Echinacea update: What’s the latest “buzz” on this popular herbal remedy?
(NaturalHealth365) “Coming down with a runny nose? Better grab some echinacea!” For many, echinacea – the medicinal herb with the pretty purple flower (and strange-sounding name) – is the undisputed champion of herbal immune system boosters. This solid reputation has made echinacea a “go-to” supplement for helping to protect against upper respiratory infections and reducing the severity and duration of symptoms, if an infection does occur.
The conventional wisdom that suggests the benefits of Echinacea (and Salvia lozenges) as an early sore throat remedy has found strong support in recent research. This study underlines the potential of this herb as a valuable and safe intervention for managing this common ailment. Moreover, in a review published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the authors reported that echinacea supplementation was found to be beneficial in preventing common upper respiratory issues.
But immune support is not the only gift of this versatile herb. Read on to see what else echinacea can do.
Beneficial bloom: Echinacea is more than just a “pretty face”
Echinacea, originally valued by Great Plains Native American tribes as a remedy for toothache, snakebite, joint pain, infections, and skin rashes, is commonly known as purple coneflower. Its daisy-like flowers make it a popular addition to cottage gardens – but don’t let its dainty look fool you. This herb is rich in bioactive principles such as glycoproteins, polysaccharides, alkamides, flavonoids, and vitamin C, and multiple studies have revealed antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer, and antidiabetic effects.
Three types of echinacea are in common use: E. purpurea, E. pallida, and E. augustifolia. While all are believed to be beneficial, most studies have focused on E. purpurea. Intriguingly, different parts of the plant are thought to have specific properties, with the roots containing more volatile oils and the leaves and flowers richer in the polysaccharides believed to boost immune function.
Echinacea may act against cytokine storms
In a 2021 review published in Metabolism Open, the authors showcased echinacea as a potential weapon against cytokine storms. These destructive episodes occur when an infection causes the rapid release of proinflammatory chemicals in the body. The authors pointed out that echinacea can reduce levels of the proinflammatory molecules interleukin-6, interleukin-8 and tumor necrosis factor.
Echinacea’s potential to reduce inflammation means it may also effectively alleviate pain. Holistic healthcare providers have long recommended topical creams containing echinacea to ease pain from arthritis, insect bites, and sunburn.
Echinacea may lift mood and soothe anxiety
Recent studies have highlighted echinacea’s potential as a mild natural antidepressant. In a 2020 placebo-controlled study published in Phytotherapy Research, patients with anxiety were given 40 mg of E. augustifloria or a placebo twice daily for a week. The echinacea group experienced reductions in anxiety by 11 points on the Anxiety Scale, compared with only three points in the placebo group.
Researchers speculated the improvement was caused by the effects of echinacea’s alkamides on the cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors. And in a clinical study published in 2021 in the Journal of Affective Disorders, 80 mg of E. augustifolia a day for six weeks worked better than placebo in promoting emotional well-being in adults with mild-to-moderately severe anxiety.
Hope for stubborn eczema
Eczema, an inflammatory skin condition, can cause rashes, swelling, itching, blisters, and skin scaling. A 2018 study published in the journal Clinical Cosmetology and Investigative Dermatology showed that participants with atopic eczema significantly improved redness, burning, itching, and skin dryness after two to four weeks of using E. purpurea root extract emulsions.
A separate three-month clinical trial showed that an echinacea emulsion with linoleic acid improved symptoms in patients with acute and chronic pruritis (itching). The improvements lasted up to 12 weeks. The researchers speculated that echinacea could inhibit histamine release and called it a “promising” treatment. (By the way, integrative dermatologists report that echinacea has also been shown to improve skin hydration and reduce the appearance of wrinkles – never a bad thing!)
Echinacea is available in capsules, tablets, gummies, teas, emulsions, and creams. Recommended amounts vary considerably, depending on the condition being addressed. The herb is considered safe for short-term use, but digestive side effects have been reported. Consult your holistic doctor before trying echinacea. And, don’t use it if you are allergic to it – or any members of the aster family.
With winter season almost upon us, the value of echinacea is obvious. But this useful herb clearly has even more to offer.
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