Reduces Symptoms of Arthritis
Echinacea can help stimulate the growth of cells and regular cell production as a part of the immune system. Its extract can reduce inflammation in chronic conditions such as arthritis (x). This reduction in inflammation causes a decrease in secondary symptoms such as pain and range of motion restrictions (x).
Echinacea Extract Side Effects
Echinacea is generally safe. In rare cases, allergic reactions such as rashes may occur in children when using it for the first time (x). Common side effects can include nausea, fever, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, dizziness, sore throat, muscle and joint pain and liver inflammation. If side effects persist, seek medical advice (x).
Echinacea Extract Dosage
When supplementing with echinacea extract powder, take 450 mg (about 1/4 tsp) twice per day. Of course, be sure to speak with a doctor before adding this supplement to your regimen. If your doctor suggests alternative dosage instructions, it is best to follow their advice.
Echinacea extract can have an adverse interaction with certain drugs. Chemicals and compounds to avoid if taking this extract include:
Medications for Heartburn and Indigestion
Avoid echinacea extract if taking medications or supplements for heartburn, indigestion and those that affect the GI tract (x).
The Bottom Line
Echinacea is a traditional herbal remedy for treating a variety of ailments. It is widely used to fight infections, particularly the common cold and the flu. It can also handle other types of infections including urinary tract, ear and throat infections, as well as boils, skin wounds or burns. The benefits of taking echinacea extract include boosting the immune system, fighting infections, stabilizing blood sugar levels, helping with cell growth, repair and regulation and reducing the symptoms of anxiety and arthritis.