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Echinacea: The Immune Boosting Supplement

There are numerous supplements that have been around for thousands of years… although they were not really considered “supplements” back then.

They were typically used in traditional eastern and western medical practices as a way to boost health, increase longevity, and stave off disease and illness. In this manner, they were really more of a “treatment”.

And one of the ones that can help you today is Echinacea.

What is Echinacea?

To put it simply, Echinacea refers to the name of a group of native North American plants that sit within the daisy family.

As a collective, the Echinacea group consist of nine different species, although only three of them are generally used in modern day supplements -- being, Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida.

The reason being is that these three varieties of Echinacea contain an array of potent bioactive compounds, including:

  • Caffeic acid
  • Alkamides
  • Phenolic acids
  • Rosmarinic acid
  • Polyacetylenes
  • Glycoproteins
  • Flavonoids

As a collective, these compounds act as potent antioxidants, reducing inflammation and harmful free radical damage throughout your body. They also facilitate the activity of numerous immune cells, while also acting as potent antimicrobial agents.

All of which means Echinacea supplements can offer you some rather unique benefits.

The Benefits of Echinacea

As I alluded to above, Echinacea is full to the brim with a multitude of potent plant compounds that impact your body in a number of different ways -- which can have some significant benefits to your health and function.

1.   Potent Immune Booster

Arguably the most valuable benefit of Echinacea comes down to the impact it has on your immune system.

The compounds discussed at length earlier in this article act to reduce inflammation and enhance the function of your immune system, ultimately making it more effective at fighting off illness [1].

Taking this into consideration, a thorough scientific review of 14 individual studies demonstrated that supplementing with Echinacea can half your risk of developing a cold, while also speeding up your recovery from a cold if you happen to get one [2].

For those of you who enjoy going to the gym and making gains (which I assume is most of the people reading this), this is important because it can help your training maintain consistency.

After all, you cannot expect to make any progress if you are sick all the time.

2.   Improve Mental Health

While the exact mechanism remains unclear, there is also some interesting research suggesting that Echinacea can have a positive impact on mental health -- particularly with respect to anxiety.

Three of the compounds found in Echinacea -- alkamides, rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid -- have been shown to interact with the brain on a cellular level, reducing feelings of anxiety and potentially enhancing general well being [3].

While this has obvious benefits for people suffering from a diagnosed anxiety disorder, I would argue that improving mood and emotional wellbeing is beneficial for anyone living in the modern world.

3.   Lowers Blood Pressure

Over the last fifty years we have seen a rapid shift in the western world, largely typified by a reduction in physical activity combined with a marked increase in the consumption of unhealthy foods.

All of which has caused a significant increase in the amount of people experiencing high blood sugar -- and given that this can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and a myriad of other health conditions -- this is of significant concern.

Which is right where Echinacea enters the equation.

Research in rats has shown that Echinacea extract can actually suppress the enzymes in the digestive system responsible for breaking down carbohydrates, while simultaneously making the body more sensitive to the carbohydrate storage hormone insulin.

All which has been shown to cause a significant reduction in blood sugar levels [4].

Echinacea Side Effects

As far as side effects are concerned, the trials on Echinacea supplements have been overwhelmingly positive, with side effects being very rare.

However, there are some minor side effects that can occur in susceptible individuals, which appear to be limited to a mild rash, slight nausea, and the occasional stomach ache.

It is important to note that because Echinacea can have an impact on your immune function, people with autoimmune disorders, or diseases like tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, or AIDS should avoid using it. As should people who are taking any immunosuppressant medication.

Similarly, while research has been shown that taking Echinacea during childhood or pregnancy does not appear to have any negative side effects after 10 days of supplementation, it should be avoided in high dosages or for extended periods of time [5, 6].

Final Points

If you are after a supplement that can boost the function of your immune system, stave off the common cold, lower blood sugar, and improve your mental health, then look no further -- echinacea has you covered.

Just be cautious with your dosage, and always seek advice from a medical professional before supplementation.

 

References

  1. Melchart, D., et al. "Immunomodulation with Echinacea—a systematic review of controlled clinical trials." Phytomedicine 1.3 (1994): 245-254.
  2. Shah, Sachin A., et al. "Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis." The Lancet infectious diseases 7.7 (2007): 473-480.
  3. Haller, József, et al. "The anxiolytic potential and psychotropic side effects of an echinacea preparation in laboratory animals and healthy volunteers." Phytotherapy Research 27.1 (2013): 54-61.
  4. Mao, Chien-Feng, et al. "Modulation of diabetes mellitus-induced male rat reproductive dysfunction with micro-nanoencapsulated Echinacea purpurea ethanol extract." BioMed Research International 2018 (2018).
  5. Gallo, Michael, et al. "Pregnancy outcome following gestational exposure to echinacea: a prospective controlled study." Archives of Internal Medicine 160.20 (2000): 3141-3143.
  6. Taylor, James A., et al. "Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized controlled trial." Jama 290.21 (2003): 2824-2830.
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