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Member Name: MichelleScott
Date: 31/10/01, updated on 31/10/01 (709 review reads)
Advantages: Effective, Economical
Disadvantages: Not for auto-immune sufferers
Echinacea was a word only said by earnest herbalists and new-agers until recently. Then it passed a few recognised scientific tests and became the latest thing. I think that’s a pity, as it is in danger of being as over-used as antibiotics. There are also some dangers associated with it, which I’ll explain later.
First, what is it? It is a herb which has been used for hundreds of years for stimulating the immune system. That makes it useful for times when the body’s immune system is under attack, such as during a cold or infection. The Native Americans used it (a lot – more than any other herb) and it is one of the most researched herbs in use today.
It certainly has a lot of benefits. It stimulates the activity of the body’s fighting cells, the white blood cells, which helps it throw off infections and viruses. So it doesn’t work like antibiotics, which kill bacteria, it works by helping the body to kill invaders. I read of one study that reported an increase of 50-120% in immune function when taking Echinacea.
So it does work, and it works well and quickly. It should be taken at the very first sign of a cough or cold and in a lot of cases it will stop it in its tracks (especially if accompanied by a good diet which is low in sugar – sugar kills the fighting cells).
Echinacea also has a lesser known anti-inflammatory effect as well. It is very useful for psoriasis and eczema cases and is also used by arthritis sufferers.
But here’s my problem. I have an auto-immune disease. That means that parts of my body are attacking other parts (in my case it’s thrombocytopenia, my spleen makes cells which kill the platelets in my blood). If I take Echinacea it will boost my immune system, which means I will get sicker. (Don't start wringing your hands, it's not a terribly serious auto-immune problem. It just means I'm frequently covered in bruises and look like I
've moved in with Tyson.)
So anyone with an auto-immune disorder should not take Echinacea except on specialist advice. Actually, I know my disease quite well and I do take Echinacea for one day only if I start to get a cold. If it continues though, I stop the Echinacea and just live with it. Often, though, it doesn’t continue. I can take it topically, and do so if I have an insect bite or infected cut.
If you can take it, the cheapest way is the liquid extract (it doesn't taste too bad). I buy all my herbs from Baldwins (www.baldwins.co.uk). They are experienced, efficient and economical. Echinacea is readily available in high-street chemists and health-food stores as well, in tablet and liquid form.
It is not considered wise to take Echinacea long-term as it reduces its effectiveness.
For further research, see the Herb Research Foundation (http://www.herbs.org/greenpapers/echinacea.html)