Echinacea and Immunity
Early research has shown that echinacea has a profound effect on the number and kind of blood cells in the bloodstream.
Echinacea behaves like a tonic by keeping the ratio of red to white blood cells within acceptable limits. It does that by:
- Promoting the production of white blood cells when the percentage
is too low.
- Suppressing the production of white blood cells when there
are an excess of these.
Echinacea seemed to increase the rate of
phagocytosis. It improves waste elimination and increases destruction of foreign substances in the blood.
Echinacea has been shown to improve the first lines of defense of our body. It does so by inhibiting an enzyme called hyaluronidase that can be stimulated by pathogens to break apart the connective tissue surrounding body cells.
These body cells are known as the reticuloendothelial system, or RES. Once the integrity of the RES connective tissues has been compromised, germs can easily latch onto
the body cells and begin the progressive destruction of cells. Substances in echinacea combine with receptors on hyaluronidase and neutralize it. This results in a temporary improvement in the skin's and other tissues' ability to keep the germs away.(3,4)
Echinacea constituents may also be involved in the regrowth of connective tissue that has been destroyed during infection. The stimulation of the healing process drastically reduces the degree to which sensitive and vulnerable body cells are exposed to an environment laden with dangerous microorganisms.
During the period of infection, when the body is running low on its resources, echinacea has been found to have a strong and direct activating force on the body's ability to produce macrophages and speed them to the area of infection. Echinacea also stimulates the production of the
Echinacea exhibits a significant lethal effect on certain forms of cancerous tissue. USDA researchers have isolated a tumor-inhibiting principle in the essential oil of echinacea. The herb may do this by stimulating the production of key lymphocytes which in turn trigger the activation of cells such as the natural killer cells. (7)
In 1978, researchers in Germany discovered that echinacea behaves in a manner similar to interferon, either by stimulating the production of interferon or by acquiring some of its characteristics. No one knows for sure how it works, but the findings are consistent:
Echinacea is completely nontoxic and safe
when used as recommended.
Echinacea is best taken as a concentrated liquid extract, or tincture. It is more easily absorbed into the bloodstream in liquid form.
An alcohol extract is reportedly more beneficial than the capsules, or tablets.
Some herbalists suggest that the immune benefits of echinacea are strongest when it is used no more than a couple of weeks at a time.
A German study, published in 1992, reported that 900 milligrams of echinacea significantly reduced flu symptoms. Lower doses, however, were no better than dummy pills. (12)
To treat an infection, take one-half to one teaspoon of echinacea as an herbal extract in liquid form three times daily for seven to ten days. Another method would be to take echinacea in homeopathic form. Take twenty drops as the first dose, and then take ten drops up to six times daily for two days. Then take ten drops three times daily for up to one week after overcoming the infection.
You can use echinacea alone. But many herbalists recommend it in combination with other herbs.
- For immune enhancement, combine echinacea with astralagus, wild indigo, or myrrh.
- For lymphatic drainage, combine it with cleavers or pokeroot.
1. Richard P. Huemer, MD and Jack Challem, "The Natural Health Guide to Beating the Supergerms," Pocket Books, NY
2. Daniel Reed, "A Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs," Shambhala, Boston, MA
3. Bonadeo, I., Bottazi, G., and Lavazza, M. "Echinacin B: polisaccaride attivo dell' echiniacea." Riv. ltal. Essenze Prafumi, 53, 281,1971.
4. Buesing, K.H. "Inhibition by hyaluronidase by echinacin." Arzneimittel-Farschung, 2, 467-469, 1952.
5. Stimpel, M., Proksch, A. et al. "Macrophage activation and induction of macrophage cytotoxicity by purified polysaccharide fractions from the plant echinace purpurea." Infection and Immunity, 46(3), 845--849, 1984.
6. Wagner, H. and Proksch, A. "Isolation of polysaccharide with immunostimulating activity from echinacea purpurea." Inter. Conf Chemm. Biotechn. Biol. Act. Nat. Prod. (Proceedings), Antanasova, B., ed., 3(1), 200-202, 1981.
7. Voaden, D.J. and Jacobson, M. "Tumor-inhibitors III. Identification and synthesis of an oncolytic hydrocarbon from American coneflower roots." Jour. Med. Chem., 15(6), 619- 623, 1972.
8. Wacker, A. and Hilbig, A. "Virus inhibition by echinacea purpurea." Planta Medica, 33, 89-102, 1978.
9. Becker, V.H. "Against snakebites and influenza; use and components of echinacea angustifolia and e. purpurea." Deutsche Apotheker Zoitung, 122(45), 2020-2023, 1982.
10. Stoll, A. et al. "Antibacterial substances II. Isolation and constitution of echinocoside, a glycoside from the roots of echinacea angustifolia." Helvetic Chimica Acta, 33, 1877-1893, 1950.
11. Sicha, J., Hubik, J., Dusek, J. "Substances in the echinaceae family which are potential antiviral agents and immunostimulants." Cesk. Farm., 38(9), 424-428, 1989.
12. . Braunig, B., et al., "Echinacea purpurea Radix for Strengthening the Immune Response in Flu-like Infections," Z Phytother, 1993; 13:7-13.