You’ve no doubt heard that echinacea is a powerful cold preventative. Cold sufferers all over flock to the drug store or their favorite online retailer to stock up on echinacea supplements in order to help fight debilitating seasonal cold and flu symptoms.
A miniscule amount scientific research exists to universally support this old wife’s tale, but millions of people have been championing its use since North America was first settled back in the 1600s. Before that, North American Plains Indians used the ground flower and root for all sorts of conditions that are now known to hamper the immune system including colds and other respiratory infections, sore throats, and other ailments including topical pain relief.
Native Americans passed their knowledge of the flower’s medicinal properties on to early European settlers, but it’s the American elk that we all have to thank for this super-flower and the benefits it offers. Over several years, early tribes learned of the flower’s medicinal properties by observing how the elk always seemed to flock to the plant when sick or injured.
Top 5 Echinacea Supplements
|Brand||Now Food’s||Nature’s Way||Gaia Herbs||Child Life||Puritan’s Pride|
|View on Amazon||View on Amazon||View on Amazon||View on Amazon||View on Amazon|
|Overall Rating||5 / 5||5 / 5||4.9 / 5||4.8 / 5||4.7 / 5|
|Serving Size||2 Capsules||3 Capsules||1.33 ml||0.5ml||2 Capsules|
|Effectiveness||5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5|
|Quality||5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5||4.9 / 5||5 / 5|
|Taste||5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5||4.9 / 5||5 / 5|
|Digestibility||5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5|
One of Mankind’s First Antibiotics
In fact, before antibiotics entered the picture and started to weaken immune systems worldwide, this little flower was fortifying our forefathers’ bodies from the inside out. Echinacea was widely used by people prior to the 1950’s when prescription antibiotics started to be used in their place. This is the case for several of nature’s remedies, which are now coming back into prominence as we learn about all the devastating health side effects of medications that have long been regarded as safe.
Exclusive to North American Wilderness
There are 9 main species of the flower to be found in nature. Echinacea, or the “Purple Coneflower” as it’s commonly referred to, only grows in North America within moist prairie regions and some wooded areas. Echinacea purpurea is the most common used for medicinal uses and is thought to have the most healing and preventative properties.
Different Species of Echinacea
You will find several manufacturers who combine this species with one or several of the other 9 to be found in different parts of North America, though little documentation exists currently to bolster their use for health purposes:
1. Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf Coneflower
2. Echinacea atrorubens – Topeka Purple Coneflower
3. Echinacea laevigata – Smooth Coneflower, Smooth Purple Coneflower
4. Echinacea pallida – Pale Purple Coneflower
5. Echinacea paradoxa – Yellow Coneflower, Bush’s Purple Coneflower
6. Echinacea sanguinea – Sanguine purple Coneflower
7. Echinacea serotina –Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower
8. Echinacea simulata – Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower
9. Echinacea tennesseensis – Tennessee Coneflower
Benefits Steeped in Controversy
Things get really dicey when trying to find hard scientific evidence supporting echinacea’s use in preventing colds, flus and other viral maladies. Wikipedia’s official stance is “There is no conclusive evidence showing that echinacea products treat or prevent the common cold.” Before subscribing to any official stance on this subject, keep in mind that human beings have been taking it for centuries because they know it works.
As with so many of the natural health remedies available to us, there are several roadblocks to getting the wheels set in motion for large-scale studies proving the efficacy of echinacea in preventing and helping to relieve the symptoms of the common cold and flu virus. When it comes right down to it, natural is always best, but the Big Pharma drug companies don’t want their customers replacing their precious, over-priced, over-the-counter Benadryl cough syrup or prescription antibiotics with echinacea anytime soon.
Take any and all benefits linked to natural supplements with a grain of salt, but don’t discount them because your family doctor hasn’t been “programmed” to recommend them to you like the OTC and prescription drug solutions the drug companies push on us.
1. Alternative to Prescription Antibiotics (Immune Booster)
Humans are currently in the middle of an antibiotic epidemic. It’s estimated that over $500 million was wasted between 1999 – 2010 on unneeded prescriptions, and that’s just in the US! (source) We’ve become so reliant on them to kill off bacterial infection in the body that our own immune systems have become weak and ill-equipped to deal with even the most tame sore throat infection. While echinacea is steeped in controversy, it works and has worked, as a potent immuno-stimulator for at least a few centuries now.
It accomplishes this feat by increasing immune-signaling and immune-releasing chemicals like interleukin and interferon, along with other essential immune hormones in the body. Incidence of the common cold can be reduced by as much as 65% just by using echinacea on its own during the cold season; whereas combining it with vitamin C boosts that number up to an 85% reduction (source). One of the largest studies ever performed on echinacea as a cold-squasher showed taking echinacea at the onset of a cold cut the duration of the sickness by 26% (source).
2. Powerful Anti-Inflammatory
Echinacea’s ability to reduce inflammation is far different from that of many of the other superfoods I’ve detailed for you in the past. Echinacea helps to stop bacteria from infecting our cells and causing inflammation to begin in the first place.
This super-flower stimulates the immune response necessary to ward off bacteria before they get into the cells. A process known as phagocytosis occurs when bacteria are detected by the immune system, signaling white blood cells and lymphocytes to jump into action and consume the invaders. By halting this process, the body needs to produce far less pro-inflammatory responses to ward off foreign invaders.
3. Proven Natural Cancer Fighter
You may not hear your conventionally-trained oncologist recommending echinacea as an alternative to cancer treatment anytime soon, but there are more than a few studies which have emerged showing some really promising results in this area. Science is coming closer to identifying the exact ingredients in the flower that accomplish this, but we do know that there are several phytochemicals it contains which help to battle cancer cells.
There are two main processes that contribute to the decimation of cancerous cells in the body, which echinacea can help with: 1) The flower extract stimulates the body’s natural killer cells (NK) that destroy cancerous cells before they mutate., 2) Echinacea inhibits prostaglandin production in the body and prostaglandins inhibit the production of NK cells (source). This is literally a one-two punch in the battle against cancers of all kinds!
4. Other Echinacea Health Benefits
There’s much more to this flower than being a simple and effective remedy for preventing the cold and flu. Echinacea contains powerful anti-inflammatories that work in tandem with its immune-boosting properties to help relieve and even prevent a number of serious health problems.
5. Healthier Heart
There’s no question that reduced inflammation in the body equals a happier, healthier heart. Few, if any studies have confirmed that echinacea supplementation specifically leads to a reduction in heart disease but it isn’t a far stretch to assume so, given that non-congenital heart disease results from various inflammatory stressors overwhelming the walls of our arteries.
If you’re an athlete, you may have heard about the hormone Erythropoietin or “EPO”. EPO’s sole purpose is to increase the level of red blood cells in our blood stream. Red blood cells transport oxygen to our tissues and allow them to use the sugar circulating in our blood for energy. Supplementing with echinacea increases EPO; thus increasing VO2max and overall endurance in athletes and non-athletes alike (source).
7. Helps Maintain a Healthy Gut
By now, most of us have heard all about the connection between our stomach and intestinal health and how it affects our overall health and ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection. Antibiotic use is very detrimental to gut health because it destroys any and all bacteria it comes in contact with; even the “good bacteria” that helps to support our immune system. Echinacea stimulates the immune system, encouraging it to kill off “bad bacteria” while preserving the good stuff.
8. Other Potential Health Benefits Yet Unproven:
It can be hard to separate truth from fiction when it comes to determining the benefits of any nutritional health supplement. Following is a list of benefits that have been reported by people all over, some for centuries now, that have yet to get any real scientific backing behind their use.
• Possible anxiety reliever: Some report that taking 40mg or more per day for a week halts anxiety.
• Natural laxative: While not all sources agree, some people find echinacea to be a wonderful, gentle laxative.
• Skin infections and skin ageing: This is another benefit that some enjoy and others do not. Rubbing echinacea on cuts, scrapes and infections can help them to heal more quickly. It may also help to heal acne and reverse fine lines and wrinkles when an echinacea gel is applied regularly to affected areas.
There are many other benefits you’ll find strewn across the web. In all honesty, there’s no harm in trying it if you think it will help, being that echinacea’s so inexpensive. Just please be cautious of all the “snake oil salesman” touting it as a cure-all for every conceivable health problem known to man!
Drugs.com recommends the following dosing recommendations for echinacea:
• 300mg of dry powdered extract 3x daily.
• 0.25 to 1.25ml of liquid extract 3x daily.
• 1 to 2ml of tincture solution 3x daily.
Echinacea boosts the immune system when you first start taking it. However, over the course of 8 weeks of taking large doses daily, it may begin to suppress the immune system. It’s recommended that you take a break every month for a period of around 5 – 10 days to reset your body.
Don’t take echinacea if you fit into one of the following categories:
• You have an immune malfunction that makes immune system boosting or suppression disadvantageous to your health.
• You’re pregnant or lactating.
• You’re under the age of 12 (allergic reactions are more common in this age group).
• You’re taking prescription drugs or OTC medications that rely on the Cytochrome P450 enzyme to be metabolized from the body (see below for more info).
Possible Drug Interaction
There have been conflicting studies about echinacea’s effect on lowering the Cytochrome P450 enzyme that’s used to expel several medications from the body. While no serious overdoses have ever been reported due to this issue, it’s recommended you talk to your doctor if taking any prescription or OTC medications which rely on the enzyme for safe removal from the body.
If you smoke tobacco or take other herbal remedies like St. John’s Wort, you’re at even further risk of unhealthy suppression of this vital enzyme. Learn more about this potential drug interaction at Wikipedia.
How to Choose the Right Echinacea Supplement
Here are just a few things I would recommend keeping in mind when it comes to choosing the right echinacea supplement for your needs:
• Ground echinacea root is best for treating the various symptoms you’ve learned about in the benefits section, after they’ve appeared (ie., colds, flus, indigestion, etc.) It’s believed this part of the plant accomplishes this feat because it contains more anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that help to ease inflammation.
• Ground aerial parts of the plant like the stem and flowers appear to have more of a stimulatory effect on the immune system for year round illness prevention, due to the higher levels of polysaccharides and lipoproteins they contain.
• Fresh-pressed echinacea juice is thought to be superior when it comes to preventing illness, is great for maintaining bacterial balance in the gut, and is actually quite fragrant and delicious.
As with any supplement, the growing, harvesting, manufacturing and storage process all determine just how much benefit anyone can expect from taking it.
Learn more about the differences between the echinacea root vs. the “aerial parts” at the Gaia Herb’s Website: www.gaiaherbs.com/A-Research-Review-on-the-Short-and-Long-Term-Use-of-Echinacea
Echinacea Supplement Reviews
NOW Foods Echinacea, 250 Capsules / 400mg
I’ve always loved NOW Foods for their uncompromising quality and low-low price when compared to others in the health food supplement market. This particular echinacea product doesn’t fail to impress. Each two capsule serving size gives you 800mg of pure ground organic root. Great for those times when you find yourself suddenly stricken with illness and need it gone fast. NOW Foods make some of the most inexpensive certified organic supplements you’ll find anywhere on the shelf of your local health food store or pharmacy. Great value!
Nature’s Way Echinacea Herb
This is another highly-touted echinacea formulation. Made by Nature’s Way, each three-capsule dose delivers a 1,200mg dose of ground root, stem and flower from the echinacea plant. This product is also certified organic and gluten free. I’d recommend splitting the three-capsule serving size that’s suggested on the label, over the course of the day (ie., 1 capsule, 3 times daily) when you’re trying to prevent illness. Step up the dose to 3 capsules, 3 times daily when you need to get rid of a sore throat, cold or flu quickly.
Gaia Herbs Certified Organic Echinacea Supreme Dietary Supplement
If you’re not a huge fan of pills and just want the pure extract goodness from your supplements, this extract formula, with dropper included, will be just what the doctor ordered! Gaia is one of my favorite companies, mostly because they farm and manufacture all their own products. No outsourcing whatsoever, so you know exactly where your ingredients are coming from. The extract has a combination of organic echinacea purpurea root and aerial parts, and seed extract from the organic Echinacea angustifolia root. This formulation is geared toward people who’re ill already and are looking to beef up their immunity to get healthy fast. It’s also perfect for topical applications and canker sores inside the mouth.
Child Life Echinacea
It’s a fact that kids tend to get lots of colds. You might notice that this product recommendation is a bit of a contradiction to my earlier warnings about not giving echinacea supplements to children under the age of 12. It is, but with good reason: parents all over are raving about this particular product from Child Life; a company who makes natural health alternatives exclusively for children. Their own independent laboratory studies have given them enough confidence to release this child formulation to the public. This low dose extract comes with a dropper and each dose offers 15mg of leaf and flower and another 15mg of the dried purple echinacea root.
There are far too many reputable sources (including our forefathers) who support echinacea’s use as an immuno-support supplement. Not just for non-deadly ailments like the common cold and flu, but for more serious things like cancer, heart disease, leaky gut, and other conditions that are often preceded by uncontrolled inflammatory processes in the body.
Considering how inexpensive it is to use, and the increasing number of studies being completed showing just how effective it is at restoring and maintaining good health, there’s no good reason not to add a low-dose echinacea product to your daily supplement regimen, and to have a more potent extract ready in the medicine cabinet should you find yourself stricken with cold or flu symptoms.
And don’t forget to combine echinacea with vitamin C to get the best all-round benefits!