Echinacea has long enjoyed a reputation for being a valuable aid in supporting and strengthening the immune system. Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida and E. purpura.), or purple cone flower as it is commonly known, is a native plant of the U.S. Unique in its action on the body, it is effective against both bacteria and viruses, and has been used for generations, most popularly as a defense against the common cold.
Containing an active ingredient believed to counteract colds, flu, and other viral and bacterial infections, the herb stimulates the immune system, acting to strengthen the body’s own reserves in fighting off external threats. In addition, it boosts the body’s own production of the powerful antiviral compound interferon. Interferon works by attacking the genetic blueprint of germ cells, rendering them unable to reproduce, thus echinacea effectively limits the spread of the cold virus throughout the body by preventing the germ cells from multiplying.
Echinacea also assists the body to produce more macrophages, specialized cells which engulf and destroy invading bodies such as bacteria and viruses. Evidence exists that echinacea stimulates the body to produce more white blood cells, the body’s mainstay against bacterial and viral infection. Echinacea is also instrumental in preventing bacteria from producing an enzyme called hyaluronidase, which allows the bacteria to penetrate cell membranes, thus being readily transported to many parts of the body and causing generalized infection.
Clinically, echinacea can be used to help:
Reduce susceptibility to and duration of colds, flu, and sore throat. Echinacea is most effective if taken when symptoms first appear. In cases, where symptoms have firmly taken hold, echinacea may help to moderate the severity of the symptoms and well as speed the healing process.
Fight recurrent respiratory infections, such as bronchitis, sinusitis, strep throat, and earache. Echinacea is particularly useful for chronic conditions as it assists the body to fight off infection via its remarkable stimulatory effect upon the immune system. This reduces the need for potentially harmful conventional medications such as antibiotics and steroid-based inhalants.
Boost immunity levels during chemotherapy and act as a potential preventative against certain forms of cancer. Echinacea may be a useful adjunct to conventional cancer medications and treatments as its immunostimulant properties assist the body to form its own defenses against rogue cancer cells, as well as joining with chemotherapy drugs to render the cancer cells impotent. Much research is needed into the role of echinacea as an aid in fighting cancer; however, preliminary short-term studies of cancer sufferers suggest that lifespan may be prolonged by supplementing with echinacea, but only in conjunction with standard chemotherapy treatment.
Combat urinary tract infections. Echinacea assists in destroying the bacteria responsible for many urinary tract infections. Increasing fluid intake, particularly in the form of echinacea tea, will rapidly combat urinary tract infections. For those who suffer from recurrent problems, echinacea acts as a useful preventative in susceptible individuals by supporting the body’s own natural defense systems.
Promote healing of skin wounds. As a natural antibiotic and immunostimulant, echinacea promotes the healing of many skin problems, including burns, cuts and scrapes, boils, abscesses, canker sores, eczema, herpes infections (including genital herpes, and cold sores), and shingles. It can be applied topically to a wound or be taken internally to strengthen the immune system.