The term Echinacea refers to a genus of blooming plants of the daisy family. They are native to North America, where they can be found in grasslands and open, forested environments. Coneflowers are yet another name for these flowers. Depending on the plant species, the petals may be pink or purple, and they encircle a seed head, or cone, that is prickly and deep brown or red in color. There are nine species in this group, but only three have been used in herbal remedies: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida.
Caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes, and many other bioactive chemicals are found in Echinacea plants. Furthermore, studies have connected echinacea and its constituents to a variety of health advantages, including reduced inflammation, enhanced immunity, and reduced blood sugar levels.
Multiple varieties of the echinacea plant’s leaves, flowers, and roots are used to manufacture medications in the form of tablets, tinctures, extracts, and teas. Extracts obtained from the root and upper sections are commonly used as nonspecific immuno-stimulants and to prevent or treat the common cold as well as influenza in Europe and the United States.
Echinacea is used in traditional medicine, but scientists have yet to establish that it provides any health advantages.
Mechanism of action
Echinacea appears to trigger molecules in the body that reduce inflammation, and it may help boost the immune system.
Although echinacea doesn’t really appear to have substantial ergogenic or anabolic effects, it does seem to boost the immune system and reduce oxidative stress. It’s extracts have been proven in vitro and in vivo to enhance phagocytosis, increase leukocyte mobility, stimulate TNF and IL-1 release from macrophages and lymphocytes, and improve respiratory function.
Echinacea plants have a complex mixture of active ingredients. Some of these substances may have antibacterial and antiviral characteristics, while others may provide immune system support in different ways. Echinacea, like many other plants, contains phenolic compounds. Phenols regulate the activity of numerous enzymes and cell receptors. They help to protect the plants from infectious diseases and UV radiation damage, and they might even have antioxidant effects.
Plant components that act as antioxidants are abundant in Echinacea plants. Antioxidants are substances that aid in the defence of your cells from oxidative stress, a condition associated to chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and many others. Flavonoids, cichoric acid, and rosmarinic acid are examples of antioxidants present in these plants. Furthermore, echinacea plants contain alkamides, which can boost antioxidant activity even further. Alkamides can replenish exhausted antioxidants and assist antioxidants in reaching molecules vulnerable to oxidative damage.
1.) May stimulate immune system and protect against common cold.
Echinacea is primarily known for its immune-boosting properties. Numerous studies have revealed that this plant may help your immune system resist infections and viruses, allowing you to recover from sickness faster.
This is one of the reasons why echinacea is frequently used to treat or prevent the common cold. In addition, a meta-analysis of 14 research indicated that consuming echinacea may reduce the risk of getting a cold by more than half and shorten the length of a cold by one and a half days.
Many research on this subject, however, are poorly executed and provide no meaningful benefit. This makes it difficult to determine if any advantages from echinacea are accidental.
To conclude, while echinacea may increase immunity, its benefits on the common cold are unknown.
2.) May reduce blood sugar levels.
Echinacea plants have been shown in animal trials to help reduce blood sugar levels. An Echinacea purpurea extract suppressed enzymes that breakdown carbohydrates in a test-tube investigation. If consumed, this would lessen the amount of glucose in blood.
Human-based research on the impact of echinacea on blood sugar levels is still inadequate.
3.) May reduce excessive inflammation.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that echinacea can aid in the reduction of excessive inflammation. In a rat study, echinacea extracts helped lower critical inflammatory indicators as well as inflammation-induced memory loss.
Another 30-day trial indicated that consuming an echinacea extract supplement significantly decreased inflammation, severe pain, and swelling in people with osteoarthritis. Surprisingly, these people did not respond well to traditional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), but discovered the supplement containing echinacea extracts to be beneficial.
4.) May possess anti-cancer properties.
Cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth. In vitro research have revealed that echinacea extracts can inhibit cancer cell development and even cause cancer cell death.
An extract of Echinacea purpurea and chicoric acid (naturally contained in echinacea plant) was proven in one test-tube investigation to induce cancer cell death. In another test-tube investigation, echinacea plant extracts destroyed human cancer cells from the pancreas and colon by promoting apoptosis.
This effect is thought to be caused by echinacea’s immune-boosting characteristics. There has been some suspicion that echinacea might interfere with traditional cancer treatments like doxorubicin, but newer research has identified no such connection.
However, many more human investigations are required before making any conclusions.
5.) May alleviate skin problems.
Echinacea plants have been demonstrated in studies to help heal common skin problems. Scientists discovered that echinacea’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities inhibited the growth of Propionibacterium, a frequent cause of acne, in a test-tube study.
Skin care products containing echinacea extracts were proven to increase skin moisture and minimize wrinkles in another trial of 10 healthy individuals aged between 25–40. Likewise, an Echinacea extract lotion was proven to alleviate eczema symptoms and aid in the restoration of the skin’s thin, protective outer layer. Nevertheless, it seems that echinacea extracts have a short shelf life, finding it challenging to include into commercial skin care products.
Nevertheless, the majority of evidence for these applications is conflicting. There are few scientific studies that support the use of Echinacea in any therapy. Other uses for echinacea have not been investigated by experts to see if they work.
For brief use, echinacea preparations seem to be safe and well-tolerated. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), consuming Echinacea orally for a short period of time is likely safe, but the effects of long-term use are unknown. There have been some reports of individuals experiencing adverse effects such as:
- Skin irritation
- Stomach ache and edema
- Breathing difficulties
These adverse effects, however, are more prevalent in those who are allergic to certain flowers, including daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds, ragweed, and others.
When administered to the skin, Echinacea is POSSIBLY SAFE in the short term. Echinacea cream can be used securely for up to 12 weeks. Applying echinacea on the skin may cause redness, itching, or rashes in some individuals.
Precautions and warnings
- Pregnancy: When used orally for up to 7 days, echinacea is POSSIBLY SAFE for pregnant women. However, until this is substantiated, it is recommended to remain cautious and avoid usage.
- Breast-feeding: There is insufficient trustworthy information to determine whether echinacea is safe to take while breast-feeding. To be on the safe side, avoid using it.
- Children: Echinacea is POSSIBLY SAFE whether taken orally or administered topically for up to ten days. Echinacea used orally appears to be safe in most children aged 2-11 years, while rashes owing to an allergic reaction are possible. Some people are concerned that allergic reactions to echinacea may be more severe in children. As a result, certain regulatory agencies advise against administering echinacea to children under the age of 12.
- Auto-immune disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), pemphigus vulgaris, and others: Echinacea may have an impact on the immune system that aggravates several illnesses. If you have an auto-immune illness, avoid taking echinacea.
- Immunosuppressive drugs such as tacrolimus or cyclosporine: Echinacea may reduce the effectiveness of such drugs.
- Echinacea should be used with caution by chemotherapy patients since it may decrease the effectiveness of some anticancer drugs or induce adverse effects.
- Echinacea should be avoided by patients undergoing blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) due to an increased risk of dry eye condition.
Forms and dosage
Echinacea can be found in usually these forms:
- Fresh or dried, frequently in teas.
- Supplement or extract, in form of pills, tablets or capsules.
- Main ingredient in lotions or creams.
- Juices and infusions
There is no authorized dosage guideline for echinacea at this time. One explanation for this is that the results of echinacea studies are quite variable. Having said that, studies have shown that the following doses are beneficial in boosting immunity:
- Dry powdered extract: take 300–500 mg of Echinacea purpurea 3 times a day.
- Liquid extract tinctures: 2.5 mL three times each day, or up to 10 mL each day.
It is, however, best to follow the directions that come with the individual supplement. Remember that they are just for short-term use, as the long-term effects of echinacea on the body are still unclear.
Echinacea may help enhance the immune system, but further research is needed to establish this. Immunity, blood sugar, anxiety, inflammation, and skin health have all been proven to benefit from echinacea. It may possibly have cancer-fighting qualities. Human-based research, on the other hand, is frequently limited.
For brief use, it is regarded as safe and well tolerated. Dosages are different based on the type of echinacea you’re consuming. Before using Echinacea or any other herbal supplement, consult your doctor since they can interfere with ongoing therapies.
Echinacea can be purchased over the counter in pharmacies, health food stores, and online, in dried, tea, liquid extract, or pill form.