Echinacea: What Should I Know About It?
Even before science and technology emerged as one of the major sector, medical field was very well developed. They might not have used advanced technology but used whatever was available around them to live a happy and healthy life. In olden days where allopathic tablets and syrups were not discovered, people were able to cure their ailments using herbal products or herbal medicine. One such herbal product that attracts our interest is Echinacea. Most of the reader might have heard of Echinacea and its uses. But how to use them, what are its side effects, and who should avoid it will be dealt in detail in the following sessions of this article.
Echinacea is an herbal medicine that has very potent immune system enhancing effects. It is obtained from the roots, stem, and leaves of perineal plant Echinacea purpurea, which is commonly called as purple coneflower. Dried roots of Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallid are also used as medicine. Echinacea has many components like glycoprotein, alkamides, polyacetylene flavonoids, and caffeic acid derivatives. The concentration and component of the medicine may vary widely depending on the type of Echinacea and part of the plant that has been used. Echinacea grows in Europe and North America. Echinacea is available in most of the drug stores and food stores.
Types/species of Echinacea
There are a variety of Echinacea species that vary in their component and medicinal property. Few species of Echinacea are
- Echinacea purpurea
- Echinacea angustifolia (highly potent and hardest to grow)
- Echinacea pallid
- Uses of Echinacea
The major use of Echinacea is to treat, prevent or reduce the duration of cold, sore throat, and flu. It helps to protect the body from viruses that causes cold and flu by stimulating the immune system and sending white blood cells to attack the foreign germs. It is also used to treat urinary tract infection, skin wounds that are not healing for a long time, relives pain and inflammation, psoriasis, eczema and have hormonal antiviral and antioxidant effect. Therefore, it is recommended by herbalist to treat vaginal infection, ear infection, athlete’s foot, sinusitis, and hay fever. Echinacea is usually taken orally. It is also used to stimulate immune system after chemotherapy treatment. But the effect of Echinacea decreases, if it is taken for more than few weeks.
Taking Echinacea without doctor’s advice can result in complications, because the right quantity or dosage, and when to take the medicine plays an important part. Follow the instruction on the label or just follow the doctor’s advice. Echinacea is available as powder of dried roots or plant in a capsule or it is available as tincture (alcohol based preparation). For treating skin conditions fresh pressed juice of the plant is given. Never take Echinacea on an empty stomach. Take it with food or large glass of water. Taking Echinacea for more than 2 weeks can be harmful.
Risks of taking Echinacea
There are usually no side effects of internal or external use of Echinacea. But in few people it may cause some allergic reactions and side effects.
As with any medicine Echinacea also causes few side effects like
- Stomach upset
- Muscle ache
- Worsening of asthma symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Allergic reactions
- Temporary numbness of tongue
- Activation of autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis and collagen disease
- Prolonged use may cause liver problem and immunosuppression
If the person is allergic to daisy flower and its family, then he might be at greater risk of developing severe allergy after using Echinacea. Any allergic reaction should be consulted with doctor immediately.
Who should not take Echinacea?
Use of Echinacea in some people causes high risk of complications. People who fall under the below listed category should avoid taking Echinacea
- Auto immune disease such as lupus (skin disorder)
- Diabetes type- I
- Multiple sclerosis
- Liver disease
- Connective tissue disorder
- People who have undergone organ transplantation
- If taking any other medicines, it is important to check with the doctor before starting Echinacea. As Echinacea interacts with these drugs and reduce their effectiveness and cause side-effects
- It is important to inform the doctor if the person is taking caffeine, alcohol, or illegal drugs and also if he smokes as they may interfere with the effectiveness of Echinacea
Echinacea during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Although people are using Echinacea for a long time the use of it during pregnancy is supported by only one research. Different Echinacea preparations were given to 206 women during some point of their pregnancy. No increase in miscarriage or any birth defect in the newborn was noted. This research is convincing and reassuring, but the limited number of cases in the study limits our ability to come to any conclusion. Moreover, lack of standardization in Echinacea preparation again limits us in applying these results to other Echinacea products available in the market. Be careful while taking alcohol-containing Echinacea tincture as it might result in alcohol related diseases and birth defects. So far, no adverse result of Echinacea has been reported but considering its unclear impact on developing baby it is better to opt for other well studied cold and flu remedies during pregnancy.
As far as breastfeeding women are concern, there is no result stating the adverse effect of Echinacea being transferred into human milk or any adverse impact of mother’s use of Echinacea on the breastfeeding infant. Because of regulatory concerns and lack of standard preparation it is better to avoid Echinacea during breastfeeding.
Herbal products are used as medicine for ages. They are available as capsules, tablets, powders, tea, extract, and fresh or dry plants. But doctors say that taking herbal medicines on own is riskier. It might result in adverse side-effects, for some it may not be effective, and in some may react with other drugs that the person is taking. Always remember that herbal medicines should not be taken without doctor’s consultation, should not be taken in larger doses than prescribed, and be cautious if pregnant or breastfeeding.