Two facts to consider: 1) I've been using and recommending the herb Echinacea with great results for my family and patients for over 30 years and 2. I don't sell it!
In this post I'll give a little background on this popular herb and I'll also explain when and why to use it, how we think it works, and when not to use it. references at the end
Background: The real name is Echinacea purpurea and it is derived from the decorative purple coneflower. Although there are contradictory scientific studies and therefore confusion over how it supports or stimulates the immune system we do know that unlike antibiotics that only fight bacterial infections, Echinacea seems to help the body fight off viral and or bacterial infections and it does this by promoting T-cell activity. Originally used by Native Americans for respiratory illnesses, by 1920, Lloyd Brothers of Cincinnati, Ohio, a respected pharmaceutical company counted echinacea as its largest-selling product. Of course once sulfa based antibiotics were developed, Echinacea lost it's popularity in the US. It remained popular in Europe however and today 1.3 million prescriptions are given for it each year in Germany alone.
When to Use It: Echinacea works best when it is used at the first sign of an infection. This is a pretty important piece of information because if you ignore those early signs that indicate you or your child are coming down with something, you'll miss the chance to experience echinacea's primary benefit. So pay attention to that slightly sore throat or the achiness that so often precedes an illness. When those subtle symptoms kick in, reach for the bottle of echinacea and start using it! Continue using it until the symptoms disappear (or if you do get the cold for a few days into the illness.) Do not use for longer than a week or two. If symptoms worsen, fever develops and or there is no signs of improvement, consult a physician. Antibiotics may be necessary -
Why Use It: Because it seems to be quite effective in helping the immune system function more effectively. I have seen it short circuit so many infections by "nipping them in the bud". I've recommended this to many mothers of children with a history of chronic ear infections and subsequent use of multiple courses of antibiotics. Once they cut out dairy, reduced sugar and began using echinacea at the first sign of an infection (often indicated by the child pulling at their ears), the incidence of infections requiring antibiotics greatly diminished.
How to Use It: During all these 30 plus years, I have tried a few different ways of taking it (capsules, tablets, tea and tincture). The best most effective way I have found is to take it in liquid (tincture) form. For an adult, I usually suggest mixing the recommended number of drops in a small amount of water and take every 4-5 hours. Hold your nose because it doesn't taste all that great. For a child (they do make children's versions of the liquid), follow the recommendations on the bottle. I would add a splash of juice in theirs (again to disguise the bitter taste.) As I said previously, I have no financial affiliation with any company who makes these tinctures, but I have found the Gaia Herb brand to work exceptionally well.
For How Long: It is not recommended that you take Echinacea for more than a week or two at a time. Either use it at the first sign of infection and a few days after or if you have been prone to chronic infections, you might want to take it in cycles, 1 week on, 2 weeks off, 1 week on etc. I had one patient who had been to 18 physicians for chronic urinary infections and was given multiple courses of antibiotics. She found that if she did cycles of echinacea she was able to ward off these infections. Of course she changed her diet too. For more on warding off colds and flu, see post on this blog: Winter Colds and Flu, Anything Natural We Can Do?
When Not To Use Echinacea: Definitely do not use it if you are highly allergic and or specifically if you are allergic to ragweed. Also if you have an autoimmune illness or such as HIV, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.or tuberculosis it is not recommended. If you have a history of allergic reactions, consult your physician about using Echinacea.
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Yale SY, Liu K. Echinacea purpurea therapy for the treatment of the common cold. Arch Intern Med . 2004;164:1237-1241.
Luettig B, Steinmuller C, Gifford GE, et al. Macrophage activation by the polysaccharide arabinogalactan isolated from plant cell cultures of Echinacea purpurea . J Natl Cancer Inst . 1989;81:669-675.
Brinkeborn R, Shah D, Geissbuhler S, et al. Echinaforce in the treatment of acute colds. Results of a placebo-controlled double-blind study carried out in Sweden. Schweiz Zschr Ganzheits Medizin . 1998;10:26-29.
Melchart D, Walther E, Linde K, et al. Echinacea root extracts for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections: a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial. Arch Fam Med . 1998;7:541-545.
Mullins RJ, Heddle R. Adverse reactions associated with echinacea: the Australian experience. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2002;88:42-51.
Aldous MB, Wahl R, Worden K, Grant KL. A randomized, controlled trial of cranial osteopathic manipulative treatment and echinacea in children with recurrent otitis media. 2003 Pediatric Academic Societies' Annual Meeting, Seattle, Washington, May 3-6, 2003;abstract 1062.