Few Words on Echinacea
colds, boosts immunity.
Line: Though the supplements are prescribed in Germany
for colds and flu, studies on them have yielded conflicting results.
The plant is a complicated mix of chemicals; some might actually
stimulate the immune system or promote healing. But you don't
know what you're getting in the bottle. Little is known about
toxicity. To be safe, don't take it if you have lupus, rheumatoid
arthritis, tuberculosis, or multiple sclerosis, or are HIV-positive
a complicated mix
Will echinacea boost your immune system? Cure cancer? Prevent
or cure the common cold? Promote wound healing? Sold at health-food
stores and elsewhere, it comes in tinctures (dissolved in alcohol),
capsules, pills, and teas. Whether you take this herb or not,
you've almost certainly had it recommended to you: it has a devoted
following. An ounce and a half of liquid can cost up to $15. Even
the teas come at a premium price.
Nine kinds of echinacea grow in this country, the most common
being echinacea purpurea. Known as purple coneflower, the plant
is part of the sunflower/daisy family, and its extracts (and those
from similar plants) have been used medicinally for centuries.
Like all plants, it is a complicated mix of chemicals; some of
these might actually stimulate the immune system or promote healing.
It has been extensively studied, but with conflicting results.
One study recently found that a commercially made supplement did
seem to stimulate immune cells-but in a test tube. In some studies
involving humans, echinacea seems to have no effect on colds or
immunity; in others, it seems to help. In most studies that find
echinacea to be an immune booster, however, the herbal extract
was injected, which is not possible with the products on the market
here. Studies of echinacea taken by mouth have had inconsistent
results. The commercial preparations you can currently buy in
this country have not been tested at all.
In addition, there's the problem of quality control: like all
herbal products, echinacea is completely unregulated. What you're
buying may not contain much, if any, echinacea. And nobody knows
what a proper dosage might be. No one even knows what the active
ingredient is, though 15 different compounds have been identified.
No clinical trials have been done with any of these compounds.
The herb has been around a very long time, and few adverse side
effects have been reported. But anything, whether herb or drug,
that is powerful enough to have benefits could also have side
effects. Some researchers think it could have an adverse effect
on T-4 cells, an important component of immunity.
Here's a list of people who should not
try echinacea: those who know they're allergic to daisies, plus
those with diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis,
and multiple sclerosis. Those who are HIV-positive, including
those with AIDS, should not experiment with it, nor should pregnant
or nursing women and small children.
word: Until the government sets labeling standards and
requires herbal manufacturers to meet them, consumers will continue
to be part of the current haphazard marketplace experiment. Since
the manufacturers of echinacea can already claim almost any benefit
in ads and promotional materials, why should they actually commission
solid scientific studies? The pity of it all is that herbs might
have real value as medicine if we understood them better, could
buy them in standardized form, and knew how much of them to take.
Reference Source 98,99,101