Hero Ingredient: What Is Echinacea And How Does It Affect Immune Function?
Echinacea is a family of flowering plants that are native to North America. They also go by the name of coneflowers because of their cone-like center appearance. Echinacea flowers can be either pink or purple in color, and the cone in the center is typically red or dark brown.
There are nine specific types of echinacea, but only three are used in herbal medicine: E. angustifolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea. Echinacea isn’t typically used in food to add flavor, although many people use a powdered version in teas and other hot beverages as well as pastas and vegetable dishes to reap the medicinal benefits.
What is echinacea used for?
Echinacea can be taken as an herbal supplement for a variety of different reasons. Many people reach for echinacea when they begin to feel a cold or flu coming on because it may help reduce the duration and severity of symptoms such as fever, cough, or sore throat. Others may use it to help fight off other types of infections.
Throughout history, however, echinacea was used for much more than the common cold. Evidence has shown that the plant was used by Native Americans to help with infections and wound healing. Some believe that it was also used as a cure-all for any type of ailment.
Prior to the introduction of antibiotics, echinacea was used to help treat scarlet fever, syphilis, malaria, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. However, once antibiotics were on the market, the use of echinacea as a cure for all types of illnesses declined quickly.
What are the health benefits of echinacea?
Since echinacea plants are loaded with antioxidants, they can be a viable option to help combat oxidative stress, which occurs when there is a buildup of free radicals within the body. Antioxidants found in echinacea include flavonoids, cichoric acid, and rosmarinic acid. Flavonoids play a role in the regulation of cellular activity, while cichoric acid prevents collagen damage. Rosmarinic has been shown to have antimicrobial properties.
Echinacea has also been shown to possibly help reduce blood sugar levels. In test-tube studies, the plant was able to suppress specific enzymes that were responsible for carbohydrate digestion. This led to a reduction in blood sugar levels. Other studies have found that it could benefit those who suffer from chronic anxiety disorders because of specific anxiety-reducing compounds, alkamides, rosmarinic, and caffeic acid. Other studies on anxiety and echinacea have found that the extract from the angustifolia type aids in anxiety reduction as well.
Inflammation is another health concern that may be addressed by the use of echinacea, which is important as chronic inflammation increases the risk of disease. One particular study found that those with osteoarthritis saw a reduction in inflammation, pain, and swelling while taking echinacea over the course of a 30-day period.
Although more research is needed, echinacea may also be able to protect against cancer growth. A test-tube study found that the extract or the purpurea type of echinacea was able to trigger the death of cancer cells.
How does echinacea affect immune function?
When it comes to the immune system, echinacea has long been hailed as a power supplement because of its effects. Studies have shown that because of its ability to increase the number of white blood cells in the body, echinacea can lead to a reduction in recovery time when battling a virus or infection, as well as a reduced risk for developing a cold at all.
It can also help to treat and reduce the severity of respiratory infections because of the way it aids the body’s immune system in fighting off infection.
How much echinacea should I take for immune support?
Although there are no specific guidelines when it comes to how much echinacea to take for specific ailments or to boost the immune system, research has highlighted how much is needed for it to make enough of an impact on health. The dose will also depend on the type of echinacea you plan on taking.
For dry powdered extract, taking 300–500 mg of echinacea seems to be best, and for liquid extract tinctures, up to 10 ml per day split into three doses is ideal. GenBoost’s Emergency Immune Support supplement contains 200 mg of echinacea per serving and can help boost your immunity when you need it most.
Are there any side effects of taking echinacea?
Echinacea is typically safe to take and doesn’t pose any severe risk for side effects if used over a shorter period of time. However, some people who are sensitive to the product or have allergies to other flowers or flowering plants may experience some side effects, such as:
- Itchy skin
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath
Those with autoimmune disorders or those taking medication to suppress the immune system should always talk with their doctor before starting a new immune supplement regimen because it can counteract the effects of their medication.
Echinacea has been used for centuries to aid in a plethora of different medical conditions. The flowering plant is evidence-backed for its immune support properties and its ability to help ward off infection and fight the common cold. Taking echinacea as part of a healthy lifestyle plan could help boost your immunity, keep you healthy throughout cold and flu season, and provide you with many other health benefits.