Echinacea – May be a Mighty Warrior for the Immune System 

Echinacea is a perennial, medicinal herb, also called the purple coneflower. It is known throughout the world for its use as an immune supporting botanical, but also provides support to the inflammatory response. The plant has various bioactives like phenolic acids, alkamides, caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid. For centuries, Native Americans have included Echinacea in their medicinal regimen for different problems. 

How does Echinacea work? 

Echinacea has been proposed to have 3 different mechanisms (Manayi A et al, 2015): 

  1. Phagocytosis activation 
    It is the process where white blood cells bind to particles and draw them in, engulfing them (like Pac Man). Usually when they are trying to consume a harmful agent in the body. 
  2. Fibroblast stimulation
    Fibroblasts are connective tissue cells, which provide support to collagen and other structural regions in the body. They are found in tissues and organs and mainly secrete collagen and involved in wound healing. 
  3. Strengthens respiratory activity promoting leukocyte movement This process increases leukocytes (white blood cells) ability to do their job at fighting off harmful compounds. 

Echinacea Research 

There are many in vivo studies that show how Echinacea provides immune support and anti-inflammatory properties (Barnes J et al, 2005). Echinacea shows how it provides strength against invading chemicals and activating important macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, etc (Manayi A et al, 2015). 

A human randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study was performed with 175 passengers that were traveling by airplanes back from Australia to America, Europe, or Africa for a period of 1–5 weeks (Tiralongo E et al, 2012). The individuals took either a standardized echinacea product or placebo. They were provided with a questionnaire prior to and immediately after the trip and 4 weeks after travel ended. The questionnaire was related to the respiratory system symptoms and quality of life. 

Both the echinacea and placebo groups had an increase in respiratory symptoms. Although the echinacea group compared to the placebo group had borderline significantly lower respiratory symptom scores. The investigators concluded that echinacea may be beneficial for the respiratory tract during long distance travel. 

Echinacea may be beneficial to prolong life span 

Animal research has been performed showing that Echinacea prolongs life span especially when experiencing health conditions. 

The body’s Natural Killer and T cell function has been shown to decline with age (Hazeldine J, Lord JM, 2013). Providing animals with Echinacea daily showed that it increased the absolute natural killer cells in normal bone marrow (Miller SC, 2005). In addition, the elderly animal’s number of natural killer cells increased significantly to 30% higher than the control group. The elderly animals’ natural killer cells rose in number to the same level as younger adult animals. 

Overall, there are controlled clinical studies that have determined that Echinacea preparations can be effective at being immunomodulators. The only issue is that dose and specific type of extract has not been clearly determined (Melchart D et al, 1994). 

In summary, echinacea is an herb that has been used for centuries to promote immune function. There has been laboratory, animal and human research to show it has immunomodulatory effects. Animal research shows that it may also be helpful to lengthen life span. 

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. It is not intended to advertise for any products. 

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