What Is Echinacea?
Echinacea is the name of a group of native North American flowering plants in the daisy family that was made use of as a herbal remedy by the Great Plains Indian tribes. There are nine species of Echinacea that are known of, but only 3 are made use of in herbal supplements, namely Echinacea pallida, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea purpurea is considered to be the most effective and is also the most commonly used species. Extracts, tinctures, tablets and teas are made from its roots, leaves and flowers. Echinacea held an esteemed medicinal status prior to 1950 and the introduction of antibiotics.
A high concentration of volatile oils are found in the roots, and the polysaccharides which are known for triggering immune function are found in the parts growing above the soil. An Echinacea extract is essentially an Echinacea tincture that is made from the upper parts of the plant. It has also been reported by the University of Maryland Medical Center that the most effective part of the plant is the portion growing above ground. Research has suggested that Echinacea improves immune system activity, and can help reduce inflammation as well as relieve pain, and also act as an antiviral.
Health Benefits of Echinacea
Echinacea is also often used for the treatment of various infections, such as bladder infections, tonsillitis, malaria, vaginal yeast infections, gum disease and athlete’s foot. Less common benefits of Echinacea are for the healing of wounds and skin problems, such as psoriasis, eczema, acne and boils.
Echinacea for Colds
The most common health benefits of Echinacea nowadays are for helping to reduce symptoms as well as the duration of the common cold.
A number of studies have indicated that individuals taking Echinacea the moment they get a cold can significantly lessen the severity of the cold and also have less symptoms compared to those who don’t use Echinacea.
One such study showed that people who had early cold and flu symptoms that drank a number of cups of Echinacea tea each day for five days felt well quicker compared to people who drank tea having no Echinacea.
There is also some evidence suggesting that taking Echinacea at the first sign of a cold can stop the cold from developing further. In a study of 80 people that took Echinacea purpurea or a placebo the moment they began showing signs and symptoms of having a cold, less people from the Echinacea purpurea group felt that their initial cold symptoms in fact developed into a more severe cold. A meta-analysis of 14 studies concluded that Echinacea reduced the chance of cold symptoms developing by 50%, and that the duration of a cold was reduced by 1 and a half days.
There is however no scientific evidence that Echinacea can actually prevent colds or flu.
Echinacea Dosage for Colds and Flu
To treat the common cold and the flu, the Echinacea dosage depends on the form of the Echinacea preparation.
- The Echinacea dosage of Echinacea tincture such as Echinaforce is 20 to 25 Echinacea drops to be taken every 2 hours during the 1st day of symptoms, after that 3 times every day for about 10 days.
- The Echinacea dosage of an Echinacea tea such as Echinacea Plus that consists of the leaves, stems and flowers of Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea as well as Echinacea purpurea extract, is 5 to 6 cups of tea on the 1st day of symptoms and then 1 cup daily for the following 5 days.
- The Echinacea dosage of a tablet such as Echinaforce that contains 6.78 mg of Echinacea purpurea crude extract is 2 tablets taken 3 times each day.
Echinacea for cancer
Laboratory studies conducted in test tubes have revealed that Echinacea extract triggers cancer cell death and suppress the growth of cancer cells.
Echinacea for skin
Skin care products that contain Echinacea extract have been shown to help reduce wrinkles as well as improve skin hydration.
Laboratory tests have found that the anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of Echinacea suppress the growth of Propionibacterium, which is a common cause of acne.
Eczema symptoms were improved and the thin, outer layer of the skin was repaired in a study that made use of a cream that contained extract of Echinacea purpurea. 
Echinacea for pain relief
The Great Plains Indians made use of Echinacea purpurea as a painkiller. A number of studies have revealed that Echinacea can help with inflammation reduction.
One study found that individuals with osteoarthritis experienced a significant reduction in inflammation and chronic pain when taking a Echinacea extract supplement after not responding to conventional non-steroidal inflammatory drugs.
Echinacea Side Effects
In studies, Echinacea side effects were most commonly of a gastrointestinal nature. Some other Echinacea side effects that have been reported are dizziness, sore throat, headache, dry mouth, insomnia and fever.
Echinacea can also trigger allergies, especially in those who are allergic to marigolds, ragweed or daisies.
Echinacea could have an impact on the immune system which can worsen an auto-immune disorder.
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