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How many times did we hear that Echinacea worked best at the first signs of a cold or flu (Steven Foster, Echinacea : Nature’s Immune Enhancer, Healing Arts Press, 1991)? It may be so… but it could also shorten the duration of the cold even if taken later. Gail Mahady, Ph.D, arrived to that conclusion after reviewing the world’s scientific literature on echinacea for the World Health Organization.


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What does echinacea do?

Native Americans used it for snakebites and insect bites or stings, and as a general antiseptic. It is now used as a remedy for colds and flu, bronchitis, cough, fever and sore throat, and infections in general.

Echinacea is one of the plants that drew the most attention from the scientific world, mainly because of its effects on the immune system : more than 500 studies published in the last 30 years. In times where scientists are worried about finding a way to manage antibiotic resistance, the interest in echinacea comes from the fact that it has antibacterial as well as antiviral properties. An extract of Echinacea has been shown to shorten flu symptoms. In another experiment, a German study, published in Planta medica, reported that mice cells that had been treated with echinacea 4 to 6 hours before being exposed to a virus showed up to 80% resistance, which lasted up to 24 hours following the exposure.

Besides echinacea’s effects on infections, the Journal of Medical Chemistry published a study done in 1972, where an extract of the plant stopped the progression of tumours in rats.

How does it work?

Echinacea is known to boost immunity. Research has found that it does so by increasing the number of white blood cells, T-helper cells and interleukin, and that it has an interferon-like effect on viruses, stimulates the activity of macrophages and increases phagocytosis. Rudy Bauer, professor of pharmaceutical biology at Heinrich-Heine University in Dusseldorf and a specialist in research on echinacea in Germany, states that this plant’s ability to fight infection lays partly in the polysaccharides it contains. Polysaccharides may also play a role in fighting cancer by helping the body destroy mutant cells before they become cancerous. According to a study made public by the National Cancer Institute, echinacea would fight tumour cells by incouraging the production of interleukin 1, interferon beta 2 and the tumour necrosis factor. Other studies are underway to evaluate echinacea as an adjunct therapy in cancer treatment.

How to use it

Therapeutic effects using echinacea can be noticed with a dosage as low as 250 mg/day, and it is suggested not to exceed 3000 mg daily. It is also advised never to exceed 8 weeks at a time. Echinacea may interfere with immuno-suppressive therapy. For more information about the plant and its contra-indications, go to our Product List or Herbal Remedies pages on this site.

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 Reference Books

  • Dr Jean Valnet, Phytothérapie, Se soigner par les plantes, Maloine S.A.,éditeur, 1983
  • Dr Jean Valnet, Phytothérapie, Se soigner par les légumes, les fruits et les céréales, Maloine S.A.,éditeur, 1985
  • Georges Halpern, M.D.,PhD, Ginkgo, A Pratical Guide, Avery Publishing Group, NewYork, 1998
  • Hyla Cass, M.D., St John's Wort, Nature's Blues Buster, Avery Publishing Group, NewYork, 1998
  • Louise Love, M.D., Dr. Louise Love's Hormone Book,1997
  • Peter R. Breggin, M.D., Talking Back to Prozac, SMP, 1994
  • Linus Pauling, How to live longer and feel better, Avon Books, New York, 1986
  • Jason Theodosakis, M.D,M.S.,M.P.H., Brenda Adderly, M.H.A., Barry Fox, Ph.d., Maximazing the Arthritis Cure, St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1998
  • Lavon J. Dunne, Nutrition Almanac, McGraw Hill, 1990
  • Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., Encyclopedia of Naturel Medecine, Prima Plublishing, 1991

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