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Should echinacea be taken on a daily basis?
The question whether echinacea should be used on along-term or continual basis has not been adequatelyanswered. The usual recommendation with long-termuse is 8 weeks on followed by one week off. Researchsuggests that the people most likely to benefit fromusing echinacea for prevention are those with weakerimmune systems who are more prone to infection.
Therefore I do not recommend echinacea as a dailypreventative measure for people with healthy immunefunction unless they are facing increased exposure toviruses or stress.
Echinamide is extremely safe. When echinacea is usedat the recommended doses even for indefinite periods,there is no danger of toxicity as no studies havereported acute or chronic toxicity.34 Echinacea use isusually without side effects, however, allergic reactionshave been reported in people who are allergic to othermembers of plants in the daisy family (daisy, ragweed,marigolds, etc.).
Are there any people who should not use echinacea?
Many experts recommend that echinacea should not beused by people with acquired immunodeficiencysyndrome (AIDS) or human-immunodeficiency virus(HIV) infection. Theoretically, echinacea use may leadto stimulation of viral replication of the virus as well.
Although somewhat controversial, until more researchis done, I think it wise to avoid echinacea use if you areinfected with HIV.
Since echinacea can enhance immune function, it
must not be used in people who have had organtransplants or who are taking drugs to purposelysuppress the immune system like cyclophosphamide.
This recommendation is based on the theoreticalpremise that echinacea may interfere with these drugsthat are purposely used to suppress the immune systemfrom rejecting the transplanted organ.
Echinacea appears to be safe even for pregnant orlactating women based upon both animal studies andevaluation studies in women using echinacea duringpregnancy.35
The general consensus among experts is that echinaceaappears to be very safe even in very young children. Forchildren under the age of six years, it is usually given atone-half the adult dosage.
Can people with autoimmune diseases take echinacea?
My recommendation is that people with autoimmunediseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, andmultiple sclerosis avoid long-term use of echinacea.
Taking echinacea for short periods of time is not likelyto be a problem. The concern with echinacea in theseconditions is that since they are characterized by anautoimmune reaction (a process in which antibodiesformed by the immune system attack the body’s owntissue), enhancing immune function may be harmful.
My own opinion is that this may not be an issue asechinacea is more of an immune system modulator(normalizer) than stimulator. In fact, echinacea mayultimately be shown to be helpful for autoimmune
diseases as uncontrolled studies have actually found itto be useful in rheumatoid arthritis.
Can echinacea be used in patients with cancer?
At this time the answer appears to be “yes” althoughmore research is definitely needed. In animal studies,echinacea extracts have been shown to inhibit thegrowth of various cancers in experimental animalstudies. In preliminary human studies, a stimulatory ef-fects on white blood cell counts or function in patientsreceiving radiation or chemotherapy for cancer hasbeen noted.36,37
Is echinacea helpful in fighting herpes infections?
Herpes simplex is a virus responsible for cold sores andgenital herpes. There are two types of Herpes simplexviruses: type 1 (HSV-1) is most often responsible forcold sores (also referred to as fever blisters) while type2 (HSV-2) is responsible for nearly 90 percent of casesof genital herpes. Slight differences between the virusesresults in a preference for the location of infection. Thesores known as lesions, develop as small red bumps andthen turn into blisters or painful open sores. Over aperiod of days, the sores become crusted and then healwithout scarring. Other symptoms can include fever,headache, muscle aches, painful or difficult urination,vaginal discharge, and swollen glands in the groin area.
What preliminary studies indicate is that echinacea
may contribute significantly to the faster healing ofacute lesions, reduction of relapses, and prevention ofinitial infections.
Some companies claim echinacea angustifolia is better than E. purpurea. Is this claim true?
Not likely. E. purpurea
, especially that used forEchinamide products, contains higher levels of threekey ingredients: cichoric acid, alkylamides, and poly-saccharides with immune enhancing properties.2,38Based upon currently available information, it appearsthat the best choice of echinacea is the above groundportion of E. purpurea
Many companies claim their products are standardized for “totalphenolic compounds” or echinacoside. Is this valid?
No. In fact, although these sort of echinacea extractswere found to have some antioxidant properties, recentstudies have found them to have no effect on enhancingimmune function in experimental animal studies.1Standardizing an echinacea preparation for thesecompounds alone does not mean it is an active product.
It just highlights the importance of standardizingpreparations for the three classes of active compoundsresponsible for the main immune enhancing effects—polysaccharides, cichoric acid, and alkylamides. Again,Echinamide is the only commercially available productthat accomplishes this goal.
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