Posted by: Scott Stewart, MSAc., LAc., Dipl.Ac.
Echinacea, or the purple coneflower as it is sometimes called, is commonly used to prevent colds and flus, as well as, an adjunctive treatment for recurrent infections of both the respiratory and urinary tracts; and is sometimes indicated for periodic vaginal yeast infections.
Around this time of year, it has become quite popular for people to supplement with echinacea to aid in preventing seasonal colds & flu. People taking this herb believe they are doing something healthy, but many unknowingly misuse the herb, due to misinformation dispersed through the Internet or from physicians that are not trained in herbs, herb/drug, or herb/herb interactions.
Here are 3 important things you need to know before using echinacea:
1. Echinacea should not be taken for longer than 8 weeks; otherwise, your body can grow tolerant to the herb and in some cases, it can have the opposite effect and down-regulate the immune system. You should not rely solely on one herb / method to modulate the immune system, there several ways you can do this. The 3 best ways to accomplish this are: eating healthy, exercising and getting enough quality sleep.
2. Quality varies greatly in over-the-counter (OTC) preparations. It’s strongly recommended not to buy this product from an OTC retailer due to the low - quality of the preparations, likelihood of adulteration and unstandardized methods of extraction of the bioactive substances.
It's very common for manufacturers to use different species of the herb, which effects quality and potency. Also, they often only use one part of the plant as opposed to the whole plant. This greatly decreases the efficacy of the product, because different chemical constituents come from different parts of the plant. In the case of echinacea, the majority of the immune boosting active ingredients come from the roots. Be sure that the product you buy is a whole plant preparation (including the roots).
Manufacturers often adulterate OTC products with inferior herbs and other unknown substances. OTC echinacea is one of those products that is frequently adulterated with other herbs that do not have the same actions or they have lesser actions than echinacea. This can be dangerous to your health, because you don’t know what you’re putting into your body.
This is why it’s always preferred that you purchase products from qualified physicians, who have access to higher quality products that come straight from reputable manufacturers (Thorne, Metagenics, Standard Process, MediHerb, etc., etc.)
3. Since echinacea is a natural immunomodulator it’s not recommended for long-term use in people with autoimmune diseases, because it may worsen the condition.
Other things you should know:
Common side - effects include: headache, dizziness, nausea, mild stomach pain, constipation, and skin irritation.
Contraindications: Pregnancy or nursing; people who suffer from allergies and asthma should use with caution due to reported allergic reactions; people with progressive systemic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis or tuberculosis; people undergoing chemotherapy, as it may cause adverse side-effects or reduce the efficacy of some anticancer drugs; people undergoing eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) should avoid echinacea due to the possibility of causing dry eyes; if taken with anabolic steroids or methotrexate it may cause hepatitis.
Herb - drug interactions: Tamoxifen (reduces efficacy), Docetoxal (caution), drugs that utilize Cytochrome P450 enzymes, drugs that utilize Cytochrome P3a or CYP1A2 (caution), immunosuppressants (could antagonize the effects)
If you are a person who gets sick often, there could be some underlying issues that are contributing to your body’s inability to defend itself. If this is the case, it’s strongly recommended that you come in for an appointment so we can get to the root of the problem, and start you on your pathway to wellness.
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