Wrap yourself up in warm clothes, or you might catch a cold! If winter is the season you most dread, know that you are not alone. Many people spend this period of the year with a cold. While this viral infectious disease isn't a real threat to young and healthy individuals, it can become a real pain to deal with. So, can you do anything to prevent it?
Plants of the genus Echinacea (commonly known as coneflowers) have been shown to activate specific mechanisms of the defense system. These properties could reduce the number of colds we face per year, although the real immunomodulatory power of this plant is still very much debated. Are you eager to learn more about it?
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- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection: The Best Echinacea Supplements
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Echinacea
- 5 Buyer's Guide
- 6 Summary
- Echinacea is a genus of plants with medicinal properties.
- Supplements containing Echinacea purpurea could help prevent and fight off the common cold.
- You should consider a series of critical aspects before purchasing any echinacea product. These include your potential dietary restrictions and the origin of the plant, among others.
Our Selection: The Best Echinacea Supplements
To help you make the right purchase, we have selected some of the most popular echinacea products currently available out there. These articles are manufactured by reputable and responsible brands, whose goal is to provide high-quality supplements to their customers. In any case, please keep in mind that these products are not suitable for minors without authorization from your pediatrician.
Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Echinacea
Echinacea is a plant genus composed of ten different species, some of which have medicinal properties. Their actual effectiveness is very much a subject of discussion. On the one hand, phytotherapy experts defend their benefits on the immune system, while controlled clinical studies reveal much more modest results.
What is echinacea exactly?
Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida are the plants capable of influencing the immune system and fighting viruses and fungi. When you hear the term "echinacea", it is generally referring to one of these three varieties, as described below:
- Echinacea purpurea: This is the most popular and frequently used species in medicinal preparations. This plant's action is primarily immunomodulating; in other words, it regulates the function of the defenses. It is commonly found in remedies that claim to stimulate immunity or relieve cold symptoms (3).
- Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida: We have less information about these two varieties of echinacea. While studies have found antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activity in these plants, they are not given the same immunomodulatory capacity as E. purpurea.
What properties does echinacea have?
| Stimulation of the function of macrophages (pathogen-eating cells).
Increased production of cytokines (molecules that regulate immune function).
Improvement of the immune system's response to infection.
Increase in the number of white blood cells.
| Activation of the immune system response against viruses.
Reduction of the number of viruses in vitro.
Inhibition of the growth of herpes virus (HSV-1) in vitro.
Protection against infection by influenza viruses (influenzavirus A), herpes, and stomatitis viruses.
|Antifungal|| Polyacetylene derivatives
| Growth inhibition of fungi of the genus Candida.
Protection against infection by fungi Candida and Listeria.
| Reduction of inflammation and edema in tissues.
Inhibition of molecules related to inflammation.
|Antitumoral||Alkenes||Inhibition of tumor cell growth in vitro|
|Mosquitocide||Alkamides||Destruction of mosquito larvae|
| Protection of the skin against UV rays.
Prevention of collagen destruction by free radicals.
The three species of echinacea contain different concentrations of these molecules, each plant therefore having distinct effects. E. purpurea doesn't include any echinacosides (antioxidants), for instance. However, it is rich in alkamides, molecules that could stimulate the activity of the immune system against viruses and fungi.
Most echinacea preparations use E. purpurea, the best-known of all species. That being said, you can also purchase supplements that combine this plant with E. angustifolia and E. pallida to take advantage of all the benefits of the genus Echinacea. The effectiveness will vary from one product to the next, depending on the concentration of each herbaceous variety.
Is echinacea really effective?
- Cold relief: This is undoubtedly the most popular supplement based on the genus Echinacea. As a single ingredient or in addition to others such as propolis, echinacea could stimulate defenses against the common cold (6).
- Treatment of urinary tract infections: Echinacea products are also marketed as formulas that may prevent the occurrence of urinary tract infections such as cystitis.
- Healing creams and ointments: The alleged skin-protecting activity of the plant has led brands to manufacture different preparations aimed at improving the appearance of scars and wounds. Echinacea is also included in anti-stretch mark and anti-sagging creams.
- Wrinkle serums and gels: You can also find cosmetics containing echinacea. According to their manufacturers, these gels and serums have a potentially moisturizing and anti-wrinkle action (7).
- Toothpaste and mouthwashes: Dental hygiene products that include echinacea extract may have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that would facilitate the healing of mouth ulcers and preserve gum health (8, 9).
- Sore throat spray: Echinacea-based preparations are available to potentially relieve pharyngeal discomfort. Note that many of these products combine it with other plants like salvia.
- Infusions for the symptoms of menopause: Women who appreciate natural remedies often turn to echinacea infusions to try to relieve the hot flushes produced by menopause (10).
These numerous benefits are very encouraging, but it is fair to ask ourselves how true they are. Phytotherapy is a discipline that uses products of plant origin to cure and prevent disease (11); experts in this medicinal system defend the unlimited potential of this plant. Clinical medicine, on the other hand, is much more suspicious and skeptical about echinacea (5, 6, 12, 13). You can compare its pros and cons in the following table:
Clinical trials on echinacea have not been able to prove that this plant is truly effective for the treatment of most conditions. The common cold is the only exception. According to the Cochrane Library, echinacea shows "slightly positive" results in preventing it (6).
This is why you shouldn't see this plant as a drug or as an alternative to medical treatment. While it is very popular in the field of phytotherapy, it cannot be prescribed as a conventional treatment for any disease until further studies confirm its effectiveness. In that regard, it is considered an herbal remedy (14).
Is echinacea safe?
Side effects: Echinacea-based supplements may cause gastrointestinal discomforts such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Fever, dizziness, numbness of the tongue, dry mouth, and body aches have also been reported. In very rare cases, they have been linked with the appearance of liver damage.
Allergies: There have been cases of allergic reactions to Echinacea preparations, generally in the form of rashes or skin eczema. Individuals who are already prone to allergies to other plant species (ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, or daisies) are most likely to develop a hypersensitivity reaction.
Poisoning: The World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized the need to keep levels of toxins (heavy metals and pesticides) within a safety margin for these products. Ingesting echinacea supplements from unreliable sources could expose you to contamination by lead, cadmium, or pesticides.
Interaction with hepatic passage medication: Echinacea is an herbal remedy metabolized in the liver and interacts with cytochrome P450, a vital protein system for numerous chemical reactions. Consult your doctor before supplementing if you are taking any treatment that relies on cytochrome P450, such as:
- Cholesterol-lowering medication
- Estrogens (e.g. contraceptives)
- Antihypertensive drugs
Interaction with treatments that regulate or alter the immune function: Due to the effects of echinacea on the immunity, its use is not advised with drugs that alter the defenses' activity. If you use steroids or immunosuppressants such as tacrolimus or azathioprine, ask your doctor about the risks associated with the use of this plant.
Interaction with midazolam: Echinacea also appears to interfere slightly with the absorption of midazolam, a widely used sedative.
Surprisingly enough, this plant can also affect coffee metabolism (14). Individuals using this herbal remedy may eliminate caffeine from their body at a much slower rate than normal. As a result, this stimulant could build up in the organism, leading to nervousness, insomnia, trembling, and anxiety.
Can children take echinacea?
This is why some experts recommend that anyone under the age of 12 should take supplements that contain this plant (14, 16). The WHO goes a step further, warning that the use of echinacea-based preparations in minors isn't recommended without the supervision of their pediatrician (17). Only a healthcare professional can decide the right dosage in these delicate situations.
It is important that you follow the official guidelines of the World Health Organization.
In that regard, we strongly advise you to consult your pediatrician before administering echinacea or any such nutritional supplement to your children. This also applies to pregnant and breastfeeding women for whom the safety of the plant has not been proven yet (14, 16).
Unlike allopathic drugs, phytotherapy remedies such as echinacea are rarely subject to strict quality and safety controls. For this reason, you have to be particularly vigilant in choosing a healthy and safe supplement. In the following section, we will discuss shopping criteria that will help you make the right purchase:
Even though echinacea is a plant, it doesn't mean all its supplements are suitable for you if you're vegan or vegetarian. Tablets and capsules may contain animal gelatin. In that regard, we encourage you to check the label of any product for a vegan seal of approval to make sure you can take it.
In addition, you will need to look for a hypoallergenic supplement if you suffer from allergies or intolerance to lactose, gluten, soy, or any other ingredients. Unfortunately, you will notice that many echinacea products contain some type of allergen in their formulation. You can find one of these supplements in our selection above.
Whenever possible, you should opt for an echinacea product sourced from organic farming. This type of agriculture is much more environmentally friendly and minimizes the use of pesticides. Keep in mind that one of the leading problems with echinacea supplements is their potential contamination by pesticides, lead, or cadmium (18).
Products combining echinacea with other supplements are fairly common today. This herbal remedy is generally mixed with other herbal formulations, although you can also find vitamins or probiotics. The table below will help you find the right product (19, 20, 21, 22, 23):
|Probiotics||They maintain the balance of microbiota (beneficial bacteria).|
|Vitamin C and zinc||They alleviate cold symptoms.|
|Salvia officinalis|| Anti-inflammatory and pain relief.
Relief of colic and diarrhea.
Remedy for the symptoms of menopause.
|Royal jelly|| Source of vitamins and minerals.
Improvement of the immune function.
|Ginger||Relief of digestive symptoms (nausea and vomiting).|
|Propolis||Antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties that boost the immune function.|
Echinacea is a genus of medicinal plants that have been used since time immemorial to treat a variety of ailments. With the emergence of scientific research and clinical pharmacology, herbal remedies have given way to standardized forms of treatment and simpler administration.
However, phytotherapy still offers a space for echinacea in modern times. This plant could reduce the number of colds you suffer from every year. In the near future, new studies may allow us to truly take advantage of the potential of echinacea.
Did you find our guide on echinacea helpful and informative? Feel free to give us your opinion in the section below, and don't forget to share this article on your social media!
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